New Bedford Abandoned Orpheum Theatre Is a Must-See Inside
Along the bustling Route 18 in New Bedford's South End sits the quiet Orpheum Theatre, a relic of what it once was. While it may seem like just a deteriorating building at this point, the Orpheum was once an extravagant attraction for the SouthCoast, and the history is still very much alive inside its four walls.
Thanks to Acushnet photographer Frank C. Grace of Trig Photography, we have the chance to walk through this iconic venue one more time.
The history of the theatre is a unique one. Its opening day in 1912 was shared with the sinking of the Titanic, so it started off on a weird note, but the years to follow were lucrative for New Bedford. With a bustling economy in the city, the theatre was a sought-out destination in the South End.
My curiosity about this historic place led to some fascinating discoveries. I expected the venue to be a grand theatre, but I didn’t expect to hear about shooting tournaments. The French Sharpshooter’s Club of New Bedford constructed the building to serve as its headquarters and it focused on competitive shooting, military-style drill teams, and marching bands.
Accompanying the shooting range was a grand ballroom, gymnasium, retail storefront, and a 1,500-seat vaudeville theatre, which they leased to the Orpheum chain.
It looks like we women owe Martin Beck, founder of the Orpheum circuit, a thank you. The circuit was considered responsible for making vaudeville a respected art form, as states the website dedicated to the Orpheum's history, as Beck turned it around to appeal to the “decent woman.”
In its heyday, the theatre was the place to see or to be seen. From Harry Houdini to the first King Kong movie, this is where the SouthCoast went for entertainment until 1962 when the French Sharpshooter’s Club sold the building.
So what does it look like now? Are the complex moldings and intricate murals still intact? Is the magic of the past still alive amongst the rows of seats? Keep scrolling and look inside.