BEVERLY – The Cabot, one of the North Shore’s premier performance and movie venues and the former home of the long-running Le Grand David magic show, turns 100 next month.
The theater, which first opened in December 1920, has been closed to the public since March while offering events and movies virtually due to the pandemic. The venue would have had to close for four or five months anyway because of an extensive renovation of the lobby, which is nearing completion.
The lobby should be done by the time The Cabot celebrates its centennial at 7 p.m. on Dec. 3 with a free, livestream event that will be headlined by A-list acts, including James Taylor, Judy Collins, Grace Potter, Jon Butcher, Paula Cole, John Hiatt, and Chris Thile.
Some of the performances will take place on the Beverly theater’s stage before a small dinner audience honoring the nonprofit’s five founders. Organizers hope the celebration will reach thousands locally and nationwide.
The chairman of “Lights. Camera. Cabot 100 Celebration” is Friend Lumber owner Mark Jaffe of Beverly, a well-known member of the local Jewish community who sits on The Cabot’s board of directors. His wife, Marcia Glassman-Jaffe, serves on the Jewish Journal’s Board of Overseers.
Jaffe said he was supposed to be the chairman of a dinner for 200 people, but coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings led them to plan a virtual event.
Other sponsors of the event will have a dinner delivered via Frank on Rantoul Street.
“When it first opened in 1920,” said J. Casey Soward, The Cabot’s executive director, “it was opened in response to the flu pandemic of 1918. The guys that built this theater, they built these historic palatial theaters as a way to bring the community back together following World War I and the pandemic. It was a divided time just like now and they were all about bringing people back together, and we are kind of doing the same thing a hundred years later with trying to come out of this pandemic.”
Soward said COVID-19 has shown people the grim reality of a world without performing arts.
“I think that when we are able to come back it’s going to be a huge part of the healing process that the world needs to go through,” Soward said. “Our mission has never been more important.”
“I do think a lot of Judaism is community,” said Jaffe, “and I think that this is good for the community. It says to the community there is going to be healing. And music is an important part of Judaism and bringing music to the community.”
Jaffe and his wife belong to two local temples: Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, which he and his family attended growing up, and Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody, where his wife’s parents were one of the original 13 founding families of the former Temple Beth Shalom, the synagogue’s name before its recent merger.
The neo-classical-style theater stands as just one of 250 surviving silent movie palaces and vaudeville theaters of the estimated 20,000 built in the United States in the 1920s.
When it opened on Dec. 8, 1920, it was known as The Ware Theater, and it stayed that way until 1960, when the E.M. Loews movie chain bought it and renamed it Cabot Cinema.
In 1976, Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company purchased it and hosted the world-famous show for more than 35 years. The show closed in 2012 with the death of its founder, Cesareo Pelaez, and the theater was put up for sale.
In 2014, Chianti Restaurant and Lounge owner Rich Marino, whose restaurant sits diagonally across the street, lobbied to save the theater. It was purchased for $1.2 million by local philanthropist and businessman Henry Bertolon.
The theater reopened in November 2014 and the group hired Soward to run it in 2015. So far, it’s undergone about $5 million in renovations with another $2 million worth of work planned.
The 100th celebration will pay homage to its founders, Bertolon, Marino, architect Thad Siemasko, former Cinema Salem owner Paul Van Ness, and Bill Howard, former president of Beverly Bank.
The renovated historic lobby is being dedicated to telecommunications entrepreneur and real estate developer Steve Dodge, The Cabot’s chairman emeritus, who died in 2019.
Last fall, as part of the Cabot 99 celebration, $1 million was raised to begin the lobby project, and this year, the theater received Community Preservation Act funding from the city of Beverly to help pay for the work.
“So, we can actually reveal it to the world [the night of the 100th celebration] as part of the broadcast,” Soward said. “Which is very, very exciting.”