In 1876, four years after the Great Boston Fire destroyed the nearby business district, Architect Levi Newcomb designed the original building on the Modern Theatre site in the High Victorian Gothic style.

It housed showrooms and warehouse space for the Dobson Brothers, the largest carpet manufacturers in the United States.

Conversion to movie house

In 1913, when motion pictures began moving from makeshift nickelodeons to theaters, the Dobson Building was converted into the Modern, the first Boston theater designed specifically to show films.

Admission was 15 cents, and musical accompaniment was provided on an Estey Organ designed specifically for use in the theater. 

Architect's specialty

Clarence Blackall was the architect for the Modern Theatre conversion. His firm also designed 13 other theaters in Boston, including the surviving Colonial, Wilbur and Metropolitan, now known as the Wang Center for the Performing Arts.

First "talkie"

In 1928, the Modern Theatre premiered The Jazz Singer, the first Boston showing of a “talkie.”

It later introduced the double feature in an effort to compete with newer theaters showing movies and vaudeville together.

Historic designation

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.

It was used as a theater of some kind continuously until the 1980s, when it fell out of use.

The intervening years took their toll on the structure, and the interior was considered beyond repair when Suffolk University stepped in to save the historic facade and redevelop the site for student housing, a gallery, and a performance space.