Lower Washington Street Theater Revitalization

Boston, Massachusetts

Award Type: Honor Award

Boston’s Modern, Paramount, and Opera House theaters, recognized collectively in 1995 as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust, have been brought back into active use while maintaining their historic integrity.

The Boston Opera House, Paramount and Modern theaters were lavish palaces when they first opened in the early 20th century. The Paramount and Modern drew crowds with the first “talkies.” But by the 1970s, they were screening adult movies in a neighborhood so run down it was called the “combat zone.”

Demolition seemed inevitable. Then in 1995 the National Trust for Historic Preservation included the theaters on its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places. A reuse charette followed; then the mayor and city agencies took center stage. They developed an impressive network of public-private partnerships that transformed the buildings and the neighborhood. Today, the Boston Opera House is the busiest theater in New England. The Paramount and Modern are university-owned, providing performance and dormitory space. Restaurants, shops and people are back. Economic impact is easily in the millions.