The Secret Underground Theater on Boylston Street

December 5, 2013 1:53 pm

By Joshua Coe /

The view from inside Steinert Hall, several feet below Boylston Street.  Via a Project in Ruins.

The view from inside the Steinert Music Hall, lying just below Boylston Street. Via a Project in Ruins.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/123300020″ params=”color=e4d185&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

 

Regular listeners will remember a story we ran a few weeks ago on a pair of artists hoping to transform the abandoned MBTA tunnels beneath Boylston Street into an walk-through gallery and performance space.  That story was put together by reporter Joshua Coe.  While working on that story, Josh stumbled across another underground marvel beneath Emerson.

He began hearing rumors of an underground theater built in 1896 beneath the M. Steinert & Sons piano store.  The music hall was supposedly “acoustically perfect” but left abandoned after being condemned long ago.

A floor plan for Steinert Hall dated in 1904.

A floor plan for Steinert Hall that dates back to 1904.

Josh starting asking employees at the piano store about the theater, but no one really wanted to talk with him about it.  Finally, after talking with a half dozen or so employees, Josh finally got the number for Paul Murphy, the President of M. Steinert and Sons and the store’s resident historian, who was able to tell him that—yes—the rumors are true.  The underground theater beneath Boylston Street does exist, it’s known to employees as Steinert Hall.

M. Steinert & Sons was founded in 1860 by Morris Steinert, a German immigrant. With the help of his sons, he developed a chain of piano stores specializing in the sale of Steinways. He came to Boston with the aspiration of opening a store on the famed “Piano Row” district which, in the late 1800’s was centered on Washington Street. Unable to find a space there, he opened on Boylston Street. Paul Murphy’s family has led the business since 1916.

What is now the center of Emerson college was in the 1900’s the center of the Boston music industry. Around these piano stores theaters were built. Steinert Hall also doubled as a recital hall and later a recording studio. The hall was built by one of Steinert’s sons, Alexander, who wanted a venue for area musicians and a place to show off the store’s selection of pianos. The hall hosted everything from piano recitals to opera singers to attract customers.

“It was a very nice acoustic environment, it used to be called the “Little Jewel,'” Murphy says.

Unfortunately the “Little Jewel” closed its doors almost 60 years ago due to updated building codes. The curious hall now serves as a mausoleum for dusty, crippled and out-of-use pianos. But Steinert store has continued to live on, as the last of bygone era when Boston was one of the leaders in piano manufacturing. The store above the theatre still continues to thrive today, and Murphy says that they still host piano recitals from time to time.

“People say we’re good because we’re old,” he says, “but I like to think we’re old because we’re good.”

You can still check out the old piano store at 162 Boylston St., but it may be a while until building management ever re-opens the doors to Steinert Hall.

 

Listen to WECB News live Wednesdays from 7 - 8 p.m. EST on wecb.fm