New Bedford’s Olympia Theater Was a Downtown Jewel
A recent piece I wrote about the Capitol Theater and my recent visit – the first in 50 years – got me thinking about some of the other palatial theaters that existed in New Bedford back in the day.
My mind immediately wandered to the Olympia Theater in Downtown New Bedford.
The Olympia Theater at 833 Purchase Street first opened on April 2, 1916, four years ahead of The Capitol and seven years to the day before the Zeiterion Theater, just two blocks away at 684 Purchase Street. The Zeiterion became the State Theater before reverting back to its original name.
The Olympia was designed by architect William L. Mowll, according to Beyond The Gilded Age.com. Whaling City.net says the theater's seating capacity was between 2,300 and 2,800 people. When I wasn't at the Capitol Theater as a kid on a winter Saturday afternoon, I was at the Olympia.
The Olympia Theater had as many as three opera boxes or loges along each side wall, a deep balcony, and thick, red velvet curtains. The ceilings and chandeliers were as majestic as the theater itself. I would agree with those who say the Olympia was New Bedford's most glorious theater.
According to Whaling City.net, the Olympia was purchased by the Zeitz family in 1962. It closed in 1971 and was demolished the following year.
New Bedford had many beautiful theaters years ago. Among them, the Orpheum, which my colleague Maddie Levine highlighted in a piece last year. The Strand Theater, later to be known as the Center Cinema, in the near North End was another wonderful theater. I featured that theater in a piece in 2018.
There were others too, like the Empire which was on Elm Street, the New Bedford Theater on Union Street, the World Theater on Purchase Street, the Hathaway Theater on Purchase Street, the Columbia Theater on Acushnet Avenue, Allen's Theater on Acushnet Avenue, the Comique Theater at Weld Square, the Arcade Theater on Acushnet Avenue (also known as the Baylies Square), the Rialto Theater which was at 43 Weld Street at Weld Square before Route 18 was built, and of course, Cinema 140 on Hathaway Road and the Flagship Cinemas on King's Highway.
Those are the theaters I remember. I saw films at many of them. Did I miss any that you recall? What were your favorite theaters?
Here are more photos of the Olympia Theater, followed by a look at a couple of New Bedford's other majestic theaters.