Smaranda Albeck is getting ready to raise the curtains on the shuttered Embassy cinema off Moody Street in Waltham, but this sequel features a big twist: Only two of the theater’s six movie screens will survive, while the other four theater rooms will be remade for Albeck’s rhythmic gymnastics school, Boston Rhythmic.
Albeck acquired the 20,000-square-foot building at 16 Pine St. in Waltham for $4.5 million on Tuesday, with plans to make it the flagship property for Boston Rhythmic and its nonprofit affiliate. The end result will be what she’s calling the Embassy Performing Arts Center. The hope is that the mix of uses will bring more people to downtown Waltham, at more hours of the day, than the Embassy did when it was being used solely as a movie theater. Her school currently serves more than 750 students.
Albeck said she first became aware of the property’s availability in 2021, through her broker, Mike Jezienicki at Boston Realty Advisors. The Landmark cinema chain had reopened the Embassy and its sister property near Kendall Square in Cambridge after state officials shuttered movie theaters statewide early in the pandemic. But business did not bounce back in Waltham, and Landmark decided to close it.
The place seemed like a perfect fit for Albeck, who currently leases spaces in Watertown and Westborough for Boston Rhythmic, and also offers classes in two Newton schools. For years, she had been looking for her own location for her business, which she bills as the largest rhythmic gymnastics school on the East Coast. Albeck said she lined up an offer to buy the property from KPR Centers nearly a year ago, and in June she got approval from Waltham’s planning board to operate a performing arts center there. By keeping two movie theaters open to the public, one with 160 seats and the other with 120, Albeck said she did not need to go through the more extended rigmarole of a new special permit, and instead could modify the existing special permit that allowed the cinema to operate.
“What’s compelling for me is that it is a property that has a second life,” Jezienicki said. “While people might lament the fact that it’s no longer Landmark Cinemas, I think it’s going to be something more significant.”
By the time Landmark closed the theater in September, Albeck’s plans were well underway. She hopes to start hosting events and restart movies later this spring and begin converting four theater rooms to classrooms for dance, theater, rhythmic gymnastics, and other performing arts. She hopes to be fully open by fall. She expects to add to her staff of 35-plus full- and part-timers, including high-school aged “junior coaches,” although she’s still not sure exactly what kind of movies she will show there. And she’ll keep the lobby intact, while converting an emergency exit at the back of the building into a full-time entrance for the students.
Landmark originally opened the Pine Street cinema building in 1998, next to a city parking garage with more than 200 spaces. Other than a sign change, Albeck plans to keep the exterior façade intact.
“Basically, we’re expanding the scope of the building while retaining what they had,” Albeck said. “It will be very beautiful for the community to have all these other activities for children, adults, and seniors.”