There is an old movie marquee that haunts the new real estate developments in the town of Wollaston. (A small community that is part of Quincy.) The sign hasn’t had the plastic black lettering of upcoming shows snapped onto its white facade in over ten years, but it’s still there – a decaying reminder of a day when you could go to the movies for a dollar and munch on a 45 cent box of salty popcorn.
The latter years of this run down theatre were actually rather sad. The movie house was in severe disrepair and the curmudgeonly owner, Arthur Chandler, had become fed up with local teenage rebellion, which often found its way onto his property. The screen always seemed to have a hole in it somewhere from a thrown rock or bottle, many of the seats had springs poking out from them and the floors were so sticky they could pull your shoes right off your feet.
But it also had a warm appeal to it even in its final stages. I can remember seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark there multiple times over a long weekend and can say, without hesitation, that the whole Wollaston Theatre experience enhanced my love for movies. The place was big, the screen was huge and that enormous chandelier that hung precariously in its center added a bit of kitsch elegance to it all. It became a constant fixture of my childhood and that of so many others that it was even christened with a nickname, the “Wolly” by locals. Much different from the multiplex cinemas that require a GPS just to find what screen your movie is showing on.
The theatre was built in 1926 and in 1989 was added to the National Register of Historic Places. With an orchestra pit and dressing rooms beneath the stage, vaudeville shows played there regularly to appreciative audiences. The countless great films that played on that giant screen and the live shows put on there – everyone from The Clancy Brothers to Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics, made the Wolly a venue worth preserving.
In 2008 then Mayor Koch had proposed just that. The theatre had been closed in 2003 for repairs and Koch was hoping to have the local developer Street-Works LLC buy the property and hold onto it while community groups fixed it up and then reopen it for business within a reasonable time frame. Unfortunately the money and necessary activism never came about and Street-Works backed out of the deal after one payment in 2009, citing the nearly $6.5 million needed for renovation costs.
By then the theatre was a mess and that’s when Miao Kun Fang of Weston, owner of the C-Mart supermarket chain, swooped in. He’d had his eye on the property for years. By that time Arthur Chandler’s widow Yvonne had had enough. Disappointed with the failed Street-Works deal, and realizing there was really nothing more she could do other than hang on to a property dwindling in value, she sold it to Wang for $600,000.
As quoted in an article for the Patriot Ledger by Jack Encarnacao, Fang now finds himself in a bit of a quandary.
“We will do something in the future,” he said. “I would like to do it the right way, with the community, the neighborhood and the city. But (as of now) I really don’t have any plans.”
So the old Wolly continues to fall apart, empty and neglected. And the marquee continues to stick out on Beale Street like a sore thumb; a constant reminder of the past.
Years back, during the winter months, Beale Street in Wollaston used to look like Bedford Falls – the fictional town in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.
“Hello old movie house!” exclaims George Bailey when he returns to the safety of home.
Unfortunately there aren’t that many old movie houses left. They are starting to go the way of the drive in and there’s something unfortunate about that. Bigger and brighter and noisier doesn’t always mean better. There’s a lot to be appreciated in simplicity.
For now, the lights on the marquee of the Wolly remain off. Perhaps it’s time to just move on. Sometimes small comforts and nostalgia get lost in the face of so-called progress.
The cover photo is by Allen Forrest. To view this photo or other great photos like it, please visit www.facebook.com/MyQuincyMa02169.