Casey Affleck Would Like to Reopen the Harvard Square Movie Theater
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 the 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 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.