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Coming attraction: Inside the Coolidge Theatre’s construction project

May 22, 2023

  • The design of this wall over the new entrance of the Coolidge is intended to evoke a movie theater curtain. Photo by Zoe Zekos

For the last year and a half, the sounds of jackhammers and bustling construction workers have filled the Coolidge Corner Theatre from early in the morning until mid-afternoon.

Soon after the crews leave for the day, the matinees start, and a different crowd files into the still-operational theater

“Construction and film exhibition actually work well together,” said Gary Stoloff, a real estate and construction project manager who sits on the Coolidge’s board.

Brookline.News recently toured the site of the Coolidge’s 14,000-square-foot expansion, which will bring in a new lobby, two new theaters, a board room, and a top-floor events and education space.

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The project is still mostly on track to be finished this summer, although a wait for electrical panels to replace equipment destroyed by flooding frozen pipes last winter could delay the timeline slightly, Stoloff said.

The expansion is still very much a construction site, but glimmers of the grand design by architects from the firm Höweler + Yoon are coming into place.

Pops of color in new bathrooms match the red and blue tinged theaters on their respective floors. A wavy exterior wall above what will be the new entrance evokes an old-school movie theater curtain. And the floor and walls in what will be the new lobby are slowly starting to take on the features of a modern twist on art deco that resonates with the design of the theater’s marquee.

Other smaller design features have surprised and delighted Coolidge staff. A window in a stairwell is perfectly framed to look out toward the Harvard Street marquee, which will stay in place even when the main entrance moves to what’s now the back of the building.

There are quality-of-life improvements for patrons, too, including more restrooms and a larger interior lobby, where customers can line up for tickets instead of standing, no matter what the weather, in the alley beside the theater.

Then there’s what Stoloff calls the “piece de resistance.” The top-floor Community Education and Engagement Center features floor-to-ceiling windows and a deck that Coolidge leaders envision using to expand their educational offerings and community events.

“There’s just such an appetite for it,” said Beth Gilligan, deputy director of the Coolidge. “I think a lot of people have never really studied film, or looked at it through a critical lens, and this is such a highly-educated community with people who are active, and want to get out and engage.”

The Coolidge has raised $12.5 million so far, enough financing to finish the project, but is hoping to raise another $1.5 million to pay off the building’s mortgage before the campaign is done.

“The people of Brookline have been extraordinarily generous,” said Stoloff.