Island historian Frances Karttunen has compiled a comprehensive history of the Dreamland Theater building and its original four partners.
History of the Building
The Atlantic Hall, c. 1900, is the large building on Main Street on the left. Courtesy of Nantucket Historical Association.
The building is a former Hicksite meetinghouse built on Main Street in 1831-32 at the cost of a bit over $3,250. The Hicksite faction of the Religious Society of Friends was in competition with the Orthodox Quakers on Nantucket and elsewhere. The meetinghouse they built on Nantucket had the capacity to seat the sum of all the Quakers on the island, but it failed to attract the expected large membership.
Used for open meetings in support of the abolition of slavery and hosting Lucretia Coffin Mott as a speaker from time to time, the meetinghouse was much too large for the members of the Meeting to maintain. After less than fifteen years of existence, the Hicksites “lay down” their meeting in 1845. For another five years the Gurneyites, another Quaker faction, met in the building. Then they moved to smaller quarters on Centre Street, and the Hicksite meetinghouse was sold.
Subsequently it housed a factory producing straw hats and then a roller-skating rink (1880). Known as “Atlantic Hall,” it was dismantled and moved to Brant Point in 1883, reassembled there, and incorporated into the Nantucket Hotel.
In December 1905 the old building was purchased by the Improved Order of Red Men, and early in 1906 it was floated back across the harbor to its present location. (See NHA images #F4402, F4407.)
According to Argument Settlers for the year 1905: “The Nantucket Hotel property was sold at public auction for $3,000 to Edwin F. Atkins, of Boston. The central portion of the hotel was purchased by the Red Men in December and later moved to South Water Street to be used as a lodge room, dance hall, and moving picture theater.”
Subsequent uses of the building:
- 1907. Smith and Blanchard’s Moving Picture Show with “polite vaudeville”
- 1911. Dreamland Theatre run by Folger and Hull. Vaudeville on Wednesday evenings for 20¢ admission.
- 1922. Renovation of Dreamland Theatre. Opened on May 13 with 600 seats.
- 1926. Business certificate for Dreamland Theatre (Anastos, Genesky, Hull, & Perry)
- Dreamland Ad in the Inquirer and Mirror, July 11, 1931. Courtesy of the Nantucket Atheneum Historic Newspaper Digitization Project
- 1930. Installation of sound system in the spring.
- 1938. Town Meeting was held in the Dreamland.
- 1941. A special citizens’ meeting was held in the Dreamland.
- 1947. Death of Orison V. Hull, on January 10. “For many years [he] has been manager of the Dreamland Hall, operating the moving pictures there.” “He was also part owner and manager of the Dreamland Theater.”
- Death of Eugene Perry on April 21. “He was also part of the Dreamland Moving Picture Theatre, in the operation of which he took keen interest.”
- Argument Settlers for the year 1947: “The Dreamland Theater Company took over the Red Men’s, having previously occupied the lower floor on a rental basis.”
- The first issue of The Town Crier reports on its front page: “Dreamland Corporation Purchases Building Owned by Redmen. May Build New Theater Or Renovate Present One. The building housing the Dreamland Theatre has been purchased by the theater corporation, John Anastos, one of the owners, announced yesterday.”
- 1987. Charles Flanagan, grandson of Eugene Perry, was treasurer of the Dreamland Theatre Corp. The corporation was open to finding a buyer. Plans were under development for turning the building into a performing arts center. (I&M, July 16)
- 2002. Death of Charles Flanagan. Dreamland Theatre building advertised for sale.
- According to Joan Genesky Rubin, the Dreamland Theatre partnership was the oldest independent movie theater operation in the USA.
