Today’s photos are a departure from our usual Orange County centric content, but retain a personal link for this writer. The pictures, from the Library of Congress collection, depict Pittsfield, Massachusetts’s Capital Theatre (circa 1997), shortly before the venue’s demolition.
The Capital’s history is typical of countless grand single screens of the “golden era”. Opened in the 1920′s, when every downtown of note featured at least one impressive cinema (usually several), the Capital was one of five major theatres that once lined Pittsfield’s “main drag”, North Street. A former MGM house, the theatre remained a highly popular and successful movie going destination for nearly fifty years. However, by the close of the 1970′s, a struggling local economy and declining main street saw the Capital fall from it’s once prestigious perch; a problematic scenario made all the worse with the arrival of a multiplex.
By the time I crossed paths with the Capital, in the early 80′s, the venue was nearing it’s final years and existed as more of a symbol of what once was in the city. No longer a top draw, the theatre had been reduced to showing near second run faire, to consistently sparse audiences. However, even in heavy decline, the theatre retained a certain charm which was sorely lacking at the bustling multiplex.
While I surely spent most of my movie going youth at the multiplex, utilizing the Capital’s marquee as a rain cover far more than entryway to entertainment, this was the theatre which spurred my earliest interest in cinemas. Be it the cavernous 1,338 seat auditorium, heavy velvet drapery, or bi gone luxury, there was something about the place that fascinated me. Even the wear and disrepair, which turned away your average movie goer, seemed to draw my attention. Unfortunately, my burgeoning interest was never explored to any great extent and I never truly appreciated this dimming bit of Americana; taking for granted that the Capital would always be there.
The Capital Theatre went dark in the mid 80′s and sat, silently decaying, for another ten years. By the time anyone even thought of saving one of the city’s crown jewels, neglect and too many New England winters had taken far too great a toll. In 1997, the auditorium was razed and much of the street side structure was gutted; making way for a new community senior center. Today, the marquee and facade remain intact, but lead to little more than office space and a parking lot.
The Capital Theatre may have existed on the other side of the country, within a vastly differing community, but it’s story is somewhat universal. Be it Orange County, California or Pittsfield, Massachusetts, we rarely appreciate our living history until it has passed.
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