From the magazine "The Architect", December 1929
The Netoco Egyptian Theatre in Boston
by S.S. Eisenberg
One of the problems that presented themselves in the design of this theatre, one was that of zoning, which limited the height of the building. The program called for no less than twenty-four hundred seats. The gallery type of house was out of the question, and in order to get the requisite number of seats on one floor and keep the building at a height of not over forty feet, we had to choose a style of architecture in keeping with a squat type of structure.
It was finally solved by determining on a stadium type of theatre and on the use of a design following the lines of the ancient Egyptian temples. One of the other requisites was that it must be an atmospheric type. To have carried out the atmospheric feeling over the entire house would again have interfered with the height regulations, for a dome would have forced the building above the requirements.
We proceeded to design the structure as an Egyptian Temple with the courtyard open to the sky. The atmospheric effect worked out most happily. On the opening night the illusion of sitting in the outdoors was almost perfect. The Manager of the theatre conceived of the idea of blowing into the building gusts of perfumed air, and by regulating the cooling fans in reverse, the effect was secured of a soft evening tropical breeze.
The "sky" was spotted with twinkling electric stars and the cloud machine created a perfect feeling of moving moonlit clouds overhead. Over all there hung a bright crescent moon moving almost imperceptibly from East to West across the area. The cove lighting was arranged in color banks so that in slow transition the atmosphere faded out from night to dawn to daylight.
The theatre proper is situated on land well back from the main highway. Had this location been in California or Texas the treatment for the approach would probably have been an open court without any overhead protection. But in New England such a course would have been sheer suicide for the drawing value of the theatre.
Thus it happens that the theatre is approached from four separate portions. There is the lobby vestibule, containing the ticket booths and the advertising displays. Then there is the loggia, which leads into the Grand Foyer. Prom the Grand Foyer openings lead out to the men's and women's rooms, lounges and vanity. The Grand Foyer also leads out through parking lobbies to large parking areas on either side of the building. The theatre is approached through wide corridors leading from the promenade under the stadium. This promenade follows in a curve
under the stadium and contains lounging spaces and other features.
The building is of steel frame, fireproof construction, with reinforced concrete walls, roof and floors. All decorative ornamentation throughout the building, which includes every section mentioned in addition to the main theatre portion, was modeled and carved and finally finished in Keene cement and hard plaster. Modeling was done from full size details and all clay models were checked and corrected before casting. The castings were again examined and corrected and were then carved and finished before erection. Decorative paintwork was applied to the different carved portions, after careful studies were made to scale, in watercolor and paste.
All the rugs, carpets, hangings, statues, lighting fixtures, furniture and other movable decorative pieces were designed and executed as special jobs. No standard, stock, so-called Egyptian materials were utilized in the construction of the building.
The columns, including shafts, capitals and bases are of Keene cement, 4 inches thick and reinforced and built around a steel frame. Cornices and other decorative articles were of the same material reinforced with steel channels and angles, and anchored back into the structure.
The statues, bases and other large decorative objects are done in artificial stone carefully and truthfully finished and colored. The floors, though covered in places with specially woven rugs and carpets, are done in stone slabs of varying colors.
The Architects of the Egyptian Theatre are glad to acknowledge their indebtedness to the Library of the Boston Architectural Club and the Art section of the Boston Public Library. Both these institutions made available a great deal of data and information on the archaeological researches, treatises and drawings. As nearly as possible, the true Egyptian style was carried out.
The theatre itself has created a great deal of comment, since there is nothing just like it in New England. There have been made one or two attempts in and around Boston to create Egyptian rooms in several of the Hotels.
To give an idea of the size of the house: the roof contains steel trusses spanning 118 feet at the widest part and 98 feet at the narrowest. The stadium is of reinforced concrete, self-supporting, without the necessity of obstructing steel columns. The theatre is provided with a ventilating system which acts as a cooling system in the summer time. The fans and blowers are reversible and so arranged through all parts of the building that they act during the summer to keep the house cool and comfortable just as during the winter they keep the theatre warm. Heat for the building is supplied from a battery of boilers beyond and below the proscenium arch. Oil is burned as fuel.
Among other features, the theatre is equipped with an organ and an echo organ, and the orchestra pit is provided with a three section lift. The central portion takes care of the entire orchestra and the two ends the console and the piano, respectively. The house is equipped with the very latest picture and sound projection machinery. It contains, also, a broadcasting room and a projection machine which takes care of the very latest extra size films, producing an effect of filling up the entire proscenium opening with the picture. When first tested out as a talking picture using the new wide film, the illusion of action back of the footlights, not upon the screen but upon the stage, was almost perfect.
Much study was given the acoustics and sight lines. Both were carefully tested. Models were sent to Acoustical Laboratories and other models were made for testing sight lines. Both have worked out satisfactorily. It is possible to get a perfect projection which can be seen without distortion from any corner of the theatre, and the ordinary human speaking voice from the stage is easily heard in the farthest corner without effort.