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The following information about the Stadium Theatre
Has been taken from the 
National Register of Historic Places Inventory
Nomination Form 

The Stadium Building and Theatre
329 Main Street
Woonsocket, RI

Description of the Present and Original Physical Appearance

The Stadium Building, constructed in 1925-1926, is 
comprised of two connected sections, one housing a movie 
theatre flanked by shops at two levels and the other, a four-
story office building with shops on the ground floor. The 
whole complex is constructed with a steel frame encased in 
concrete and veneered with red brick.

Initially, the Stadium Building was planned to include only 
the theatre and the shops that front it. The project was 
promoted by the manager of a nearby vaudeville house, the 
Bijou Theatre, who interested the Paramount-Famous 
Players-Lasky Corporation, a major east coast circuit, in 
establishing a first-run movie theatre in Woonsocket. The 
principal investor was Mrs. Norbert Champeau, a wealthy 
widow who had an interest in the stage and was a friend of 
the Bijou's manager. Plans for the building were prepared 
by the Providence firm of (Frank B.) Perry (1876-1955) 
and (Eugene B.) Whipple (1872-1946), architects who 
specialized in designing mills and other industrial 
buildings. Quite probably the firm had worked on a number 
of buildings in Woonsocket, and was hired on the basis of 
personal connections rather than by virtue of any 
experience with theatre design. Working drawings were 
completed in April 1924, and approved by Paramount's in-
house architect, Robert E. Hall. However, Mrs. Champeau 
was unable to raise sufficient funds for the project, and it 
was soon taken over by Arthur I. Darman (b. 1890), a local 
industrialist, who had helped secure the original mortgage.

Darman expanded the project's scope to include a four-
story office building designed by the same architects on the 
adjacent property. He also had a series of embellishments
made to the theatre design, one third of which was financed 
by Paramount, the remaining portion by himself. 
Supervising this work was the Providence decorating firm 
of Watts and Hutton. Darman's brother-in-law, Abraham 
Anthony, who headed a large decorating house in Boston, 
served as an advisor. Through Anthony, structural and 
acoustical consultation services were provided by the office 
of Cram and Ferguson. The revised working drawings were 
completed in March 1925, and approved that June. 
Construction began shortly thereafter. The theatre officially 
opened on 6 September 1926. The cost of the entire 
complex was approximately $1,000,000.

Using a widely accepted arrangement which allowed for 
the maximum utilization of valuable commercial land, the 
theatre front is occupied by shops, two of which where 
originally located on either side of a long arcade leading to 
the lobby and auditorium. This latter space runs roughly 
parallel to the street, midway in the lot. To the rear is a 
parking yard, constructed in conjunction with the complex, 
and the first of its kind in the city.

The façade served the dual function of fronting a small 
commercial block and of advertising the theatre. Its basic 
design has the elements common to many buildings of the 
type constructed during the 1920's, with clean rectilinear 
bay division enframing large areas of glass. This outer 
skeleton is embellished with ornamental metalwork loosely 
fashioned after Adamesque patterns. The shop fronts have 
large bay windows of stamped metal (one of which is now 
removed), below fanlights of translucent glass blocks and 
marble panels. In between, at the front of the arcade, is an 
ornate ticket booth sheathed in bronze. The original 
rectangular marquee and vertical sign, enframed with vari-
colored flashing light bulbs, complimented the façade's 
metalwork. These were replaced in 1956 by the present 
angled marquee.

The arcade was used not only as a bridge between the street 
and auditorium, but as a place where the attention of 
waiting crowds could be diverted until the audience from 
the previous show could be dispersed. Shops were placed 
inside the arcade at both levels, with an open stair and 
central well visually connection the two section. Directly 
above the well was skylight permitting natural illumination 
of this area during the day. In 1957, the upstairs shops were 
converted into office space, eliminating the central well and 
skylight; however, the arcade itself has been little changed. 
Its sides are lined with large display windows, topped by 
fanlights and enframed with Ionic pilasters. The ornate 
overhead lighting fixtures have been retained.

