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An early work by Oresto di Saia, one of Providence’s first Italo-American architects. Its elaborate facade is typical of movie houses of the era, but here the trim is pressed metal, a less expensive alternative to terra cotta. Built as a neighborhood theatre, it has largely intact and, typical for the times, modestly articulated interior. For much of the second half of the twentieth century it featured an intriguing combination of pornogrpahic films and live opera. In recent years, and without a change in ownership, it became the city’s third independent-film movie house.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

It was built in 1926 for its first owner Domenic Annotti, a real estate agent. Seating was provided for 1,492 in the orchestra and mezzanine levels, a number comparable to theatres in NYC. From 1929 to 1962, the theatre was known as the Uptown Theatre.

The theatre was the focal point for Italian stage plays, events and movies for years. Second-run programs continued until the sectioning off of the balcony into a separate “Studio Cinema” in 1965. It was the rival of the Avon Cinema on Thayer Street for “art movies,” and for several years afterward it showcased adult films. In recent years, the theatre became a popular spot for independent film festivals and cultural events.

Builder Misak Berberian purchased the theatre in 1962, and restored the original name. In 2000, the Columbus gained newfound respect and appreciation as the indie-minded Picture Start Film Series and the Rhode Island International Film Festival came to the theatre. In 2006, the theatre showed its last adult film.

In August of 2009, the Columbus Theatre was ordered closed by city inspectors due to a number of outstanding code violations. Costs of the fire upgrades would exceed $100,000, an amount the owners could not afford. The city ordered an upgrade of the building’s fire-suppression system, which did not meet state fire code.PPS included it on the 2011 Most Endangered Properties list.

SAVED: After three years and $400,000 of investment, the Columbus Theatre reopened in November of 2012. As of February, 2019, it is again serving as a popular venue for music, comedy, film and community events. According to the venue’s website, “Formed in summer 2012, the Columbus Cooperative comprises members of the music, design, nonprofit, and hospitality industries. Working alongside the Theatre’s ownership, the Cooperative works to reinvigorate both the Theatre and the Providence community by programming a range of unique live events in an unequaled space.”

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© 2024 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.