Park Cinema

also known as Park Theater

A soon-to-be-100-year-old movie theater went through a tumultous rebirth over a decade, and may now yet again be on the brink of something new

About this Property

#Redevelopment

In 1985, the Park Theatre was a second-run movie theatre, playing popular films that audiences still craved after the first-run cinemas were done with them. They were in good company with other local second-run theaters like the Meadowbrook Theater in Warwick; the Castle in Providence; and the Kent Theater, Greenwich Theater and the Hilltop Drive-In Theatre in East Greenwich. 1 Some second-run theaters continued to make enough money to stay open into the early 2000s, if the owner was careful about running films that were popular enough to continue to be a draw weeks after their initial release or showing independent films that the large complexes won’t touch.

In 1999, Piyush Patel purchased the Park. He owned 36 companies in New England and New Jersey at the time — including a few hotels, a textile plant, and a watertreatment facility. He also restored two other theaters, the Narragansett Pier Cinema and Wakefield’s Campus Cinema and put first-run movies into both historic houses. He had planned to do the same with the Park, putting it in direct competition with the 15-screen Showcase in Warwick and the 16-screen Hoyt’s at Providence Place Mall.2

By early 2001, the Park underwent an extensive interior renovation. New seating, sound system, and wall-coverings modernized the experience.3 He planned to open back up in April or as late as Memorial Day, and the marquee said “See you in the Spring.” well into the Fall. By October, after missing a planned opening in September, Patel put the theater up for sale at a list price of $900,000. Roof and HVAC repairs were added to the list of items that needed attention during what was supposed to be an interior renovation. 4

A few years passed with no buyers, and in May 2003 Patel announced a $1.3 million plan to transform the building’s three-theater interior into two — a dinner theater that seats about 150 patrons and an art-house theater with a capacity of about 600. True to 2003-buzzworthy retail planning, a “Cyber Cafe” was also planned.5

A liquor license would finalize the plan and provide an attraction to adult patrons, but State law forbids liquor-licensed establishments near schools without a waiver. The Park Cinema is across the street from Cranston High School East and the School Department administration building. The liquor license took some time to acquire. Further, plans changed mid-build out, and Patel needed to secure approvals to allow dimensional changes to the structure. It was late 2003 before these approvals were acquired.6

In August 2004 the street-fronting shops adjoining the main theatre building were razed. They will be largely rebuilt as they were, with an entrance replicating the building’s original stucco design, but in more modern materials and without the asbestos. At this point, the project’s price grew from the original $1.3 million to $2.5 million. Federal funds were part of the financing mix the developer was able to secure.7 The cost climbed to $3 million by December as structural problems were found.8

After years of the City Council chastising the owner yet renewing the liquor license for a stalled construction project, steel beams and fittings finally arrived in March of 2007 and redevelopment started again.9 Patel assured the Cinema would be open again by December, but the Park would not open again until October of 2009.10

The theater now has two floors with a finished basement for cast dressing rooms and a capacity, including balconies of 1,150. The former row of shops along Park Street are now part of the same complex, with a café, lounge, and a restaurant. The former house that could only support film screenings can now support full-scale plays and productions. The orchestra pit was restored along with new hardwood floors, a central elevator lined with mahogany and brass, modern lobbies with television screens so theatergoers who get up to buy drinks or use the spacious restrooms won’t miss the action on stage.11 The name of the new complex was officially Rhode Island Center for Performing Arts at the Historic Park Theater.

#Current Events

Citing the impact of COVID-19 on large indoor gatherings, the Park has been closed since 2020 and recently came up for auction in the fall of 2021. See News Story.

