Architect Thomas White Lamb (1871-1942)

Apparently the most prolific of the 20th-century specialists in theatre architecture was Thomas W. Lamb, who during his career designed over 300 theatres in all parts of the world. Lamb was born in Dundee, Scotland, and moved to New York as a young man. He studied architecture at the Cooper Union and worked in New York City as a building inspector prior to entering the designing phase of his career. Lamb’s earliest theatre commissions came near the turn of the century, and he early formed a long-lasting alliance with Marcus Loew, whose success as an exhibitor was closely coupled with Lamb’s architectural success. Lamb also did considerable work for the Keith-Albee and Fox organizations as well as executing numerous independent commissions.

The entire history of theatre architecture from the nickelodeon to the Art Deco palace is represented in Thomas Lamb’s designs. While his earliest theatres, notably the Regent, New York’s first high-class picture theatre, were in the heavy Baroque style of the vaudeville houses, Lamb soon turned for inspiration to the work of the brothers Adam, and his name became for some years synonymous with the Adam style in theatres. The growing popularity of moving pictures in New York City brought about a whole series of Adamesque Lamb theatres – The Strand, Rialto, Rivoli and the 5,000-seat Capitol, the first movie theatre built on a truly palatial scale. In addition, there were the Albee in Brooklyn, Keith’s 86th Street Theatre in Manhattan, and Loew’s State Theatres in both New York and Cleveland.

During the second half of the 1920’s, Lamb’s work became much more varied in style. In addition to the Louis XVI and Italian Baroque, this period saw Lamb houses in the Romanesque, Hindu, Persian and Chinese styles, and even in the “atmospheric” manner (gardens, stars, and cloud effects) which Lamb successfully borrowed from the architect John Eberson. Lamb’s largest theatre of this period was the Fox in San Francisco, other notable examples being the Academy of Music, Loew’s 72nd Street and 175th Street Theatres in Manhattan, Loew’s Theatre in Cincinnati, and the magnificent B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre (now the Boston Opera House).

This information was excerpted in part from The Library of Congress, Historic American Building Survey – H.A.B.S. No. MA-1078, B.F. Keith Memorial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts. A link to these Library of Congress American Memory web resources is http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query

For those interested in further information on the history of the Boston Opera House and of theatre in Boston, we recommend you visit www.historictheatres.org and search for the link to Back Issues of their fine publication “Marquee - The Journal of The Theatre Historical Society of America”. The Special Issue featuring the Historic American Buildings Survey of the Keith Memorial Theatre/Boston Opera House and featuring beautiful illustrative photographs is Volume 15, Number 2 published in the second quarter of 1983. A history of The Three Boston Theatres was featured in Volume 32, Number 1 published in the first quarter of 2000. Reprints are available and can be ordered through their website.


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