The lobby (measuring some 80 x 70 feet), is a long, low 
space with a shallow coved ceiling extending under the 
balcony of the auditorium. Its decoration is eclectic. 
Adamesque relief work establishes the wall articulation, 
and originally was continued on the ceiling, with painted 
floral patterns on the arches, at the corners of each bay, and 
around the medallions. The latter elements still contain the 
small murals, which were executed by a Dutch-born 
painter, Maurice Compris (1885-?) a resident of Rockport, 
Massachusetts. The side tables, chairs, and benches are 
patterned after Italian Renaissance models and were made 
especially for the theatre. The most distinguished 
decorative work consists of twin fountain niches, flanking 
the ersatz fireplace, and a drinking fountain at the east end 
of the room designed by the Los Angeles tile manufacturer 
Ernest Bachelder (1875-1957). These rough-glaze 
architectural tiles use Art Noveau patterns in a classical 
framework, forming highly original motifs executed in 
varying earth tones off-set by occasional tiles in blues and 
reds.

The auditorium is arranged on the so-called stadium plan 
(apparently, the source for its name) with the balcony 
extending to the ground floor level. This configuration was 
considered ideal for medium-size theatres where the 
advantage of increased elevation in the rear section is 
usually attained with the constructional expense of a 
suspended balcony. The space is approximately 87 feet 
wide and 144 feet long with the ceiling supported by three 
pairs of transverse steel trusses anchored to the vertical 
frame. The original seating capacity of 1500 was reduced 
by 100 in 1956 to provide greater legroom. At the same 
time, air conditioning was installed throughout the 
building.

The decorative scheme features a reserved use of 
Adamesque and Federal motifs. Ornamental plasterwork 
framing the proscenium is patterned after late eighteenth 
century mantels. The flanking organ screens use large 
Federal aediculae as surrounds. The bases of the side walls 
are faced with Zenitherm, a synthetic acoustical fibre, 
formed to appear as dressed stonework. Above, the plaster 
walls and ceiling are divided into six bays by pilasters and 
straps with bas-relief and painted panel infills. With the 
alterations made in 1956, the lower set of panels was 
removed, the ceiling painted over, and the delicate 
polychromatic color scheme changed to one of light buff 
with white trim.

Fronting the stage is an orchestra pit for an orchestra of 
twelve to fourteen and a double unit Wurlitzer organ. 
Remarkably, the organ has been maintained in excellent 
working condition and is one of the very few instruments of 
its kind in the state still operating in a theatre. The stage, 
over 26 feet in depth and 75 feet wide, is equipped with 
fifty-seven drops to accommodate a wide variety of 
vaudeville show, held regularly in the theatre until the early 
1950's. The installations were manufactured by Peter Clark, 
Inc. of New York, one of the leading companies in the field 
at the time. Dressing rooms and storage facilities as well as 
the heating plant are housed below the stage.

The connecting four-story office building is treated as a 
separate unit conforming to the lot configuration. The 
building's front is set on three slightly varying planes. 
However, the interior plan follows on a rectangular grid. Its 
façade is symmetrically divided into seven bays, with the 
central one fronting the lobby and stairhalls above. The 
skeletal articulation used on the theatre front is continued 
here, but without applied decoration. The ornamental shop 
fronts, entrance, balconies on the central bay, and parapet 
are the chief elements differentiating the design from that 
of many industrial building of the period. Six stores 
extending the full depth of the building were originally on 
the ground floor. Each of these units had an individual 
storage and/or display area directly beneath it in the 
basement. These two levels were completely remodeled 
circa 1956 to accommodate one large clothing store on the 
ground floor, and another tenant below. The three office 
floors are of identical plan with a lateral T-shape corridor. 
On each floor, seven rooms of varying sizes face the street; 
eight open on the rear court. Following standard office 
design practices of the period, all abutting rooms have 
connecting doors. Transom and casement windows are used 
on the interior walls to aid the circulation of air. The floors 
are serviced by a single open stairwell and adjacent 
elevator.

The lobby is unusually lavish in its decoration for a 
commercial building of this size. The floor is laid with 
patterned glazed tiles imported from the Netherlands and 
reputedly acquired from the Cram and Ferguson office. 
Recessed panels with brightly colored relief work extend 
the length of the second floor stair corridor's soffit. 
Underneath the stairs are three mural panels by Maurice 
Compris, the largest of which is an allegorical depiction of 
Woonsocket's founding and development. A band of tiles, 
very possibly the products of the Grueby Faience Company 
of Boston, articulates the second floor level along the stairs.

