The Palladium: A fascinating past, a bright future
Hop into your DeLorean, fire up the flux capacitor and punch in the year 1928. Worcester’s population is less than 200,000. Arland Johnson, an American architect, has just finished building the Plymouth Theater, which seats about 2,200 people and is poised to play films and host vaudeville acts/concerts.
Though the facade seems initially unimpressive, a closer look reveals delicate patterns of art deco-style detail with an Egyptian flair along the windows and roof and even more intricate design work on the interior ceiling and walls. The stairway is an entryway into a staged area, where elaborate velvet curtains hang down from hand-painted walls and columns, and a glistening balcony sits under a well-placed chandelier. There are live shows and an enormous 46- by 95-foot screen, where you can catch the latest films.
In its heyday, The Plymouth was the place to be seen.
The Plymouth featured movies such as This Thing Called Love (1929, starring Edmund Lowe and Constance Bennett), The Strawberry Blonde (1941, starring James Cagney and Rita Hayworth) and I Wake Up Screaming (1941, starring Betty Grable). In 1946, a GI from Worcester was an extra in Paisan (starring Carmela Sazio, Robert Van Loon and Harold Wagner), a fact on which then-manager Nate Goldberg capitalized.
The theater also became known for its live jazz nights in the 1940s, featuring acts such as Cab Calloway, Peggy Lee, Ina Ray Hutton, Charlie Barnet, Louis Jordan and Benny Goodman, which you could be seen for 35 cents at the matinee and 50 cents in the evening.
In 1965, The Plymouth closed for renovations after it was purchased by theater mogul Elias Loew. When it reopened two years later, it was as E.M. Loew’s Theater. The theater closed for additional renovations in 1973, only re-opening in 1975 to feature Earthquake (1974, starring Charles Heston and Ava Gardner), which was the last big picture played there.
Loew’s then transformed into a true concert venue, and throughout the ’80s, some of the music industry’s most famous faces have graced that very spot. Muddy Waters, Steppenwolf, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia, Peter Gabriel, Danzig, The B-52’s, B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jerry Lee Lewis have all played there.
Now renamed The Palladium, with a stage that is worn from the decades of feet and concert equipment that have crossed it, the venue is now known for hosting rock and metal bands, booked mostly by MassConcerts, which now own the building. Boston-based independent concert promoter MassConcerts wants to preserve the integrity and former glory of the building and is organizing a fundraising campaign to do a complete facelift.
“It’s been something that has been brewing for a while. Our eventual goal is to completely restore this building, inside and out, creating a space that brings together the original architecture from the 1920s with up-to-date technological advances we have now. This will take a lot of time and money, but we believe that downtown Worcester can be invigorated. We are hoping to raise $1 million throughout the year,” MassConcerts Marketing Director Jillian Miller said.
In addition to restoring the concert venue, the owners recently opened the attached cafe and have plans to reopen the building’s bowling alley, long since closed. The hope is to use the other parts of the building as a true artist space.
“We would love to make The Palladium a sort of all-inclusive musical wonderland where local acts can write, record, perform, etc., and with the help of the public, we know we can make that dream a reality,” Miller said. “Our dreams are big, but our funds are small, which is why The Palladium Restoration Project is so important.”
A little known fact about The Palladium is that it was featured on the Syfy network’s Ghost Hunters series in 2006 (Season 2, Episode 15). With all of the history this building has, it’s not surprising that there is some residual energy still floating about its hallowed halls. According to Miller, seeing orbs and lights and the feeling of being watched are all pretty standard experiences for those who work there. Some have even witnessed moving objects. A ghost tour might be in The Palladium’s future, as well. Even if you don’t believe in the afterlife, the feeling of nostalgia is overpowering here.
“We truly see our patrons as family and hope they feel the same about us,” Miller said. “It’s a place where people from all walks of life can come together for a great night of music. The venue has forged countless friendships, relationships and even marriages and holds a special place in the hearts of those of us who grew up in the area. Studies show that the arts help revitalize cities … we hope our venue is doing our part to give Worcester a boost. It’s worth fixing for so many reasons.”
To see what events are planned at the Worcester Palladium, visit thepalladium.net. Donations for the restoration project can be made at the box office, in the donation box during shows or by mailing a check to the Worcester Palladium, 261 Main St., Worcester, MA 01608. All proceeds from Palladium T-shirt sales (which can be found on the website and at the venue) also go to the restoration project.
By Jennifer Russo