A Short History of the Capitol Theatre
The Capitol Theatre opened on November 25, 1925. It was built by the Locatelli family, who built other area theaters like the Ball Square Theatre and Central Theatre, both in Somerville. The original auditorium had a mural above the proscenium arch that incorporated the town seal of Arlington into its design, and an amazing pipe organ. Originally seating almost 1600 patrons between the expansive orchestra section and balcony, the Capitol had a full stage with dressing rooms to accommodate the occasional vaudeville or novelty act that would be presented with the movies on screen. Bank nights, gift nights, and other prize nights were common during the depression years of the 30's.
Known to Arlington residents as "Your Home Theatre", the Capitol was the largest and most luxurious of the neighborhood theaters in the area. After the Locatelli's sold the theater in the late 30's, it was leased by various local cinema chains until Arthur Viano of Viano's Theatres took over for many years. Along with other Viano's locations like the nearby Regent Theatre, and the Somerville and Broadway theatres in Somerville, the Capitol became well known for its fresh popcorn and friendly atmosphere. While the theatre was under Viano's management, the entire Capitol Theatre Building was sold to Chatham Light Realty of Cambridge. When Arthur Viano tired of running the theatre, Chatham Light Realty's owners, the Fraiman family, decided to operate the movie house themselves, rather than see the old palace close. During renovations, much of the original décor was uncovered in the lobby. Behind 1960's-era faux-wood paneling were granite columns and gold leaf! The entire lobby was restored to its original glory, and a new concessions stand was built. Trying to draw audiences with only one screen was nearly impossible, however, and in order to save the theatre, it was multiplexed.
Rather than trying to hide the old style of the original auditorium, as happened with other old theaters during multiplexing (think of the Harvard Square Theatre), it was decided to make each auditorium unique and special, decorated in the style of the original theatre. The new 5-screen Capitol debut in 1989 and proved to be a smashing success, giving Arlington movie-goers more films to choose from, and with modern comfortable seats and stereo sound as well. It proved so popular that a sixth screen was added on the site of the old stage in 1990.
Today, the Capitol continues its tradition of affording locals a steady mix of movies, with an emphasis on family-friendly films and independent productions. The original screen and proscenium survive in the majestic theater #1 and the historic lobby is even better with a newly added seating area suitable for relaxing before your movie with a nice ice cream, and a popular place for children's birthday parties.