Beverly’s Cabot Street Cinema to be sold to mystery buyer
The Cabot Street Cinema Theatre in downtown Beverly, one of the last remaining vaudeville-era movie houses left in the country, is set to be sold, according to the real estate firm handling the sale.
According to Landvest, which listed the 800-seat theater for $1.275 million on its website, the property is under agreement. David Bull, the theater’s owner, did not respond to an interview request, and Landvest’s Joanna Dresser declined to name the buyer.
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, also declined to name the buyer but said the community would be pleased with the new owners, who plan to reopen the theater for music and other live performances.
“It’s definitely good news for the community. It’s what everybody was hoping for,” she said.
The vaunted theater — with its golden dome, frescoes, orchestra pit, and balcony with original cast-iron seats — has been open since 1920. Originally known as “The Ware,” it is one of the estimated 250 US theaters remaining from the 20,000 movie halls built during the age of silent films and vaudeville in the 1920s, according to Landvest.
After Cesareo Pelaez took over the theater in 1976, it became the home of “Le Grand David” — earning a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-running stage magic production/show. The show, which recorded more than 2,500 performances — including seven at The White House — featured levitation, dance, barbershop singers, jugglers, and, other magic tricks.
After Pelaez, also known as “Marco the Magi” — a Cuban refugee and Salem State professor — died in 2012, the show ended. The theater continued to screen films until this past winter, when it was shuttered. The theater’s parent company, White Horse Productions, still owns the Larcom Theatre a short distance away on Wallis Street, where live music and comedy are featured.
Bull worked with Pelaez and is the namesake for “Le Grand David.” While it’s still unclear how the new owners will use the facility when it reopens, many business owners credit the theater with serving as a downtown anchor and helping to spur economic growth.
“It’s a major draw that brings people downtown,” said Rich Marino, who owns Chianti Tuscan Restaurant and Jazz Lounge , which sits across the street from the theater.
Marino said he was standing in the lobby of the theater in 1990 when he envisioned opening an Italian restaurant across the street.
“I thought it would be terrific to put a business in there and that it would create a healthy synergy downtown between the various businesses,” said Marino, who opened Chianti in 1992, one of the first of several specialty restaurants that now line Cabot Street and have helped the city earn a reputation as a dining destination.
Marino said keeping the theater open is critical to the downtown economy.
“Some type of combination of film and live entertainment would be the perfect match for the downtown,’’ he said. “We have a great restaurant scene, we have incredible galleries and shops, but as a culture we need to have entertainment and live shows and movies to complete the circle.”
John Archer, whose family has owned an insurance company on Cabot Street near the cinema since 1941, said the magic show and theater helped bring stability to the downtown’s sagging economy in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It gave all of Cabot Street a pulse,” said Archer. “We’re on the map because of the Cabot Street Cinema and the magic show.”
Bill Hanney, who owns the North Shore Music Theatre, said the cinema’s 800 seats place it between larger venues like his performance center in Beverly and smaller ones like the Larcom.
“Finding the middle ground and programming is sometimes tough,” said Hanney. “But there’s probably a million things they can do down there to keep people coming.”
Paul Guanci, president of the Beverly City Council, also would like Cabot Street Cinema to remain a theater.
“It’s a downtown staple,” he said. “You would not want that to turn into a free-standing restaurant or offices. You want that to be part of the creative economy.”