Building Overview: Structure, Material, Renovation
Constructed of brick and steel I-beam frames, the Cable Car Cinema was converted by Raymond Bilodeau from what used to be a dilapidated truck garage of a moving company. The interior of the cinema was originally designed by Raymond Bilodeau with a box office and concession stand to be operated by one person. In 1989 this one-man operation was discarded due to the growing popularity of the cinema. The interior of the Cable Car was then converted to house both a theatre and a café. During reconstruction, the storage closet was developed into a café and the bathroom into a kitchen. The idea for the famous Tuxedo-style love seats in the theatre came from Raymond Bilodeau and was also used in another theatre owned by the Bilodeau family in Bristol, Rhode Island.
History: The Historical Commercial District
The name of the cinema comes from a classic cable car that was left behind; Bilodeau planned to repair the car and display it on the roof of the building as a symbol of the cinema’s name. The building, however is located in the historic South Main Street commercial district, neighbored by 19th century structures and 18th century buildings that survived the fire of 1801. According to the Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission of Rhode Island, all exterior alterations to buildings in the historic district must be approved by the historic district commission to ensure that the historic character of the area is maintained. In order to preserve the historic sense of time that exists within the community, the commission denied Bilodeau’s proposal.
Changes and Development
Known locally as the "theatre with the couches," this independent and foreign film theatre did not always enjoy its popularity among the art crowd, students of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. The theatre actually opened a lonely night in 1976 when not a single person showed up. Although South Main Street had been at the heart of Providence's waterfront commerce during the 19th century, by the 1970's and early 80's it had become an extremely dangerous neighborhood. Eric Bilodeau, nephew to Raymond and general manger since 1990, remembers the early 80's when the cinema locked its doors after ticket sales in order to ensure the safety of its movie viewers. Eric recalls that the Cable Car took six to seven years to establish itself. Because most small movie houses have been replaced by multiplex theatres, the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe is one of the few remaining independent theatres in Providence and Rhode Island. The cinema welcomes local musicians to perform before shows, and works with local universities and organizations to house independent and foreign film festivals such as the annual French Film Festival. With its faithful clientele and dedication to its cause, the cinema's progress simultaneously grew out of and contributed to South Main Street's renewal.
The Providence Preservation Society, "The Providence Waterfont: Three Centuries of Commerce," Universal Press, 1983.
"New Businesses," The Providence Journal, January 18, 1996.
Interview with Eric Bilodeau, October 1, 2003.