Yay, the Coolidge Corner Theatre Expansion Is Finally Here

Brookline's art-house cinema has reopened, with 200 more seats, two new theaters, and a plan for long-term survival.

Moviehouse 5, one of the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s two new screens, boasts 145 seats. / Photos by Jessica Reyes

For anyone who grew up in the area, Brookline would be unrecognizable without the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Thank heavens, that won’t be any time soon.

On the heels of a $14 million, year-long renovation and expansion, the nonprofit art-house and Best of Boston winner reopens today. Anyone who remember shivering in the adjoining alleyway while waiting for the doors to open will be delighted by a spacious, modern lobby, while those who recall elbowing up to the concession counter will be impressed by two new stands selling food and soda plus beer, wine, and canned cocktails, all thanks to a full liquor license. The 14,000-square-foot expansion also adds two new auditoriums, an event space with an outdoor deck, and a conference room that houses the Jay Carr Film Book Collection (named after the late, great Boston Globe movie critic).

The Coolidge’s new exterior entrance. / Courtesy

Perhaps most prosaic but important of all, though, is the addition of restrooms on every floor—welcome news to any moviegoer who ever missed a scene because of the long trek to the old, inaccessible, second-floor bathrooms. You can experience all this for the first time today, March 27, with screenings of two cinematic classics: The Wizard of Oz and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So intrinsic is the Coolidge to the character and identity of its surrounding neighborhood that its history parallels not only the development of Brookline, from a rural community where Boston Brahmins kept “country homes,” to the cosmopolitan suburb of today, but also Hollywood, the nation, and our culture in general. The building that houses the theater began its life in 1906 as the Beacon Universalist Church. The idea of allowing a movie theater to open in Brookline, and the potentially corrupting influence it might have on its residents, was debated for 17 years. In the wake of the Great Depression, though, when Americans desperately needed outlets for escapism, the powers that be relented and allowed a 1,500-seat auditorium to be built on top of the church.

Photo by Jessica Reyes

The Coolidge Corner Theatre began showing movies (“high class photo plays”) in December 1933 and has never stopped. Today, former board member Katherine Tallman is at the helm and oversaw the enormous undertaking of the new renovation, from planning to completion, with Boston-based architectural firm Höweler + Yoon. Remarkably, the theater’s new design accomplishes everything necessary to make it a state-of-the-art facility without losing one iota of its original Art Deco character, along with keeping its iconic Harvard Street facade intact.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Coolidge Corner expansion took place on Tuesday, March 26. / Photo by Jessica Reyes

Photo by Jessica Reyes

In the days of streaming and more at-home movie consumption than ever, the expansion was necessary for the theatre’s long-term survival. “The addition strengthens the Coolidge’s reputation as a leading center for film exhibition and education, and as a cultural center both in Greater Boston and nationally,” Tallman said in a statement that also noted a $1 million gift from The Trust Family Foundation for a permanent endowment. “It also secures its long-term future.”

Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St., Brookline, coolidge.org