Statement of Significance

The Stadium Building is a good example of the moderate 
size, multi-functional commercial complex of the 1920's, 
and is in an unusually good state of preservation. It was 
build and is still owned by one of Woonsocket's most 
prominent businessmen and civic leaders. Moreover, the 
building holds a central place in the cultural history of the 
community during the past half century.

From the time Arthur Darman assumed control of the 
project, it was conceived to be as much a civic monument 
as a commercial enterprise, and it has been maintained in 
that spirit despite the adverse conditions in a declining 
downtown. Darman was only thirty-six when the building 
was constructed. Already he owned a large waste wool 
business and was a leader in the affairs of the Jewish 
community. The Stadium complex manifests both his 
business and civic involvements. Erected during a period of 
extensive development in Woonsocket's central district, the 
building was regarded as a sound business investment. At 
the same time, it functioned as a civic amenity, giving the 
city its first deluxe movie house.

Over the next forty years, Darman assumed an increasingly 
important role in civic and charitable activities, heading 
numerous fund raising drives, and serving as a trustee for 
several Jewish and civic institutions. He also chaired local 
chapters of the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts, was 
chairman of the Redevelopment Agency, and active 
member of the Rhode Island Division of the Touro 
Synagogue Restoration Committee, a member of the 
Industrial Building Authority. For Darman, the Stadium 
Building was another way of stating his civic commitment. 
Little altered and immaculately maintained, it symbolizes 
the extensive, multi-faceted energies of one man to work 
for the betterment of his city. In the words of a 1927 
promotional book produced for Arthur Darman. The 
Stadium complex "is something more than a great, modern 
business structure, it is the consummation of a personal 
ambition to erect a proud landmark in the progress of 
Woonsocket. In achieving the ideal of an individual, it 
becomes a lasting tribute to the community that inspired 
those ideals and made possible their fruition."

When the Stadium was built, the deluxe movie theatre was 
regarded by many as among the more important physical 
assets a community could have. For the first time, it 
combined amusement, comfort (indeed, often palatial 
splendor), and instruction for large numbers of people, thus 
fulfilling a hybrid role to which no single building type has 
succeeded. In 1926, both the concepts and the 
organizational structure which lay behind the design and 
stage productions at the Stadium were still quite new. The 
notion of erecting a palatial movie theatre, comparable to 
the finest of legitimate theatres, was initiated during the 
mid-1910's in New York City. However, it was not until 
the beginning of the next decade, when the approach had 
been proven a success, that it was adapted on a large scale 
for use with moderate size houses.

Both physical and psychological factors were determinants 
in deluxe theatre design. In contrast to legitimate houses, 
where viewing only a portion of the stage was considered 
adequate, the layout of new movie theatres was organized 
to render the entire screen and the orchestra platform 
visible from all seats. In addition, comfortable seating was 
regarded as a crucial feature to attract large audiences, 
These aspects, combined with increasingly rigorous fire 
safety codes, led to a much more horizontal configuration 
of the auditorium and more spacious circulation spaces in 
the adjoining lobbies that had generally been used in earlier 
theatres. Of no less importance was allusion to grandeur 
afforded by the lavish decorative schemes in these 
buildings. As Edward Albee and B.F. Keith had elevated 
the status of vaudeville to that of legitimate theatre during 
the 1890's by introducing the imagery and services 
associated with great opera houses, now the movie industry 
sought to employ the same devices on a grander scale, and 
combined them with low admission fares, to create the 
huge mass market for entertainment. Creating a palatial 
atmosphere for people, many of whom had no other 
opportunity to experience it, proved an extremely affective 
means of drawing large crowds. For the first time, the 
theatre became democratized; almost anybody could afford 
to attend. The working man could enjoy the same show, the 
same seats, and the same service as the well-to-do. The 
move theatre probably had as great an impact on the 
public's concept of entertainment as the automobile was 
concurrently having on the public's mobility.

