Modern Theatre Restoration Effort Begins

Worker removes carved stone from Modern Theatre facade


Workers have begun brick-by-brick disassembly of the Modern Theatre’s facade as Suffolk University begins a meticulous restoration of the historic face of the old movie house on Washington Street. 

Several thousand pieces of marble, sandstone, and brownstone will be removed and sent off site to a masonry restoration expert. The University is photographing and documenting the process, and information will be updated regularly.

NER Construction, which is handling the masonry restoration, marks each individual stone so that the facade can be reassembled. It will serve as the Washington Street face of a new Suffolk University residence hall, theater, and gallery to be built on the site.

CBT is the architectural firm designing the new building, to open in fall 2010.

Fascinating project for preservationists

“There are a lot of fascinating things about this project,” said Judith Selwyn of Preservation Technology Associates, who is monitoring the masonry restoration process for the University. “This is essentially two buildings, the post-Civil-War-era upper section, which is in good condition, and the later Modern Theatre marble front, which is an entirely different type and style of building.”

Selwyn said that, while the building’s structure had deteriorated to the point where nothing was salvageable, much of the damage to the marble facade was the result of alterations over the years, as marquees and signs were added to the facade.

Landmark building

The Modern Theatre was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 as part of the Washington Street Theatre District. In 1995 it was designated a Boston Landmark.

The building was considered beyond repair until Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Suffolk University stepped in to save the facade and ensure that there would still be a theater on the site.

In addition to 197 beds in suite-style housing, the building will feature a 184-seat theater. The lobby space in front of the theater will double as a gallery.

“Those of us involved in this reconstruction feel that it’s a really dramatic and interesting thing to do – to take down, restore and reassemble a facade,” said Selwyn. “And there will be theater again on Washington Street. Without the efforts of Suffolk University and Emerson College, what would that part of Washington Street be like?”

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Greg Gatlin

Mariellen Norris