Sometime last week we heard from a friend that the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square was renovating and going to be giving away the theatre’s original seats. I Googled this rumor, found nothing, but we showed up at 9 AM Saturday as we’d heard. Front of the theatre: dark, closed, dead. Wandered around the back. Lo and behold: There’s a guy hauling linked pairs of old seats out onto the sidewalk, and a small cluster of excited people.
The seats given away on Saturday were all original seats from the theatre’s balcony, dating to 1914 when the theatre opened. They were made by the American Seating Co., which still exists, probably owing somewhat to the durability of these seats! The frames are cast-iron with wood trim, and the seats are stuffed with horse hair. As the man carted a pair out, he commented that they were “built to withstand the two great wars that hadn’t yet happened,” and promised us they were virtually indestructible: to get the seats out of the balcony, they threw them down to the main level. “They didn’t break,” he said, patting one. “A couple, the cushion popped out, but they didn’t break.”
However unbreakable, the seats could definitely use a little refurbishing love. Some had gum stuck to them, others (like ours) had tears in the cushion, or were just plain dirty. But everyone who was there seemed to see past all that. One seat adopter happily mentioned that he plans to give a set as a wedding present. A young couple who had been to many shows at the Somerville kept remarking in disbelief that the theatre wasn’t asking any money for the seats. The theatre man mentioned that in an antique shop recently he’d seen similar seats for $200 a pop, but said the theatre was just happy to see them go. Though they could be refurbished, they no longer meet fire codes.
We got them in the backseat of the Corolla and drove them home, my husband mentioning that the smell instantly took him back to his grandfather’s barn. We don’t have a clear plan for them; I have a grandfather who is a refurbishing genius (though not local) and I might send him a couple pictures and pick his brain. But they’re structurally sound, freestanding, and they seem fine with the move to Arlington. In our basement now sits a heavy piece of local history, surprisingly comfortable after 95 years.