By Beth Treffeisen
Opened in 1925 as America’s first civic playhouse, the Huntington Theatre has been hosting plays, movies, and entertainment for close to century along the Avenue of the Arts in the Fenway.
The theatre, which was set to close in 2015, was given to the Huntington Theatre Company for $1 by the developers QMG Huntington LLC after they purchased the building and adjoining properties 2016. Now, after years of minimal upkeep, the theatre is on its way to gaining some major renovations.
“Big changes are already started at the theatre,” said Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre Company.
The theatre will go through a long-delayed refurbishment and modernization including new seats, modern equipment and significant upgrades to the HVAC units. Maso said, “It hasn’t had any of that in decades.”
All of the renovations will be keeping the historical architecture that makes the theatre so unique.
In the adjacent buildings to the theatre, the developers are seeking to develop a 32-story, 362-foot-high residential building, with up to 426 rental units. The tower will include a below-grade parking garage with 114 spaces for residents only, as well as retail and restaurant space on the first two floors.
This has caused much of the behind-the-scenes work to move to Everett in a new Production Center, where new scenes for upcoming shows will be made and costumes and props will be stored.
The new tower will provide an expanded public area for the theatre on the first and second floors, serving as a new lobby that is handicapped accessible. It will also provide a new small performance space that will be able to play home to chamber music, spoken word, or even community meetings.
“We want it to be the living room for Huntington Theatre,” said Maso. “We would like to be open all day and it will have a coffee shop. The goal is to enhance the neighborhood all day long.”
The last part of the project will include redoing a small building in the back to put in a retail aspect, and to provide an educational program space.
The developers filed a Project Notification Form of the residential tower with the Boston Public and Development Agency (BPDA) on June 27. Construction of the tower is expected to begin in the fall or early winter of 2018.
The plans to start the renovation of the theatre are set to begin afterwards sometime in the summer of 2019 through to the winter of 2020.
The Huntington Theatre Company will be running a regular scheduled season this year starting in September with “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Maso said that the theatre company is working on getting private capital partner to fund between $65-$75 million to both renovate the theatre and create an endowment to ensure it continues to run for years to come.
The Huntington Theatre renovations will be $24 million and the goal is to raise a capital of $40 million to generate the new endowment. Maso said that the theatre expenses run high with a $12 million operating budget each year.
Between the Huntington Theatre and the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, the theatre company serves 200,000 people a year. Through education and community programs, the Huntington serves over 30,000 young people and underserved audiences each year.
In addition, the Huntington Theatre Company supports local writers through its playwright-in-residency and the Huntington Playwriting Fellows program.
Although they rent out their facilities to outside groups, the company doesn’t charge anything for the cost of the facility, which would deem unaffordable to many groups.
Most recently, Boston Lyric Opera who recently lost their permanent home will be turning to the Huntington Theatre Company to host some of their upcoming performances.
“I think people really understand how the Huntington Theatre is an integral part of the neighborhood and Boston,” said Maso. “We want to create a neighborhood and expand our reach in a really profound way.”