Like the city of North Adams itself, the Richmond Theater suffered its up and downs. It opened in 1900 and had most successful years during the first and second decades of the 20th century. It held its own during the Great Depression and it survived the effects of a disastrous Richmond House fire and the flood of 1927. It had its share of labor difficulties and disputes as well.
All in all, it would seem in retrospect to have had a fairly productive life. In its early day vaudeville and legitimate theater played to full houses. The Richmond, at that time, was managed by Benjamin A. Taylor and his wife. Such stalwarts of the stage as Ethyl Barrymore, John Drew and Maude Adams appeared on the stage there during the first five years of the century. The admission fee for a weekly vaudeville show during Christmas week in 1905 was 10¢ for ladies and 20¢ for men for matinees.
By 1906 Mr. Taylor announced that the Richmond would also be a motion picture facility. During the next 6 years, the format changed from straight vaudeville to a combination with motion pictures. Summer stock companies also appeared and in 1909 the Taylors began to advertise in the Transcript for the first time stressing the admission price of a nickel.
In 1921 business was so good that the theater was enlarged to seat 1,700 people. It became the largest theater in Western Massachusetts. The theater was closed for 8 weeks for the extensive renovations. All posts and pillars had been removed and, quoting management, it was a “complete and modern theater with special attention paid to the comfort of the patrons.” The balcony now could seat 650 patrons and there were15 individual dressing rooms backstage for the stage plays.
In the days of the silent movies the Richmond employed a small orchestra to enhance the images on the screen. This led to labor difficulties with the National Federation of Musicians when a non-union man was hired. There was talk of a walkout, but the matter was resolved amicably when the local came to an agreement with management that was ratified by the national organization.
At the beginning of the third decade, Ben Taylor and his wife, retired from the theater business and moved to South America. The Richmond was now in the hands of the E.M. Lowe Corporation who in turn sold its interests to the Goldstein brothers who also controlled the Paramount Theater on the other side of Main Street. In 1938, the Paramount featured films from all the big studios; Paramount, MGM, Warner Bros. and others who had all the big stars under contract. The newly opened Mohawk had it glitz and glamour. So it was that the Richmond was put on the back burner and became a second run or family-type movie house.
For the next two decades, the Richmond was under various managerial groups causing the theater’s box office to decline in revenue. This in turn caused the Richmond to go through a series of closings and openings. Finally, in March of 1952, the management of the Richmond decided to cash in its chips and put the theater up for sale to the highest bidder. In the fall of ’52, the fraternal Order of Eagles voted to purchase the Richmond for $36,000, and so it was a theater no longer.
It was not long after the sale that a dispute arose over the use of the lobby. The hotel corporation contended that the sale of the theater did not include its use. It filed suit and the case was heard in Superior Court in Pittsfield. With the judge agreeing with the plaintiff. The Eagles appealed to the State Supreme Court which upheld the verdict of the lower court.
When rumors abounded that the Richmond Hotel building would be included for demolition in the upcoming downtown urban renewal project, the Eagles bought land at its present location and built its new quarters there.
And this is how the Richmond Hotel and Theater met its demise and it was not long afterwards that the Paramount met the same fate, being partially burned as it was being dismantled.
Adapted from a story for the North Adams Historical Society.