By the standards of the day, the Stadium's interiors are 
relatively reserved, lacking the ornate, often exaggerated 
decoration found in many movie palaces. Nevertheless, the 
scheme is quite rich for a building of its size. The use of 
Adamesque motifs was common to a number of theatres of 
the period where a taste for restraint rather than ostentation 
prevailed. Eschewing overt elaborateness for a lighter, 
more delicate embodiment of the theatrical spirit was an 
approach which the contemporary architectural critic R.W. 
Sexton hoped would become a dominant one in theatre 
design of the future. In his American Theatres of Today 
(1927), one in a series of books on new building types 
which became standard reference works of the period, 
Sexton devoted several pages to illustrating the Stadium, 
presumably because he considered it exemplary for its size.

For many of Woonsocket's residents, however, such points 
were of little concern, since the Stadium was by far the 
most opulent and accommodating place readily accessible 
to the general public. In a city without grand municipal 
buildings, the theatre provided an almost unique 
opportunity to enjoy such luxuries. The decoration, the live 
performances, the feature films, and the newsreels 
combined to make the place an important arena for contact 
with the outside world. The movies and stage acts were an 
especially useful means for many immigrants to improve 
reading and speaking capacities. Darman considered the 
movie theatre to have no less an instructive role within the 
community than the library or the school. Thus the 
building's design was intended not only as a sensuous relief 
from the everyday world, but to help educate the public. Its 
decorative scheme, aside from the extremely fine Bachelder 
tiles, is not especially distinguished; however, it is 
significant within the context of the worldly atmosphere it 
sought to create, and what this atmosphere represented to 
the people who went there.

During the initial years of its operation, the performances at 
the Stadium were quite elaborate. Three shows were held a 
day, beginning at 2 p.m. and lasting an average of two 
hours and fifteen minutes. The sequence varied, but always 
included an overture from the twelve-piece orchestra, an 
organ concert (often a sing-a-long), a chorus routine, 
vaudeville act, newsreel, and feature film. The stage acts 
were constantly changing, with a new troupe being 
introduced about every four days. The organist and 
orchestra were also guest performers, although their 
engagement usually lasted several weeks. The permanent 
staff consisted of eight chorus girls, three stagehands, two 
projectionists and an assistant, eight ushers and a captain, a 
manager, an assistant manager, a ticket salesman, and three 
janitors.

The primary reason why such a large and divers operation 
could profitably operate in a small city was the highly 
developed system of the managing circuit, Publix Pictures, 
Inc., created in the same year as the Stadium opened. 
Publix was formed by the merger of the Paramount-Famous 
Players-Lasky Corporation with a major midwestern 
circuit, Balaban and Katz. It combined the former 
organization's proficiency in film production with the 
latter's sophisticated theatre management techniques. The 
consolidation of these two large circuits also greatly 
expanded the ready market for Paramount's movies, while 
it enabled greater variety in the live performances. By 1927 
Publix was operating theatre across the country, 160 of 
which were in New England alone. The company supplied 
professional managers, staff trainers, musicians, and 
booked the acts. These were upgraded in what Katz called 
"performances" with elaborate costumes, props and chorus 
routines. Understandably, the demand for this type of chain 
operation was large, for it permitted towns and small cities 
to experience a quality of entertainment on a regular basis 
seldom possible before. At the same time, Publix policy 
sought flexibility, tailoring itself to local needs. Over 125 
of its theatres, including the Stadium, were joint ventures, 
financed by local investors who provided a valuable link 
with their respective communities.

The advantageous position in which this form of operation 
placed the Stadium was augmented by the close rapport 
soon established between Arthur Darman and Publix 
president Sam Katz. Both men shared the view that as 
many people as possible should have the opportunity to 
experience big-time performances. Darman's attitude was 
later expressed in an interview where he stated: "Rich 
people can go to New York for amusement, I want the 
working man to be able to get just as good right here at 
home." The Stadium operation was more than a routine 
execution of Publix policy, however. Darman, who had 
worked in a road show when he was fourteen, was 
personally acquainted with the poor living conditions many 
traveling actors had to endure, and was unusually 
munificent in the accommodations he provided visiting 
performers. Over the years, the Stadium became a favored 
stop for vaudevillians. As a result of both this personal 
attention and the friendship with Katz, the Stadium was 
able to secure many of the best acts available. 
Unfortunately, the detailed record Darman kept of the 
shows staged there has been inadvertently destroyed.

