Boston, MA: nd [circa 1960]. Original Prints. Near Fine. Probably journalistic in origin dating from 1960, a collection of photographs 4”x6” showing the controversial demolition of the Old Howard Theatre in Boston after a bad but not catastrophic fire. Images include shots of the building exterior strewn with debris, street scenes showing curious crowds watching the proceedings, interior shots of tangled beams and destroyed stalls seating, and general shots depicting the considerable damage to what was obviously a beautiful and extremely old establishment. In 1843 the site was the location of the somewhat notorious Millerite sect, a Massachusetts doomsday cult who gave up in disgust after 1844 rolled around without actually being Doomsday and the sect’s leader; William Miller (an ex-sherriff from Virginia), was discredited as a fraud in an unbelievable and surprising development. Arguably at one time the most famous and lamented theatre in Massachusetts, the Old Howard began its life in 1845 as a venue for serious drama, ballet and opera and played host to many of the leading theatrical lights of the age (including a young John Wilkes Booth) in some of the most glittering productions. In 1843 the theatre became the centre of public scrutiny after the abhorrent treatment of Sarah Parker Redmond, a black anti-slavery activist, lecturer with the American Anti-Slavery Society who eventually became a qualified medical doctor. Having purchased a ticket for the opera Don Pasquale, Redmond refused to sit in the segregated section and as a result was forcibly thrown down the stairs during the effort to remove her. She won a lawsuit against the theatre the following year and was award $500 in damages.
Eventually the rising popularity of other Boston theaters started to take its toll and by the late 1860’s the Howard was hosting variety shows involving magicians and dancing girls. This was the beginning of a trend that ended with the closing of the Howard in 1953 after a dramatic and somewhat fabulous decline into a den of sin and villainy playing host to some of the greats of the the burlesque circuit; including the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee and Fanny Brice alongside Buster Keaton, Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis and W.C. Fields. After its closure the theatre, despite being beautiful and historically unique and significant was in constant threat of demolition. A local group of interested historians began a campaign to raise the $1.5 million necessary to restore the theatre but unfortunately (or very suspiciously) before they could attain their aim the Old Howard caught fire. Although the damage was by no means catastrophic the city council moved with startling and controversial speed to demolish the local historical landmark. These photographs represent the last remaining images of a beloved urban icon. Item #8942