History of the Four Dreamland Partners
Orison Hull (1871-1947). Of the four partners in the Dreamland, Orison Hull was the one with a long Nantucket heritage. He was the great-great-grandson of Thomas Hull Sr. and Phebe Folger Hull. Thomas was the first Hull on Nantucket and was lost at sea in 1783. Early in his life, Orison Hull also worked on the water, engaging in salvage operations and captaining the yacht of a summer resident. On land he became manager of the Dreamland Theatre and operated the movie equipment. At the end of his life he was described as “one of the leading citizens of Nantucket,” having served as both Fire Chief and Chief of Police as well as being elected to the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. His career was capped by election as Nantucket’s representative to the General Court of Massachusetts. (There is a photo of Orison Hull in the NHA Historic Image Archive. It is image # F6531.)
Eugene Perry (1870-1947) was born on São Miguel, the Azores, immigrated with his family to Boston, and arrived on Nantucket in 1891. As a young man, he went whaling in the Arctic and later served as engineer on a vessel carrying miners and equipment to Alaska during the Yukon gold rush. Returning to Nantucket, he ran a diverse business operation that included a tobacco shop, a poolroom, a fleet of fishing boats, a chandlery in what is now the Wharf Rats Club building on North Wharf, and partnership in the Dreamland Theatre. He married Annie Nevins, daughter of Irish immigrants Catherine and Michael Nevins. Operation of the Dreamland carried on through subsequent generations of the family. (Catherine Flanagan Stover, Nantucket Town Clerk and daughter of Charles Flanagan, has excellent photos of Eugene Perry.)
Emile Genesky (1886-1957) was born in Yanaveh, Russia. (His birthplace has been described as “a Jewish shtetel in Belarus.”) His family brought him as an infant to New Bedford, and he was apparently unaware that he had not been born a United States citizen until after he was elected to the Nantucket Board of Selectmen in 1918. Discovering that he was foreign-born, he took out naturalization papers in 1920. He and his brother had come to Nantucket in 1908 to run a branch of the Genesky family clothing business. Their store eventually became the Toggery Shop, ownership of which later passed to the Murray family. Genesky and John Anastos formed a partnership to build a brick commercial building on the south side of Main Street in 1928. Genesky also built five houses in a row on Easton Street, several on Harbor View Way, and others in the Hulbert Avenue area and on North Liberty Street. After his marriage to Rhoda Saunders, he made his permanent residence in New Bedford while keeping a summer home on Nantucket.
John Anastos (1888-ca 1960) came to the USA from Greece around 1905 to assist his family in the fruit business. Five years later he moved to Nantucket to work in the retail business on-island, while his brother George left the island for Boston to work in the wholesale end of the business. Two years after that, when war broke out between Greece and the Ottoman Empire, John Anastos and Nicholas Kaleavas left Nantucket to go back home to fight. Kaleavas was killed and Anastos was wounded in action. Returning to Nantucket, he and George opened a combination fruit store, confectionary, and ice cream parlor on the south side of Main Street that eventually became the Spa and the next-door Spa Café. Long a bachelor, John Anastos married Greek-born Athena “Anna” Anastos in 1938. In the late 1950s John Anastos retired to Greece.
For more about these Nantucket business partners, see The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars. (Use the index to find them in the book.)
At the beginning of the Hull/Perry/Genesky/Anastos partnership in the 1920s:
- Hull was already showing movies in another location.
- Genesky had the Toggery at 62-64 Main StreetAnastos was dealing in fruit and ice cream on Main Street.
- Perry had a poolhall, a tobacco store, fishing boats, etc.
The Toggery Shop:
- 1908. Business certificate issued to Philip Genesky for City Clothing Company on Main Street.
- 1909 Directory. City Clothing, 62 Main St. Men’s clothing and furnishings. Emile Genesky, proprietor of City Clothing Company, 62 Main. Living at 107 Main St. James Genesky, clerk at 62 Main. Boarding at 107 Main.
- 1914 Directory. City Clothing, 62 Main Street. Emile Genesky, proprietor, living at 107 Main St.
- 1916. Between March 11 and June 1, there should be an I&M story about “A new store building in the Folger Block was erected.” Actually, it was the building immediately west of the Folger block. Notation on an 1895 photo of the little building with two columns directly west of the Folger block: “Torn down 1916.”
