On May 24, 1915 work began on the Toy Theatre on the East Side, opening with two well-attended performances on November 1 of the same year. It was designed by William R. Walker & Son and contracted by the Famiglietti Brothers Company for the Toy Theatre Company under the leadership of C.C. Darling. It is one of four theaters built by Walker & Son, and one of two remaining; the Emery (1914) and the Modern (1917) no longer exist and the Majestic (1916) now houses Trinity Repertory Company. The Toy was the first theater on the East Side and one of the first neighborhood theaters in the entire city.
The building made use of an excavated cellar on the corner of Meeting and Thayer streets and had its entrance on one corner of the Thayer street side, with a foyer leading to the main auditorium containing all of the seating. The rear of the auditorium was divided into "loges," or, raised seating, separated by brass rails holding eight seats each. The front of the auditorium contained a stage platform, perhaps with small rooms on either side, thus accommodating both "moving pictures" and concerts or lectures. It is likely that the second (mezzanine) floor originally contained men's and women's restrooms, the projection booth, an office for the management, and perhaps an observation balcony with no seating. The building was fireproof and boasted a ventilation system worked by pumps and motors that "kept the air in the hall remarkably fresh and temperate throughout the performances."
The structure of the exterior was (is) brick, steel, and concrete with "light buff brick with darker brick and tile ornaments, trimmed with limestone and granite, ornamental metal cornices and brackets." The interior of the foyer was intended to have a barrel-vaulted roof over a stuccoed cornice over pilasters, and the interior of the auditorium decorated with stucco and stencil coloring. It is unclear to what extent this was carried out but on opening day the whole interior was described as having an "effective" color-scheme using the colors yellow and purple, and the auditorium as having tasteful decorations and lighting.
It is also possible that the portion of the theater facing Thayer Street contained four stores under the same roof as well as heated by the same ventilation system. The article at the time of the opening does not refer to them. It is known that by 1950 the theater was neighbored by the Olive Street Garage (a showroom) and a Chinese restaurant toward the Olive Street corner, and a clothing store and drugstore toward the Meeting Street corner.
Renovations and Future Changes
It is also unclear what happened to the Toy Theatre between its opening and 1937 when it was renovated. Almost exactly one year from its opening there was discussion of it being used as an amateur theater and gymnasium (with the inclusion of a swimming pool) due to the lack of both facilities on the East Side at the time. Whether or not this occurred is uncertain, and in 1937 the property was said to have become a garage "many years ago."
The 1937 renovation began when the Louis Gordon Theatres, Inc. leased the property from the Dulgarian Brothers to turn the space back into a theater for moving pictures. The renovation included a remodeling of the interior, updating the heating system, new seating, and the construction of a lobby leading from Thayer Street to the rear of the auditorium (seating capacity 630).
Since this time, the only changes that have occurred have been minor: adjustment of doors between the lobby and the auditorium, raised and lowered ceiling heights, new layout of the restrooms, and expanded space for management (eliminating the lounge area on the second floor).
The Avon Cinema has remained in the Dulgarian family to this day. Its history reflects the shifting uses of theaters in Providence which were often used for different types of performances at various points in history. The Majestic, for example, was first used only for moving pictures, but over time that changed and it is now used only for plays and musicals. The Toy Theatre was also part of the large repetoire of Walker & Son, both on the East Side and elsewhere in Rhode Island. Its style is generally classified as "Art Deco," mainly reflected in the façade, marquee, and the neon embellishments in the auditorium.
"Work on East Side Theatre is Begun" The Providence Journal. May 25, 1915, p. 9.
"Toy Theatre on East Side Opens its Doors" The Providence Journal. November 2, 1915, p. 10.
Interview with Richard Dulgarian, co-owner of the Avon Cinema. Wednesday, September 30, 2003.
"Toy Theatre May Change Hands in Next Few Weeks" The Providence Journal. November 2, 1916, p. 12.
"Old 'Toy Theatre', Thayer Street, Will Be Restored" The Providence Journal. November 14, 1937, sec. V: p. 1.