100 years of history behind closed Colonial doors

by Anna Buckley / Beacon Staff • September 10, 2015

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The Colonial Theatre inspired the construction of what's now known as the Theatre District.
The Colonial Theatre inspired the construction of what's now known as the Theatre District.

On the evening of Dec. 20, 1900, rather than Emerson students dodging each other on their way to their four-hour long night classes, the Boylston sidewalk bustled with theatre goers on the grand opening of the Colonial Theatre. The audience ogled as the melodrama Ben-Hur played out on the freshly laid stage, featuring 350 cast members and eight real horses pulling a chariot. Above the audience shone gold leaf, mirrors, murals and marble. Such extravagance inspired the construction of what is now known as the Theatre District, with the construction of the Majestic (1903), the Shubert Theatre (1910), the Wilbur (1914) and the Metropolitan (1925), which is currently known as the Wang. Over the years, the likes of Fred Astaire, Orson Welles, and Barbra Streisand have tapped, gesticulated, and sung their way around the historic stage. 

Now, as the oldest continually operating theater, the Citi Performing Arts Center Emerson Colonial Theatre is closing indefinitely, according to The Boston Globe. President Lee Pelton recently addressed the Emerson community via email, writing, “The Colonial has significant deferred maintenance that must be completed to enable the facility to function effectively and efficiently.” However, Pelton assured all that preserving the remarkable history of the theatre is a main priority moving forward. As students breeze by on Boylston, the Colonial sits tucked away from the busy street, a ghost of former glory awaiting the verdict of fate. As Welles once wrote, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”