In the aftermath of the Rice’s Corner fire in February 1916, a proposal by E.M. Loew was put forth to build a theater where the badly burned Bradford Block stood. The store owners in that block however were eager to rebuild their businesses and the city officials believed there were enough theaters in North Adams with the Empire, Richmond and Bijou Theaters.
E.M. Loew never gave up on its dream to build a new theater in the downtown area. By 1937 they were running the Richmond Theater but they knew their partnership with the Richmond was going to expire in May of 1938. They quietly began to make plans for a new theater on Main Street. First, they purchased property on 13-15 Eagle Street then waited for the city administrators to agree to their plan. At first the acting building inspector, John E. Saulnier denied a building permit to Loew’s on the grounds that their plan conflicted with the city’s zoning ordinances. After haggling over this point during the summer and fall of 1937, Mr. Saulnier finally agreed to let E.M. Loew’s plans pass inspection on November 4th. Loew then acquired two more parcels of land and leased a right of way through the Bradford Block.
Almost one year later to the day, the new Mohawk Theater opened its doors on November 5, 1938 with a showing of “That Certain Age” starring Deanna Durbin with Melvin Douglas and Jackie Cooper. Over the entrance was a marquee of “exceptional” design and “brilliant lighting effects” with letters that spelled out “MOHAWK”. The name was in reference to the famous Mohawk Trail.
Prior to its opening the Sons of the American Legion drum corps “paraded up and down Main Street” and then marched into the theater to view the movie while sitting in the front row seats. With a capacity audience, the dedication ceremony began at 8:15 which welcomed the audience and spoke of the beauty and hope for the new playhouse.
The Mohawk Theater continued to thrill audiences through the mid-50’s. With the popularity of television growing and audiences feeling the pinch of a changing economy, theaters all over began to lose moviegoers. The Mohawk was no exception and so it closed unexpected on July 7, 1959.
There were many efforts to renovate and reopen the theater over the years. In the 1980’s both Don McClean and Johnny Cash, with his wife June Carter, played concerts there in an attempt to raise money. There was hope that Mass MoCA would help the aging structure but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. The city tried several times for state grants to bring the theater back to life but so far the theater remains unoccupied and in need of redevelopment. As of 2023, the theater sits, unoccupied, hoping that one day it will be brought back to recapture its past glory.
Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.