Ads run in the Inquirer and Mirror in 1916:
- March 4, 1916 front page: “City Clothing Company. Forced to Vacate!…building is to be torn down within a few days.” (Sale commences the day of the ad. Door closes March 10.)
- March 11, 1916, announcement that business will move to Centre Street until new building is ready for occupancy.
- April 1 and April 8, 1916: “The City Clothing Company is now located at 23 Centre Street in the store formerly occupied by Miss Keane, until the new building is ready for occupancy.”
- July 1. 1916. I&M article reports opening of new building: It is Now “The Toggery Shop.”
- 1918. Emile Genesky elected to the Nantucket Board of Selectmen. Served three years.
- 1919 directory. Toggery Shop at 62-64 Main.
- 1920 federal census for Nantucket: Emile Genesky, 34, single, retail clothing merchant, boarding with Burgess couple, “Hebrew,” born in Russia, arrived in USA in1887 (one year after his birth), citizenship papers taken out, not yet naturalized.
Anastos Fruit/Confectionary/Spa Café:
- 1909 directory: Nicholis Kaleavas, Fruit and Confectionery, 26 Main Street. George Anastos, clerk at same address, apparently living on premises.
- 1910 federal census: John K. Anastos, 22, single, retail fruit merchant, had arrived in USA in 1905, citizenship papers taken out, not yet naturalized, renting on Main St.
- 1914 directory. John Anastos—fruit and ice cream, at same location. Living on premises.
- 1916 I&M May 27 ad for Kaleavas’ Ice Cream, Nantucket Fruit Store, Main Street. (Did Anastos keep former name of business?)
- 1919 directory. John Anastos—fruit, confectionery, and ice cream at 26 Main St.. Constantinos Nicoletos, clerk, living on premises.
- 1920 federal census: John C. Anastos, 33, single, fruit merchant, renting, still not naturalized.
- 1928. April 7 I&M reports razing of old wooden buildings on south side of Main Street and building of new buildings for “the new owners, Messrs. Anastos and Genesky.”
- 1930 federal census: John K. Anastos, 41, single, confectionery store proprietor, homeowner, 26 Lower Main, naturalized citizen.
- 1938 street list. Anna Anastos, 38, housewife, alien; John K. Anastos, 51, merchant, naturalized; George K. Anastos, 58, merchant, naturalized. All born in Greece.
- 1941 mention of “Anastos and Wing blocks” adjacent to Masonic building on corner of Main and Union.
- 1944. Ad for: “The Spa Cafe: A Fine Eating Place, With Reasonable Prices. Our Fish Dinners a Specialty. Chickens-Steaks-Chops-Lobster. Fresh vegetables. –“Cocktails”- Telephone 187. 28 Main Street. —- “Confectionery Spa” –Delightfully Cool Place—Delicious Homemade Ice Cream-Sodas-Pies-Candies. Sandwiches of All Kinds – Draught Beer – Ale. Telephone 187. Three minutes from Steamboat Wharf. 26 Main Street. (This Week in Nantucket, Sept. 11)
- 1956. The Nantucket Spa and Spa Cafe, 26-28 Main Street. C. George Anastos and Lilika [Lilika (Popodopoulus)] G. Anastos, proprietors.
For more information see:
“Dreamland Theatre: Moving Picture House” by Patty Jo Rice in Historic Nantucket Vol. 45, No. 2, Fall 1996, pp. 152-53.
“Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland” by Robert F. Mooney in Nantucket Magazine, Early Summer 1998, pp. 12-18.
Quaker Nantucket: The Religious Community Behind the Whaling Empire by Robert Leach and Peter Gow. Mill Hill Press, 1997. Pp. 168-175.
“Dreamland Theatre: Hicksite Friends Meeting House, Atlantic Straw Works, Atlantic hall, Nantucket Hotel,” Preservation Institute Report PIN 1996-192, archived at the Nantucket Historical Association Research Library. (Detailed documentation of the building and its uses. PIN Report 192 is in a ring binder together with 191.)