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Monuments and Milestones
In 1898, while Mary E. "Vivian" Patee and her husband, Clair, were staying in New Jersey, Mr. Patee purchased a toy machine that projected moving pictures onto a screen, plus 800 feet of film, from a Frenchman staying in the same boarding house. Mr. Patee rented a building in Pennsylvania and opened a small theater where he charged five cents admission for an eight minute film.
Working with Thomas Edison, he made improvements to the projector and the film it used. He then acquired this new model and opened a film theater in Jersey City, NJ while Mrs. Patee went back to Lawrence to help care for her sick father.
The couple considered opening a theater in Lawrence and did so after Mr. Patee shipped some of the projection equipment to his wife. The building that Mrs. Patee purchased at 708 Massachusetts Street was formally the location of the Lawrence Journal which had recently moved to the first floor of the Bowersock Opera House. In 1903, after Mr. Patee returned, the couple remodeled the building and opened the Nickel Theater: the first feature film theater in the Western United States.
The Nickel operated successfully for ten years before the Patees relocated the theater to 828 Massachusetts Street and renamed it the Patee Theater in 1913. Although many people doubted the theater should be opened at night, the business thrived for many years and showed many popular films. In March 1955, the interior of the theater was gutted by a fire and the remaining structure was torn down later that year. The newly vacated lot was converted to a walkway connecting the sidewalk on Massachusetts Street to a parking lot across the alley on New Hampshire Street.
Today, the space that was originally the Nickel Theater at 708 Massachusetts Street is home to the Dusty Bookshelf.
The Dusty Bookshelf, 2011