SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 28, 2014

Last picture show

Cabot Street Theatre, up for sale, stops showing movies

BY PAUL LEIGHTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — BEVERLY — For the first time in nearly a century, you can’t go to a movie in downtown Beverly.

Cabot Street Cinema Theatre owner David Bull said he and his partners have decided to stop showing movies entirely in order to concentrate on selling the historic theater, which has been up for sale since May.

Instead of the latest movie, the theater’s neon marquee now lists the name and contact information of the company handling the sale.

“It’s strange to be in town and not have the marquee lit up,” Bull said.

The decision to end movies at the Cabot follows the closing of the Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Show in 2012 after a 35-year run.

The magic company put the theater up for sale last year, then auctioned off the show’s costumes, props and other items last month. Bull said they were going to resume showing movies after the auction but ultimately decided against it.

Bull said the magic company bought the theater in 1976 primarily to stage the magic show. Showing movies was a way to keep the theater open seven days a week and to supplement their income.

“Once the magic company stopped in May of 2012, I think it was just a matter of time before the movies would stop,” he said.

The theater had been hosting movies almost continuously since it opened as the Ware Theatre on Dec. 9, 1920, with the silent movie “Behold My Wife.”

Bull said the real estate company, LandVest, suggested it might be easier to sell the theater if it is closed entirely.

“Without movies, it sends a very clear message that this really is being sold,” he said. “It’s really happening.”

Bull said potential buyers have been looking at the property, but nothing is imminent. The sale price is $1.35 million.

“Nobody has put their John Hancock on a piece of paper,” he said. “I’m learning that until that happens, it’s all talk and speculation.”

Bull and his partners also own Larcom Theatre on Wallis Street, a few blocks from the Cabot. The Larcom, which was built in 1912, is currently being used to host music and comedy shows.

Bull said the Larcom could start showing movies again someday, but the owners would need to install digital projection equipment that could cost around $50,000.

“That is certainly part of the discussion,” he said.

Last week, the magic company sold a house it owned on Judson Street for $232,000. The company had used the house, which is across the street from the theater, for years as a residence for some members of the company and a place for performers’ children to stay during shows and rehearsals.

The Cabot Cinema opened to much fanfare in 1920 when it was the Ware Theatre, named after the two vaudeville musician brothers from Marblehead who built it.

On opening night, the Beverly Times called it “Beverly’s palatial new playhouse” and said it was “the finest theater of its size east of New York.”

Cinema chain E.M. Lowe bought the theater in 1960 and changed the name to Cabot Cinema. The magic company, led by Cuban emigre Cesareo Pelaez, bought it in 1976 and began staging the magic show on the theater’s vaudeville-era stage.

Rich Marino, who owns Chianti Tuscan Restaurant across the street, said the theater has always drawn people to the downtown. Marino, in fact, said he chose the location for his restaurant 20 years ago to take advantage of the theater crowds.

Marino said the crowds have lessened over the years as more people stay home to watch movies. But the end of the magic show, and now movies, has affected his business.

“There’s no question that it’s had an impact on the downtown, and we have felt it,” he said. “What happens with that theater will have a major impact on the downtown. We’ve all had our fingers crossed.”

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.