If you’re anything like me, you’ve been awaiting the opening of the United Theater in downtown Westerly with bated breath. I recently checked in with the group’s public relations manager Tony Nunes for an update on all the latest plans.
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If you’re unfamiliar with the theater’s long history, here’s a brief overview. Originally opened in 1926 as a vaudeville performance center, United once hosted acts such as the Will Mastin Trio, featuring the talents of a very young Sammy Davis Jr. Over time, the theater transitioned into screening silent films and eventually “talkies” a few years later, including the original Star Wars in 1977. Unfortunately, competition with another movie theater on Granite Street in the late 1970s proved to be too much, forcing United to shut their doors in 1986.
The revival of the United Theater has been in the works for years. The Westerly Land Trust purchased the building in 2003 as part of its Urban Initiative, and the State Cultural Bond Initiative approved in 2014 helped to secure funds towards its restoration, with the United Theater establishing itself as a non-profit the following year. The previously defunct theater and now re-energized nonprofit promises to become an arts and cultural center in the coming years and help further revitalize and transform our town into a destination for more than just our fabulous beaches.
However, the space was in dire need of new lighting, heating, and air conditioning, as well as other improvements and renovations. The reimagined space will spread down to the former art gallery to include a versatile space for live performances, a cinema with first-run, independent movies playing every night, and an education center in partnership with the Rhode Island Philharmonic Music School.
Down the street and around the corner stands the Knickerbocker Music Center, United’s sister venue, which will be co-producing new experiences for the downtown scene, and there will be plenty of events held at the site of the former Twisted Vine next door, thanks to a partnership with the restaurant’s new owner. There are also plans to work closely with The Public’s Radio, Rhode Island’s NPR station, as well as with the Newport Folk Festival and Jazz Festival, to help bring larger acts to Westerly.
However, the most exciting news to share is that the United Theater has an official start date for construction. The groundbreaking will take place on May 17th at 1:30 pm, and the public is welcome to witness this historic event.
Between now and the anticipated grand opening by the end of summer 2020, United will continue to establish partnerships and host pop up events throughout town, including their very popular Movies in the Park series. Keep an eye out for ways to join in on the fun and join me in the countdown to next fall!