#History

Built in 1924, the Park was a first-run movie theater with a giant screen, seating for 988, an orchestra pit, and lush finishing touches such as heavy blue draperies and tan leather seats. There was a lighted marquee above the entrance on the corner of Park and Rolfe Street, and a decorative arch that curved over the large single screen before the building was divided into multiple theaters.12 The theater drew some small stage productions but functioned mostly as a movie house, enjoying its greatest success in the days before television.13

By 1963, the owners were seeking permission to raze the building to make way for a gas station. A neighborhood petition drive helped to stop the plan. The Park Cinema closed the following year but reopened in March 1965 under new management.14 The theater became a second-run movie house when it was converted into a twin cinema in 1971 and a triple cinema in 1978.15

#In the News

Former Cranston councilman stepping up to save the Park Theatre?

by Paul Edward Parker
Providence Journal | September 21, 2021 (abridged)

It appears that the Park Theatre, closed for more than a year because of COVID, may have a buyer who plans to revive the theater.

Edward Brady, who resigned from the City Council a month ago to return to the private sector, was before the state Ethics Commission on Tuesday morning, seeking permission for him and a business partner to ask the council to transfer the theater’s liquor license to them.

Ethics regulations require officials to wait a year before appearing before the boards for which they served. The regulations allow for a hardship exception.

Brady told the commission that his purchase of the theater is contingent on the transfer of the liquor license. He said that he and his partner have a purchase and sale agreement for the theater with a closing date in November.

The commission granted the hardship exception on the conditions that the partner represent the business before the City Council and that Hardy not communicate with any members of the council.

The theater’s owner, Piyush Patel, has been trying to sell the property at auction since the spring, but could not find a suitable buyer, who would continue to run the landmark venue across from City Hall as a center for the performing arts. […]

  1. HARPE, JACKLEEN deLa. “The second time around ‘Suburban’ theaters give movie fans what they want - for a lot less.” Providence Journal (RI), WEST BAY ed., sec. WEST BAY, 28 Mar. 1985, pp. W-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525BF8A8574E960. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  2. Gesualdo, Nicole. “FAREWELL TO THE CHEAP SEATS… When it reopens: First-class, first-run.” Providence Journal (RI), West Bay ed., sec. News, 1 Mar. 2001, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152510C8C54388C0. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  3. Ibid 

  4. ARSENAULT, MARK. “Storied Cranston movie house up for sale again.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. News, 13 Oct. 2001, pp. A-03. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15250B7D8A448270. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  5. POLICHETTI, BARBARA. “Old theater may yet get a new life.” Providence Journal (RI), West Bay ed., sec. News, 12 May 2003, pp. B-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152509914DA879A8. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  6. POLICHETTI, BARBARA. “Park Cinema venture is quietly progressing, economic director says.” Providence Journal (RI), West Bay ed., sec. News, 21 Nov. 2003, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1524D45E2592E198. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  7. POLICHETTI, BARBARA. “Razing is latest show at Park Cinema complex.” Providence Journal (RI), West Bay ed., sec. News, 3 Aug. 2004, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152429E3E2630A20. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  8. POLICHETTI, BARBARA. “Renovation of theater stuck in park.” Providence Journal (RI), Metro ed., sec. News, 16 Dec. 2004, pp. D-03. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15242A4464034CA0. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  9. Polichetti, Barbara. “It’s showtime, at long last! — Park Cinema restoration begins after a 3-year delay.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Business, 21 Mar. 2007, pp. F-02. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152426C315546360. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  10. Edgar, Randal. “Culture — Center for Performing Arts at the Historic Park Theater — Second life for Park Cinema.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. projoRhodeIsland, 24 Oct. 2009, pp. A-04. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152423EA9DC36668. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  11. “Curtain rising on cinema.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. projoRhodeIsland, 31 Aug. 2009, pp. A-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152423C10AE68ED0. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021. 

  12. “Old theater may yet get a new life.” 

  13. “Curtain rising on cinema.” 

  14. Ibid 

  15. SALIT, RICHARD. “MAIN STREETS ROLFE SQUARE Rolfe Square: Coming full circle?” Providence Journal (RI), WEST BAY ed., sec. NEWS, 26 Feb. 1996, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152520D5CFEEA0E8. Accessed 24 Dec. 2021.