In 1900 the "New Theatre" was opened on Lawrence Street near Essex Street on the Northeast corner of Lawrence and Methuen Streets. It was renamed the Castro in 1902 and then the Nickel Theatre by 1907. It was reputedly located above Porterís livery stable and according to Lawrence, Massachusetts: Images of America Vol. II by Ken Skulski, offered continuous performances of "moving pictures and illustrated songs for 5 cents daily from 2 to-10:30 pm. In 1910 it was replaced by a new building at the same location, 1 Lawrence St. called the "New Nickel." According to Americanizing the movies and "movie-mad" audiences, 1910-1914 by Richard Abel, it sat 1700.
The Moving Picture World magazine, in October of 1913, reported that Mr. John R. Oldfield (manager) opened his Nickel Theater, Lawrence, Mass., to good business last week. The policy is vaudeville and a good grade of film service. Messrs. (Thomas F.) Twoomey and (Napolean) Demara, the owners, have made a big winner out of the Nickel, as they also have done with the Premier Theater of Lawrence, which they own.
A "Concise history of Lawrence" 1845-1918 had this to say about them, "The theatrical business in Lawrence is largely represented in the enterprises of the Toomey & Demara Amusement Company. This concern controls four of the leading playhouses of the city, embracing three branches of the theatrical profession, viz., drama, vaudeville and motion pictures. The Empire, given over to vaudeville, is one of the largest and best equipped theatres in New England. It has a seating capacity of 2,300. The Broadway, with a seating capacity of 1,500, and the Premier, with a seating capacity of 700, are devoted exclusively to motion pictures. The Colonial, whose seating capacity is 1,650, provides drama. The last named is at the present writing sub-leased to a stock company.
Thomas Toomey, to whom much of the success of the concern is due, came to Lawrence in 1906, when he opened the old Nickel theatre as a picture house, in what had been the Casto theatre. The first day's receipts were only $8.20. The venture was extremely gloomy at the start, and the following several months he sank $5,300 in keeping the house open. Mr. Toomey's optimism, however, was unbounded. He was confident that as soon as the public got the picture idea, success would be certain and substantial. Results proved he was right.
While still striving for success Mr. Toomey took, as a partner in the business. Napoleon Demara, who was general utility man in the old Nickel. They made an excellent team. The business of the old Nickel soon outgrew the premises. The New Nickel came in 1910, and five years later this structure was replaced by the present handsome and commodious Empire theatre.
In turn, the Premier, Broadway and Colonial theatres, the policies of whose managements had failed, were taken over by Toomey & Demara and placed on a sound basis. From a small beginning this concern has grown into one of the largest enterprises of its kind in this section."
At the time, Massachusetts had what was referred to as a "five minute law" that required a break of five minutes after every twenty minutes of motion picture exhibition. The next issue of Moving Picture World reported that Toomey and Demara met in Boston with other members of the Motion Picture Exhibitors League of Massachusetts in favor of abolishment of the law and also to do its utmost to secure licenses for Sunday night concerts in Mass cities at present forbidding them, due to local opposition of the clergy. Through the organization's efforts the bill was repealed the following year.
By 1914 the Toomey & Demara Amusement Company controlled the Nickel, the Premier (at 554 Essex St.) and the Broadway Theaters in Lawrence. That year they announced plans to tear down their new Nickel Theater and to take the entire structure and lot, which they own, and to remodel and reconstruct it by building a new $200,000 theater, with a seating capacity of over 3,000. The new house is to have all the latest and most modern equipment, including escalators to the balconies, a $20,000 organ, and other features. The new theater will be one the largest, most modern and thoroughly fireproof houses In New England.
The resultant theater, the Empire, was not quite as large as announced, but in 1915, at the time seating 2300, it became the largest movie house in Lawrence.