Vaudeville acts were, or course, considerably more 
expensive to produce than the projection of films.
They were considered a necessity, however, in order to 
maintain a full house. Movies, as a reputable form of 
entertainment, were still a recent phenomenon in the 
1920's; and with the absence of sound track, their novelty 
needed the augmentation of live show. But when talking 
pictures became commonplace early in the next decade, 
and with the contemporaneous economic depression, 
vaudeville rapidly began to disappear. In spite of these 
conditions, Darman insisted the performances be 
maintained, absorbing the loss himself. The acts continued 
at the Stadium until the early 1950's, making it among the 
last places in the country where vaudeville appeared on a 
regular basis.

Both the theatre and the office building were conceived not 
only in terms of the facilities they provided, but as a major 
step in the transformation of the surrounding area into a 
major commercial center of the city. Woonsocket's 
business district has gradually moved northward along 
Main Street in the direction of Monument Square where the 
Stadium complex is located. The Square began to play a 
significant civic role in 1870 with the erection of a Civil 
War Monument (first in the state) and the opening of the 
Monument House Hotel. In 1888 the Woonsocket Opera 
House went up adjacent to the Square, and soon other more 
modest commercial structures followed. In 1912 the new 
Post Office was erected close by, and shortly before 
construction was begun on the Stadium, the imposing four-
story headquarters of the St. Jean -Baptiste Society was 
built next door. Several dilapidated structures stood 
between this edifice and the theatre; Darman's plans for the 
office building were both to protect his initial investment 
and to respond to the growing demand for commercial 
facilities on the Square. In anticipation of further need, he 
purchased additional property across the street. However, 
the prospects for continued development were shattered by 
the Depression; and with the steady decentralization 
process that has taken place since the Second World War, 
no consequential building activity has occurred on the 
Square since.

Nevertheless, Darman's commitment to the property has 
continued. Due to declining business, New England 
Theatre, Inc., a regional subsidiary of Publix, failed to 
renew their lease on the building in 1956. Darman formed 
the AIDCO Corporation and assumed control of the theatre 
management himself. Concurrently, he invested in 
alterations to the building, including a new marquee, air 
conditioning, and new seats. When the theatre reopened, he 
staged a spectacle with searchlights and a military band 
playing in the Square, an unusual gesture for the time. 
Other attempts to revive its prestige were made with guest 
performances of the Boston Pops and nationally known 
entertainers such as Peter Duchin. The building has always 
been immaculately maintained; however, none of these 
efforts succeeded in generating a profit. For some eighteen 
years, Darman operated the theatre at a substantial loss. 
Finally, in 1974, the building was leased to an outside 
concern which is showing X-rated films. Within the past 
year, the Opera Guild Society has expressed serious interest 
in purchasing the theatre for conversion as a performing 
arts center. The fact that is remains in unusually good 
condition with many of its original furnishings intact makes 
the building an ideal facility for this use. If these plans 
materialize, they would make a substantial contribution 
toward the revitalization of downtown Woonsocket, which 
has already begun with the construction of a new post 
office, library, and police station nearby, and bring new life 
to this significant local monument.

Form prepared by
Richard W. Longstreth, Senior Survey Specialist
Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission
April 15, 1976

Bibliography

Anderson, Timothy J et.al. eds.
California Design 1920
Pasadena, CA, 1974

Bicknell, Thomas W.
The History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence 
Plantations, New York, 1920, Vol. 5, pt. 2, p. 505

Burnstein, Haym
Stadium Building, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
Privately printed, 1927

Gilbert, Douglas
American Vaudeville, Its Life and Times
New York & London, 1940

Grau, Robert
The Business Man in the Amusement World
New York, 1910

Hall, Ben M.
The Best Remaining Seats…
New York, 1961

Kennedy, Joseph P.
The Story of Films
Chicago & New York, 1927

MacGowan, Kenneth
Behind the Screen, the History of Technologies
of the Motion Picture, New York, 1965

Murphy, T.E.
"Book Me in Woonsocket, " Saturday Evening Post
23 June 1945, pp. 27, 41, 43

Sexton, R.W. and Betts, B. F. (eds.)
American Theatres Today
New York, 1927

Interviews with Arthur I. Darman
Woonsocket, RI, April 1976

Stadium Realty Company, Inc. records

Woonsocket Call newspaper
various editions, 1926-1972.