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Somerville Theatre begins 100th anniversary celebration tonight

Posted by Brock Parker  January 31, 2014 10:04 AM

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The Somerville Theatre tonight kicks off a 100-day countdown to its centennial anniversary this spring. Photo by Brock Parker.

With a box office run spanning from silent films to “Slutcracker,” the Somerville Theatre is about to showcase what has made the venue an anchor in Davis Square for generations.

Friday night the theater at 55 Davis Square is kicking off a 100-day event to celebrate its upcoming centennial anniversary on May 11.

The theater opened in May 1914 with black-and-white films and vaudeville acts, and while the entertainment has evolved over the years the venue hasn’t lost the charm that has kept customers coming back for more.

“When you see young people in a movie theater like ours with a balcony and the curtain opens and the lights go down, it’s a completely different and timeless experience than going to a multiplex,” said general manager Ian Judge.

Judge said months of planning has gone into the 100-day celebration for the centennial anniversary, which will culminate with the vaudeville acts and a showing of “The Wizard of Oz” in the theater’s main auditorium on May 11.

SomervilleT100.pngFriday night the celebrations will start with what Judge said is the Boston premiere of a lost silent film starring actress Mary Pickford called “Their First Misunderstanding,” that has recently been found in a barn in New Hampshire and restored by the Library of Congress.

For the next three months, Judge said the theater will stage different acts, such as a Somerville High School performance of the musical "Annie," and showcase different films in chronological order from the decades in which they were released. Judge said silent films, and the first “talkies” that played at the theatre will be screened again, along with more recent big screen attractions, like “The Departed” and “The Dark Knight.”

The theater opened in the Hobbs building, where it remains today, in 1914 under the ownership of Joseph Hobbs, according to Judge. It was later sold to the Viano family, which held on to the theater until selling it to present day owner, F.E.I. Theatres in 1984.

While the theater started with live performances and films, Judge said that around the time of The Great Depression it switched almost exclusively to films. Then in the 1980s live performances and concerts reemerged. Since then, the theater has staged big name acts including Bruce Springsteen in 2003 and U2 in 2009. Other live acts, including the satirical burlesque “The Slutcracker” have also become featured acts at the theater.

Judge said during his tenure he has pushed the theater back into showing first-run movies. He said the theater had not been running new releases since the 1960s or 1970s. Other changes to the theater, which now has five auditoriums, include renovations and service of beer and wine to customers, which began in 2007.

Judge, who is 37 and grew up in Somerville, said he remembers the days when Davis Square was considerably more run down than it is today and the theater was going through tough times.

“I have seen quite a lot of changes,” said Judge. “It’s very gratifying to see the theater in prime physical condition again.”

More information about the Somerville Theatre’s centennial celebration can be found online at the theater's website.

--brock.parker@globe.com

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