Before it was the Providence Performing Arts Center, our beloved Weybosset theater with the iconic lights and opulent interior had many identities. It opened in October of 1928 as Loew’s State Movie Palace, entertained a brief stint as a rock concert venue in the early ‘70s, was on the brink of being demolished in 1976 until city members (including the infamous Buddy Cianci) stepped in, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and finally transformed into a nonprofit performing arts space. It wasn’t until 1982 that what had become the Ocean State Performing Arts Center added Providence to its name, in honor of the city that saved it.
“Like any 92-year-old, the Grande Dame is starting to show her age,” says Alan Chille, Vice President at PPAC, playfully referring to the building’s original facade which has survived decades of New England winters and two major hurricanes. In July, the theater announced a restoration project that will include replacing one-third of the stone face and repairing and resurfacing the rest, making the building lustrous – and waterproof – once again.
“The Weybosset Street facade provides the grand and ornate face to the actual theater that sits well back from the street,” Chille explains. The developer, movie house mavens Rapp & Rapp, designed the interior to feature a grand lobby, vestibules for retails shops, auditorium, plus office space in the above four stories; the frontage was wrapped in hand-carved and molded terracotta to mimic the European Renaissance style popular at the time. “One of only a few surviving terracotta facades such as this still exist in the City,” adds Chille.
The restoration is a multi-faceted effort between PPAC’s own funds and grants from The Champlin Foundation and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The project is expected to take five months, ready to debut alongside the national tour launch of The Prom in late January.
“The Providence Performing Arts Center is historically important to the City,” says Chille, “as it represents one of the few grand movie theaters left in the country – truly a gem.”