Casey Affleck Would Like to Reopen the Harvard Square Movie Theater

The owner of the building said the actor should give him a call if he has ideas for the vacant spot.

A phone call between the owner of the vacant Harvard Square Theatre and actor Casey Affleck could change the fate of the niche Cambridge arts community.

“[The theater] is vacant, and there is a sign on it for sale. We haven’t had a viable option yet,” said Richard Friedman, president and CEO of Carpenter and Company Inc., the business that purchased the space for $6.5 million after the theater shuttered its doors in summer 2012.

From the time he bought the property, Friedman said he would be open to hearing ideas about what could replace the movie theater, whether it be a performance space or something else completely.

Coincidentally, Affleck has one.

During a recent Boston magazine interview about his new movie, Out of Furnace, Affleck expressed how vital an arts venue like a movie theater is in a place like Harvard Square.

He said he has been trying to rally support from other actors from the area—specifically Ben Affleck and Matt Damon—to find someone who would partner up and reopen the theater as a nonprofit that shows movies and keeps the acting community thriving in the square. But in order to do so, Affleck said they would need to find “… someone who’s willing to take the reins or partner with us,” someone who would help “… reclaim that building before it gets knocked down and the theater gets gutted.” He said:

“[We] could just run movies and not to have worry about … competing with the Loews cinemas and stuff. [We] could just run first movies, and rerun movies, and also have events so anytime that we had a movie coming out, we would come to town and do a big premiere there, do an event there. It would be a great way to…keep a movie theater in Harvard Square.”

Affleck said it was a shame that after remaining vacant for more than a year, no one has stepped up to try and turn the building into usable property dedicated to the arts and film. He added that it “… would be a great way to give back to the community and to the theater,” where he and his older brother, Ben, would catch movies growing up.

“I would talk to anyone, anytime [about the theater’s future]. But no Affleck has reached out to me,” Friedman said, adding that whatever goes in its place won’t be easy. The current theater is not up to code in terms of being handicap accessible—including the bathrooms—and the required renovations would be costly.

“We have reached out to every theater in the country and can’t find anyone that could use the existing building,” Friedman said. “And the amount of money it would take to renovate it, it would be cheaper to take it down and build a new building.”

If the vested interest of performance groups and actors in having a dedicated theater space is any indication, though, with enough momentum from the community, at least a conversation could take place.

“We have had a lot of interest from a lot of nonprofits that want to use the theater as a rehearsal and gallery space,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association. “[Interest has come] from all aspects of the arts—live theater, to gallery space for paintings, and other kinds of work. We haven’t been able to pull it off because while individually they are all doing OK, collectively, to manage a building of that size is a huge financial commitment.”

Jillson said, of course, the other big issue is how to fully fund a project like that. “Without someone sinking some various money into it, it’s just a dream,” she said. “Perhaps Mr. Affleck should call Mr. Freedman, and they should talk.”

That’s a phone call Friedman would surely pick up. “The long and short of it is, if he reached out to me—they can reach me, I don’t avoid calls—if they want to call, they can call,” he said.

 

Jason Schwartz contributed reporting to this story.

  • nwoebcke

    I think this is a sign of the times. With Netflix and other online streaming films, it’s cheaper to stay home to watch older films. And people in Cambridge can go to the Brattle cinema, Kendall Square, Davis Square or the Arlington Capitol to see a new release.
    I could imagine this space converted to artists studios and a small performing theater. But being so close to Harvard Square, the rent must be astronomical.

    • mplo

      Staying home and watching older classic films on Netflix or any other thing even remotely resembling it may be cheaper, but it’s not nearly as much fun, and it’s not nearly the same as watching great, golden oldie but keeper classic films on a great big, wide screen, in a real movie theatre with the lights down low, and with a whole bunch of other people, whether one knows them or not.

  • mia

    Make the call Casey! I’d love to see this theater reopen.

    • mplo

      Yes, Casey–Please go ahead and make that call! I, too, along with many other moviegoers, would love to see the Harvard Square Theatre re-open. Imho, it shouldn’t be a movie theatre that plays the same schlock that the multiplexes that dot the highways and byways of the United States play. In the event that the Harvard Square movie theatre re-opens, I’d love to see lots of older classic films, independent films, and even some foreign films play there. There’s a real dirth of independent movie theatres here in the Boston area, and we could benefit by having an extra movie theatre in this area.

  • Bill

    how many seats does this theatre have?

  • Roland

    That was a great cinema! I had no idea it had closed. It must be reopened, and returned to its proper place in Harvard

  • Ron Newman

    The city of Cambridge can help make this happen by waiving the requirement that the theatre be brought up to current code. Let it remain subject to the code as of the 1980s when it was last renovated.

  • Tim C

    I bartend across the street, business definitely took a hit when the place closed. It’s kind of sad to see it all the time, shuttered and For Sale, but with the great, fun movie mural intact.

    I’ve wondered what the heck they could put in that space… A weird labyrinth of hallways filled with open screen rooms. I feel like, without a ton of renovations, it can’t be anything BUT a theatre.

    As someone who works nearby and as a movie fan, I really would love to see it open again.

  • MovieGuy

    What about the Brattle theatre that’s a block away and shows classic movies every week

  • Ken

    Can Mr. Friedman not pick up the phone and call Mr. Affleck?