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PPAC Theatre History

“I remember coming here as a young person and thinking I was walking into a fairyland. {…} I would like my little grandson to bring his grandchildren here. This will be here long after I am gone…” 

-Mrs. B.A. (Sylvia) Dario, one of the many champions of the Loew’s Theatre Building

It was a momentous day when 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 with the rise of television’s popularity in the early 1950s. The Theatre also suffered damage from the New England Hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Carol in 1954. The resulting damage from Hurricane Carol led to the removal of the Theatre’s original Morton pipe organ.

In 1972, the theatre changed its name to the Palace Concert Theatre, where it mainly presented rock concerts, as opposed to screening films. 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 day of screening films. 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. 


For the past 37 years, as the Providence Performing Arts Center, the Theatre has flourished and evolved 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 OPERAMISS 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. 


Since 2008, the Providence Performing Arts Center has launched nineteen National Tours. These National Tour launches have contributed to making the Providence Performing Arts Center 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.