theater awaits wrecking crane in neighborhood ambivalent about its
Gaiety Theatre in 1941
Ten cents in
the gallery and one dollar for the box seats.
Matinee and evening performances at 2:15 p.m. and 8 p.m.
On opening night,
Nov. 23, 1908, all 1,700 seats were taken, and hundreds of people
stood to catch the performance at the Gaiety Theater.
was delighted with each and every part of the show and expressed
its approval in repeated applause," reported The Boston Globe
the next morning.
Washington Street in 1925.
At the time,
the Chinatown/Midtown cultural district was a mecca for the African-American
working-class culture in Boston. On lower Washington Street, then
known as 'theatre row,' patrons bustled to shows. With 15 theaters,
culture flourished. Burlesque, an inexpensive popular entertainment,
of glory, these theaters have been demolished one by one over the
years and replaced with modern towers. The Gaiety Theatre at 659-665
Washington St. faces the same fate. It might be demolished as early
as this summer because on April 22, the Boston
Landmark Commission decided that the theater is not
a historical landmark worth saving.
commissioners commended the supporters for their efforts to bring
historical information to light and for spreading awareness of the
Gaiety, they denied the theater landmark status. They didn't even
call for a vote on the rehabilitation of the theater, something
participants at the meeting expected.
Paramount at 549 Washington Street is a 450-to-700-seat
theater under renovation with Millennium Partner's financial
Co. plans to build a 30-story luxury apartment complex, Kensington
Place, on the Gaiety site, a plan applauded by some Chinatown leaders
who see it as an opportunity for more housing and opposed by others
who fear the neighborhoods continued gentrification.
The Boston Landmark
Commission's verdict advanced Kensington a step closer to the start
of construction. The Boston Redevelopment Authority has been reviewing
its proposal since last summer.
residents have been torn between efforts to preserve the 95-year-old
Gaiety and the 'affordable units' Kensington is promising.
that, in a long term, it will have negative impacts on the existing
community," Sherry Hao, executive director of the Campaign
Protect Chinatown, said of the Kensington plan.
"It is going to change the constituency of Chinatown's demographics.
is shrinking and will be for high-income yuppies," she added.
the Gaiety looks like now and, behind it, the Millenium
about gentrification are coupled with concerns about an increase
in traffic and air pollution. She also contends that the Kensington
Tower is a violation of the Chinatown Master Plan 2000.
Kressel pointed out that Kensington Place would also violate the
Zoning Code that limits height to 155 feet in the Midtown/Cultural
District and the Urban Renewal Area.
To build a 290-foot
tower, Kensington must have one acre of land, she said. It owns
a half-acre at present. Kensington Investment Co. is seeking an
exemption from that requirement.
business leaders, however, believe that Kensington Place is a fabulous
also attracts some Chinatown residents who are desperate to increase
the stock of affordable housing. But according to the Chinatown
Master Plan 2000, the median annual income of Chinatown residents
is below $10,000.
50 of the 336 Kensington units are slated as "affordable,"
they would remain out of reach for those living at such poverty
levels. Ten of these units will be available for low-income earners
with an annual salary of about $26,000. Prices for these units will
be expected to start at about $750 for a one bedroom.
40 units are reserved for people whose salary ranges from $41,552
to $62,328 annually.
Rents for those
"affordable" 40 units are expected to start at $1,187
to $1,781, a month for a one bedroom, very pricey for a community
in which many residents survive below the poverty level.
be able to afford the price but many might not," said Lydia
Lowe, director of the Chinese
These rent prices
are for 2002 and may fluctuate with the market, according to Heidi
Burbridge of the Boston Redevelopment Authority.
Place proposal . Courtesy
of The Architectural Team
The rest of
the units would be market rate and these are attractive to more
affluent former Chinatown residents interested in returning to the
I want to live in Kensington Place," said Fan Chou, a former
long-term Chinatown resident who grew up there and is now an executive
director of a construction company. "I moved to a suburb of
Boston, but want to go back to Chinatown [to enjoy an urban life].
I also want to be a consumer, a spender for Chinatown."
