Historic Waltham cinema shuts down
After nearly 100 years, the only movie theater in Waltham has shut down permanently with just three days notice
Embassy Cinema opened in 1928. On Monday, Aug. 5, the almost century-old Waltham staple, once advertised as “Waltham’s Wonder Theatre,” closed its doors for good.
“We had seen it coming for a while, but we thought we had more time,” assistant manager Andrew “Andy” Johnson ’17 told the Justice on Aug. 3, two days before the theater shut down.
Johnson is a middle school teacher. He managed the theater as a side gig after he graduated from Brandeis.
Johnson said Embassy, like many movie theaters, had been struggling to make ends meet before the pandemic. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a final, fatal blow.
“Movie theaters have been struggling for years, but [COVID-19] really sped it along,” Johnson said.
Even once things started to open back up later in the pandemic, the Embassy stayed closed. Johnson said Embassy’s parent company, Landmark Theatres, opened their theater in Cambridge, one of their two Massachusetts locations, and used it as a test run. “They thought if Kendall Square wasn’t doing well, they weren’t ready to open us,” Johnson explained.
The news of the theater’s closing did not come as a surprise for Mazzi Ingram ’25, who worked at the theater up until it closed. She’s been working there since December 2021, and said it has never been busy. “COVID has really impacted this place,” Ingram said. Coworkers told her Brandeis students used to come “all the time” before the pandemic.
Ingram said the theater could have done a better job of “public outreach and being modern,” and explained how it never had a strong presence on social media. However, she said the biggest factors impacting ticket sales — COVID-19 and streaming services — were out of Embassy or Landmark’s control.
Lauren, a Waltham resident, found out Embassy Cinema was closing two days before its last day. After leaving the farmers’ market in the empty lot behind the theater, she noticed the goodbye message that Johnson had put up on the marquee outside the theater just an hour earlier.
“I didn’t even realize that the Embassy theater had reopened [after the lockdown],” she said. She pointed out the beaten-down movie posters, improperly stretched out in the light boxes on the walls outside of the theater. Although the posters were all for the newest features, Lauren said it was easy to assume that the theater was still closed.
“The movies that we get are already on streaming services,” she said, “so there isn’t much incentive to go, especially if you’re paying more,” Ingram said. Even successful box office blockbusters haven’t been able to make up for plummeting ticket sales: “‘Top Gun’ has been killing it all summer, but it's not enough,” Ingram said.
Landmark Theatres gave Embassy employees extremely limited notice about the closure, Ingram said. Their jobs were terminated on a Friday and the theater was closed the following Monday. Landmark offered employees time-and-a-half for the hours they worked after being terminated, Ingram said, but no severance pay. She now has to find a new job with little time to plan. Johnson, meanwhile, said he won’t be looking for another theater job.
“It’s a special place. People should know about it”
The original Embassy Cinema first opened on Moody Street in 1928. It went out of business in 1972 and the building was torn down that same year. Today, the only thing that remains of the original location is a metal arch on Moody Street.
In 1998, the California-based company Landmark Theatres, which operates over 30 movie theaters across the country, reopened Embassy Cinema in a new location, next to the old one.
The building was previously the home of the Waltham News Tribune. There are still traces of the newspaper in the building, including a pneumatic tube system for transporting documents between floors. “We still use it now,” Johnson said.
Current Brandeis students were sad to see Embassy go. “It is really sad that the movie theater has closed. When I was a first-year student, my friends and I would go there many times every month,” Ethan Gerstman ’23 said. He did not return to the theater after it reopened following the initial COVID-19 lockdown.
“The showtimes after the reopening were bad, and it never worked out with my schedule,” he said.
Not long before the Embassy Theater shut its doors, the City of Waltham approved an amendment to the building permit that would allow it to operate as a live performance space in addition to showing movies. According to Joseph Vizard, Waltham’s city clerk, if a new operator takes over the building, they will be able to use the building for both purposes. Currently, the building is listed online for lease by the CBRE Group.
The Embassy Theater was the only remaining movie theater in Waltham. The nearby West Newton Cinema may shut its doors soon as well, according to a recent Globe report. Soon, Waltham residents may have to travel to see a movie in theaters.
“It’s a special place, people should know about it,” Andy said.