Newbury Street at 26 Exeter Street

Newbury Street at 26 Exeter

Hartwell and Richardson, 1884

Restaurant renovation: Childs, Bertman, Tseckares, Casendino, 1974–1975

School conversion: Symmes Maini & McKee Associates, 2005

A distinctive form of worship led the Working Union of Progressive Spiritualists to build this Richardsonian Romanesque building a decade after Trinity Church. Though initially well funded, as their numbers declined the First Spiritualist Temple moved downstairs in 1914 and rented out their assembly hall as a theater. For decades it was the only place a proper Boston woman would go to see moving pictures in the afternoon. Its dignified architecture was uniquely Boston, with none of the kitsch that typified large movie palaces. Often filling in at the box office, longtime manager Viola Berlin booked European and British imports. Despite midnight Rocky Horror showings that subsidized the more esoteric fare in its last decade, the arrival of a nearby multiplex spelled doom for the Exeter Street Theater.

In 1985, despite intense neighborhood opposition, the original interior was demolished to accommodate a home furnishings shop. The ground floor was renovated as a restaurant with a greenhouse extension. A disruptive decade followed as the Spiritualist Temple became a bookstore, a dot-com office, and then vacant in quick succession after fire damage.

Though the School Department abandoned Prince School across the street, there were still plenty of young neighborhood children. Adapted once more, Richardson’s building became a private elementary school, expanding from the Saltonstall house at 30 Fairfield.