In any case,
said Bill Moy, a member of the Chinatown Neighborhood Council, the
fight to save the Gaiety makes no sense because the theater already
is largely gutted.
is nothing there," he said, speaking of the theater, "It
is empty. It's already demolished so there is nothing to be saved.
(Therefore) It is not to be restored but to be rebuilt from zero.
[Advocates of the Gaiety] are having a fantasy. Their idea is bogus."
Glass Slipper and Centerfolds on LaGrange Street
Moy said he
supports Kensington Place partly because it will remove two adult-oriented
business, the Glass Slipper and an adult bookstore, that are among
the last remnants of the old Combat Zone.
rid of many adult entertainment shops when the Combat Zone was disbanded
a decade ago, but some still remain. Two other shops, a Vietnamese
gift shop and a cigarette shop located on the ground level of the
Gaiety's building, will also be relocated.
Co. has argued that the renovation or rebuilding of the theater
would be too costly at $25 million.
build over it. We cannot build around it. We cannot build under
it, " said Ralph Cole, president of Kensington.
the benefits that Kensington Place might bring. He said it would
make LaGrange Street more pedestrian-friendly and provide more meeting
space for community-based organization and retail shops.
to historians, journalists, activists, acoustic music fans and members
of the Friends of the Gaiety, it is clear that the theater should
of Friends of the Gaiety, said Kensington's figure was based on
an expansion of the theater, not restoration. His organization has
said the actual cost would be $9 million,
to restore it as where it was, what it used to be," said Eiseman.
Place, a 30-story residential tower. Courtesy
of Sky Boston.
To Chou, the
former Chinatown resident eager to return to the area, one word
settles the argument: housing.
"I do not
know the best solution but housing brings a lot of tangible advantages,"
he said. "Like the Back Bay, wealthy successful people will
contribute to Chinatown and improve the quality of life. There will
be good restaurants and coffee shops."
said it plans to contribute $650,000 to Liberty
Tree Park, which would serve as the main entrance to
the condominiums. It also says it will provide $50,000 in funding
for the reuse of the Paramount Theater and $50,000 for other Chinatown/Midtown
cultural district uses.
however, say the best cultural district use would be of the Gaiety
itself. Some believe that the theater would be perfect for chamber
music. Because Boston lacks a mid-sized theater, they claim that
the Gaiety has a potential use.
As Ryan Fleur,
executive director of the Pro
Arte Chamber Orchestra explained, "All performers
in Greater Boston need a place. Boston lacks a concert hall. It
depends on how it will be renovated to use, but the Gaiety will
be good for recitals, for cello soloists like Yo-Yo-Ma, and it can
bring radio broadcasts."
Fleur said some
musicians do not perform at the Wang or the Shubert Theaters because
both are used mostly for stage productions. The Gaiety, however,
is different because of its acoustic features, he said.
assistant director for access services and archives at Emerson College,
speculates that there would be enough space for performances at
the Gaiety, but said that he would be concerned about whether or
not it would be able to survive with so many other theaters in the
organizations are suffering financially during the current economic
downturn," he said, "I'm not certain what the need for
another restored theater is on Washington Street, especially when
you weigh that need against the Kensington Group proposal."
hope that it will provide a psychological bridge between
the neighborhood and the people moving into the new
Dawson, grand nephew of the architect Clarence Howard
If the Gaiety
is not saved, Kensington Investment said it would build a memento
inside Kensington Place, but the idea of an exhibition does not
appeal to any supporters of the Gaiety.
going to look at it? If it is built inside of the building, only
its residents would see it," said journalist Steve Landrigan.
Though the Landmark
Commission's decision seems to favor Kensington's project, the Friends
of the Gaiety vowed not to give up.
should be here for future generations to enjoy," Robert Goshgarian
of the Friends of the Gaiety said to a Chinatown newspaper, the
the grand nephew of the architect Blackall, hopes that the theater
and the tower can coexist.
that it will provide a psychological bridge between the neighborhood
and the people moving into the new tower."
that the developer would see an advantage in having a mixture of
old and new in the modern building.
vice-president of the Friends of the Gaiety, said the history and
its representation of Boston's African-American, working-class culture
of the 1900s is as important as that of 'white elites.'
of society are worthy of preservation," Jerome said.