Suffolk U. to reopen Modern

by Beacon Staff • October 31, 2007

This theatre, too, is scheduled to open in 2009 and satisfies the college's plan to increase its residential population and Mayor Thomas Menino's 12-year plan to revitalize Downtown Crossing.,It's a familiar storyline: a college neighboring the Boston Common buys a historic but defunct theatre on Washington Street and plans to renovate it, preserving the facade but replacing the inside with a dormitory tower and performance space.

This theatre, too, is scheduled to open in 2009 and satisfies the college's plan to increase its residential population and Mayor Thomas Menino's 12-year plan to revitalize Downtown Crossing.

But this is the story of Suffolk University's Modern Theatre, located at 523-525 Washington St., not Emerson College's paralleling Paramount project, found just a few doors down.

The 131-year-old Modern will get a $35 million revival from Suffolk after 20 years of dormancy.

The university plans to construct a 12-story tower to house 180 to 200 students at the theatre. The ground floor will retain the old movie-house's theatrical panache with a 2,400-square-foot black-box theatre and an 800-square-foot art gallery, available for both student and professional performances.

The theatre will also rejuvenate the use of the adjacent Suffolk property at 10 West St., which was partially renovated into approximately 71 condominium units, according to a March amendment to Suffolk's Institutional Master Plan.

The condos were owned by a private developer who had difficulty selling them, said Elizabeth Leary, Suffolk's manager of government and community affairs.

Suffolk bought the building and began transforming the existing condos into apartments and suites for students.

Robert Whitney of the Beacon Hill Civic Association said the proximity of the Modern Theatre and 10 West St. properties made feasible the connection of the two buildings, offering space for additional dorms near the new theatre space with an entrance for students at 10 West St. and an entrance for the public in front of the Modern.

Jessica Shumaker of the Boston Redevelopment Authority said the connection of the two buildings will prove to be beneficial for Suffolk's students.

"They were right next door," she said. "It was the perfect fit."

She estimated the project will take up to two years to complete as the university takes necessary steps to ensure the preservation of the space which was Boston's first "talkie" theatre.

"It's not just brand-new construction," Shumaker said. "They really have to be careful about the current building and at the same time the building that's attached to it."

This Modern tale, however, has more prologue than Emerson's purchase of the Paramount.

Last year, Suffolk tried and failed to earn approval for a 22-story, 550-student dormitory tower in Beacon Hill after fierce opposition from residents and civic organizations that feared the influx of students would disrupt their neighborhood.

In Downtown Crossing, however, the university's development has been welcomed.

Anne Meyers, president of the Downtown Crossing Association said the neighborhood has become a manifold, 24-hour neighborhood, and that the redevelopment of the theatre will help rejuvenate the community.

"Residents have been looking for financially viable way to redevelop the Modern and they encourage Suffolk to help in this process," she said. "It's a terrific win for everybody that Suffolk is going to save the historic fa