PPAC Theatre History
For 39 years, the Providence Performing Arts Center (PPAC) has been "home" for presenting top-notch national Broadway tours. Every night a show is on stage at PPAC is like an opening night, especially at the moment when the lights dim and the curtain rises on our magnificent stage.
This season, the Loew's Theatre Building (the historic home of PPAC) will be celebrating its 93rd anniversary with a fresh facade! During the winter of 2020/2021, New, custom terracotta tiles and exterior lighting were installed to the theatre's Weybosset St facade. This is the first time the facade has undergone a restoration project. The meticulous and historically accurate restoration and installation were performed by Consigli Construction, with beautiful lighting designed by Evelyn Audet Lighting Design. The restoration project was made possible by PPAC restoration fees and grants from the Champlin Foundation and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission. Preserve RI and the RIHPHC recently honored PPAC with a Rhody Award for a Historic Preservation Project. You can learn more about this project by watching this video profile, produced by Preserve RI for the 2021 Rhody Awards.
When season opener PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL opened its National Tour at PPAC in October 2021, it became the twentieth National Tour to open here since 2008. These National Tour launches have contributed to making PPAC a well-respected, world-class cultural institution located in the heart of Providence. Additionally, as a destination for National Tours, PPAC is an important contributor to Providence’s economic and cultural growth.
The Loew’s Theatre Building, now known as the Providence Performing Arts Center, opened on October 6, 1928. The Theatre, designed by architectural firm Rapp & Rapp, has always been a visual marvel, and has astounded visitors with its beauty and grandeur. For more than nine decades, the Loew’s Theatre Building has not only survived, but ultimately flourished, while undergoing various name changes, storm damage, and ongoing architectural restoration.
After its opening in 1928, the Loew’s Theatre Building enjoyed several decades of success as a premiere movie palace. However, the venue began experiencing financial hardships and declining attendance in the early 1950s. The Theatre also suffered damage from the New England Hurricane of 1938 and then Hurricane Carol in 1954. The resulting damage from Hurricane Carol resulted in the removal of the Theatre’s original Morton pipe organ.
In 1982, Lincoln W.N. Pratt assisted PPAC with finding our "Mighty Wurlitzer;" the 5/21 Wurlitzer Organ was built in 1927 and has five keyboards, twenty-one ranks and percussion that can produce many orchestral sounds, as well as sound effects that can be utlilized when accompanying silent films. It is one of only three five-manual keyboard consoles built by Wurlitzer. The instrument was purchased by PPAC and has resided in the Theatre since 1982. Lincoln W.N. Pratt was our House Organist from 1982 until his passing in 1998.
World-renowned organist and silent film accompanist Peter Edwin Krasinski became our House Organist in September 2020. We have worked with Mr. Krasinski on producing free seasonal recorded concerts; you can view these Wurlitzer concerts at ppacri.org/wurlitzer
In 1972, the theatre changed its name to the Palace Concert Theatre, where it mainly presented rock concerts. . During this time period, the theatre continued to fall into disrepair and to lose revenue. In 1976, through the efforts of Mrs. B.A. (Sylvia) Dario, the Theatre re-opened as the Ocean State Theatre, where it returned to its historic movie palace roots. On opening night, the staff screened Neil Simon’s Murder by Death, and even invited Robert Reilly, an attendee from the opening day of the Loew’s Theatre Building to attend the performance as a guest of honor. Reilly told The Providence Journal-Bulletin, “I am glad we have some idealists in this town who would save a theat[re] like this.”
The Ocean State Theatre continued to screen films, but with limited success. The building’s owner, B.A. Dario, considered demolishing the historic Theatre. Local community figures, including then Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, then Chairman of PPAC’s Board of Trustees Bruce Sundlun (Governor of Rhode Island, 1991 – 1995), then Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci, Jr., and Mrs. Dario, fought valiantly to save the building.
They began to discuss transforming the Ocean State Theatre into a center for the arts to preserve the Theatre and to also help renew the downtown Providence area. In 1977, the Loew’s Theatre Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1978, the Theatre was purchased and saved by seven founding members: Citizens Bank, Fleet National Bank of Rhode Island, Old Stone Bank, Outlet Company, Providence Journal Company, Rhode Island Hospital Trust National Bank, and Textron, Inc. The Ocean State Theatre became a non-profit private corporation and was called the Ocean State Performing Arts Center.
In 1982, the Ocean State Performing Arts Center changed its name to the Providence Performing Arts Center, as a way of honoring the City’s commitment to saving the venue.
As the Providence Performing Arts Center, the Theatre has become a world-class venue through the efforts of past and current board members and administrative staff, making it one of the most successful, not-for-profit theatres in the United States. Significant projects include a full-scale stage house expansion in 1995 and an historically accurate restoration of the Grand Lobby, Arcade, and House. These improvements allowed the Theatre to present large-scale touring productions like THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, MISS SAIGON,WICKED, and Disney’s THE LION KING in Providence.
In 2000, the state-of-the-art electronic marquee was first “lit” by actor Robert Urich. In 2002, the theatre commissioned former RISD professor Dan Dailey to design a magnificent chandelier, which hangs in the House Proper. The chandelier was installed in 2004. In 2005, the first-ever elevator was installed for patrons. In recent years, the carpet and wall fabric, faithful to their original designs, have been replaced.
The Theatre was brought into the digital age with the installation of LED display screens on the Marquee and video digital boards in the Arcade in 2012.
While the COVID-19 pandemic paused PPAC’s presentations of Broadway national tours and live entertainment beginning in March 2020, we are thrilled to have resumed presenting Broadway national tours this Season.
PPAC has no capacity restrictions; all event staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. PPAC is one of the first New England performing arts venue to achieve GBAC STAR™ accreditation, indicating that the theatre has implemented stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention. GBAC STAR™ is the gold standard of prepared facilities and is the cleaning industry’s only outbreak prevention, response and recovery accreditation program for venues.