By Ryan Noel
Boston University News Service
One of Brookline’s most historic gems is in for a $12.5 million transformation. Originally built as a church in 1933, the Coolidge Corner Theatre grew to be the most successful independent nonprofit cinema in New England.
Located on Harvard Street, in the heart of Coolidge Corner, the theater draws in moviegoers and students alike with its offering of classes and seminars that dissect some of the world’s most classic films.
The theater went through a rough patch during the COVID-19 pandemic, coming close to permanently closing its doors for all events. In response, it began offering online viewings and outdoor screenings.
Liam Marqui, a resident of West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, started going to the theater with his grandparents when he was young.
“I went to an online viewing of ‘Alien’ during the pandemic and I enjoyed it, Marqui said. “However, I certainly missed the theater feel.”
The theater reopened on May 13, after being closed for 14 months.
Brookline residents refused to see their beloved treasure go under. The Coolidge Corner Theatre created the “$12.5 million campaign” in hopes of raising money for a 14,000-square-foot expansion.
Donations poured in, leaving only $1.9 million left to reach the goal. An anonymous donor contributed $400,000 to the campaign, and The Trust Family Foundation made a $1 million gift “to establish an endowment.”
Marqui created a fundraiser for the theater on Facebook because of the sentimental value it holds to him.
“I dedicated my fundraiser to the Coolidge Corner Theatre,” he said. “Because I hope that they can have an effect on a young person’s life like they did mine.”
There are dozens of fundraisers dedicated to the theater on Facebook that are receiving hundreds of dollars in donations from the creators’ friends and family.
The theater, as a nonprofit, relies on donations from community members and partnerships to stay afloat. For years, the theater has been a grantee of the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
Carmen Plazas, the communications manager at the Massachusetts Cultural Council, shared the most recently received operational support from their organization.
According to the Massachusetts Cultural Council fiscal year report, the $35,000 grant was given to help support “celebrating the experience of cinema by presenting the finest international, documentary, animated, and independent/experimental film series.”
It also worked to help preserve Boston’s last original Art Deco movie house with “live performances, educational programs, lectures, young/local filmmaker showcases — that all goes to nurture a broad-based, diverse audience.”
The expansion will include two additional state-of-the-art theaters, adding 206 extra seats. Moviehouse 5 will seat 149 people, and will include a small stage for the dual purpose of performances and lectures, according to the theater’s website.
Moviehouse 6 will seat 57 people and be used for smaller screenings and special events, including independent and documentary films. Visitors will be able to enter through the new Centre Street entrance into a spacious lobby.
The theater’s educational programs are seeing a growth in students and will need new classrooms to accommodate the high demand. An additional third floor will be added, including the Community Education and Engagement Center, a space dedicated to events and community use, allowing the theater to expand its educational opportunities.
This floor includes a catering kitchen and opens up for access to the roof deck.
Although the theater’s blueprints showcase a modern feel, preservation and restoration plans are in place, including refurbishing the Art Deco lobby and theaters with new carpeting and paint. Lighting, electrical systems and HVAC will all be updated as well. The well-known “Coolidge Corner Theatre” marquee will also receive an LED upgrade.
This is not the first time the theater underwent a drastic transformation. According to the historical timeline found on the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s website, a fundraiser in 1988 raised $2.6 million to avoid closure from low attendance.
A Brookline resident and realtor proposed to purchase the theater and lease it to the Coolidge Foundation for 99 years, sparking a transformation of the physical theater with funding for a new roof, new flooring and new seats. This is when the iconic marquee, designed by Mark Favermann, was born.
The construction of the new Coolidge Corner Theatre is projected to be completed in August 2022, with minimal expected disturbance to daily operations.