Needham History Center & Museum

The Needham Theatre in its Prime

Needham Paramount exterior 1930

he Needham Theatre first opened in 1915 in rooms above the general store on the southwest corner of Great Plain Avenue and Chestnut Street. Within a short time, that space became inadequate, and the owner, David Murdoch, built a new cinema on Great Plain Avenue between Dedham Avenue and Pickering Street. Despite changes of ownership and name, Needham’s movie theater was a beloved local institution that not only showed movies, but held events and benefits, and other activities.  In its early days, it also had a vaudeville stage.

The theater’s offerings were a mirror of local sensibilities, and the changes in society that happen over time.  Its first showing was the moralistic drama The Christian (1914); one of its last attempts to remain open was an unsuccessful bid in 1987 to show the X-rated Italian film Devil in the Flesh (1969). USA Cinemas, which operated the theater at that time, cancelled the scheduled showing when they were told that it would “not do well” in Needham.  The theater soon after succumbed to the blockbuster multi-plex economics of the modern cinema industry, closing for good in 1989.

Exterior and Street Views, 1915-1958

The Needham Theatre – later the Needham Paramount, later the Needham Cinema – was an important downtown landmark and a primary source of community entertainment. It shows up in numerous photos of Needham’s downtown, changing as the town changed.

Click on slideshow images below for detail and descriptions.

A Last Look Before Demolition

The Needham Theatre opened in 1926, and closed in 1989 when the economics of the movie business no longer favored small community cinemas. A property dispute left the theater building in legal limbo for more than ten years, during which there was no maintenance. By 2001, the building was deemed dangerous and was taken over by the town for demolition. Jack Cogswell, at the time a Selectman and member of the Needham History Center’s board of directors, took the opportunity to take some last photos of the theater and rescued (with permission) a few of the decorative plaster brackets for the Society’s collection. By the time the theater was demolished, its elegant interior had sadly decayed.

Click on slideshow images below for detail and descriptions.

Interior Views, 1949

Views of the interior of the theater in 1949, when it was at its elegant best.

Click on slideshow images below for detail and descriptions.