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Williamstown Theater Celebrating 100 Years Of Showing Movies

This is a picture of Images Cinema's marquee on Spring Street in Williamstown, Massachusetts
Helene Armet / Facebook: Images Cinema

A single screen movie theater in Williamstown, Mass. is marking 100 years of continuous operation this year.From November 30, 1916 to today people have been walking through the doors of 50 Spring Street in Williamstown to see the stars, from Garbo to Gosling. Images Cinema executive director Doug Jones says it is one of the old est continuously operating theaters in the world. 

“Images, which originally was known as the Walden Theater, and then became the College Cinema, then the Nickelodeon and then eventually became Images…has always been showing movies pretty much every night of the week, every week of the year, for the past 100 years.”

The brick building was built in 1857 and served as a fraternity house for nearby Williams College. In 1916, Hiram Walden converted it into a theater for that opening day in November. Jones says they’re not entirely sure what movie was shown, but have narrowed it down to three or four.

“When we get into some dusty archives, look at some microphase and pull out old newspapers…the ads back then were not very specific as to what film was being shown,” Jones said. “I think the novelty of a film being shown in Williamstown back in 1916 was enough to guarantee a big audience. The actual film itself may not have mattered. The big point that the original ads make and when the theater first opened was that they would always be very high-class affairs all accompanied with live music.”

Starting this month, Images is doing a film countdown through the years starting with contemporary decades until a silent film and live music event November 30th, the exact 100-year anniversary.

In the late 1980s during a tough time for movie theaters, Christopher Reeve, best known for playing Superman, led an effort to support Images after moving to Williamstown to star in a play following the completion of Superman II. Interestingly, at age 15 Reeve was an apprentice for the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the late 1960s. In 1998 Images was launched as a nonprofit, solidifying its dedication to film as an art form. Former executive director Sandra Thomas told WAMC in 2014 that shift set the future for Images.

“Coming together in 1998 when the owner was going to sell the cinema and there was fear that the doors would close, the community really rallied and said ‘We want to keep this here and here’s how it might work, as a non-profit keeping a single-screen cinema in a small community’” explained Thomas.  

Thomas also mentioned how Images has helped serve the movie industry for those who came through Williams College.

“Being the primary source of entertainment in the early years and then people coming through the college who are filmmakers,” Thomas said. “John Sayles, John Frankenheimer, Frederick Wiseman, Liza Johnson and Shawn Rosenheim…all of these people have been associated with the educational institution, which has really helped foster the film community of Williamstown.”

Jones says Images will continue to announce events with visits from people influential to the cinema’s history to mark the anniversary throughout the year. He says the 150-seat theater holds a wealth of memories for a community of about 7,000.

“Film is one of those things that even as we’ve gone from silent to sound, black and white to color, 2-D to 3-D to IMAX and whatever comes out next…it’s a constant in people’s lives,” Jones said. “People remember the movies they see and they remember where they see it. We have people coming to the movies today that remember coming to this address and this theater to see Gone with the Wind or Casablanca.”

Click here for more information on Images Cinema.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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