Footlight Club Told by Boston Fire Department to Replace All Theater Seats

The Footlight Club is in the middle of a major fundraising campaign after being told by the Boston Fire Department the theater must immediately replace all of its seats.

The Footlight Club is now working in partnership to update the theater to BFD requirements, according to a Footlight Club spokesperson.

The Footlight Club is the country's oldest community theater.

The Footlight Club is the country’s oldest community theater.

The Footlight Club, located at 7A Eliot Street, just celebrated its 139th anniversary on Jan. 4th and has already been fundraising for two years to replace its fire alarm, emergency lighting and sprinkler systems. And they have raised $180,000 thanks to donations and a $90,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund.

Interior of Eliot Hall Theater.

Photo by Heather Jaskot for The Footlight Club

Interior of Eliot Hall Theater.

But in a December email request to Friends of the Footlight Club, the new updates needed for the country’s oldest community theater, were highlighted.

“Unfortunately, the Boston Fire Department has just ordered us to replace all the seats in the theater immediately. The initial estimate for this is more than $400 per seat – with a total estimated cost of up to $200,000 to replace all the seats and risers.”

Donations to support and preserve the home of The Footlight Club can be provided by making a contribution at or by mailing a check to The Footlight Club, 7A Eliot Street, Jamaica Plain, Mass. 02130.

  • Malena

    Oh, that’s too bad. Those seats are part of the charm of that old, beautiful hall, even if they are hard on one’s butt (and are probably quite flammable) . However, this is definitely a cause to take on. Come on JPers, let’s be generous.

  • jenuphoto

    Footlight Club: sell the cool old seats to raise the money! Buy a piece of history!

    • Kay Hutchinson

      That’s a great idea!

  • Kay Hutchinson

    On the donate page, which fund should we donate to, in order to make sure the donation goes toward the new seats? Operating, Repair or Restoration?

    • kmacjp

      The Restoration Fund. And THANK YOU very much, Ms. Hutchinson!

  • Point

    You’re blaming the fire department for this?

    Let’s talk about some of the reasons we have the fire codes that we do, and why they are treated as laws:

    Coconut Grove – 1942, right here in Boston. 492 dead.
    Iroquois Theatre – 1903, 602 dead.

    Brooklyn Theatre – 1876, 278-300+ dead (estimated).
    Karamay Theater – 1994, 325 dead.

    Laurier Palace Theatre – 1927, 78 dead.

    So, which do you prefer? Operate safely according to modern code, or take a risk that the “Footlight Club” join the list of major fire disasters?

    • maureen JP

      who’s blaming the BFD? The BFD is requiring the Club replace the seats, but it’s not as if FLC hasn’t want to. It’s just been cost prohibitive. Instead of being a know it all, why don’t you make a donation?

      • Point

        The article’s original wording emphasized that it was the BFD’s requirement, and did not offer the view that the theater and the fire department were working in concert. The wording has since been changed to acknowledge the theater’s desire to comply with regulation, vis a vis the Partnership now described.

        I have made a donation to the Footlight Club, an important part of Boston’s theatrical community, but I thank you for your reminder to do so.

        • Binky

          The article also doesn’t answer the basic obvious question: What is the problem with the current seats? That makes it look like it is an arbitrary decision by the BFD (since they are, presumably, the same seat TFC has had for ages.) The very first question I’d have asked, as a reporter is, “Oh really? What did they say was wrong with them?”

    • EBean

      Let’s be clear, there is no blaming the fire department here. It is unfortunate that the club has to replace the seats, as they are part of the historic charm of the building itself, and modern seating lacks the same charm we have come to know there. Options for charming seats at an affordable price point are…limited at best. FLC has already raised a lot of funds, and has been working with the BFD on updating the current fire systems (which are almost complete)! Replacing the seats is the next step in the journey that is ever-changing code requirements. We keep on trucking!

      • Point

        That is an excellent response, and I support you fully. Keep on trucking, please.

  • EBean

    The Footlight Club is working collaboratively with the BFD to make sure all fire code requirements are met to make sure they can stay in business and continue to provide high quality theater to the community they are a part of. Fire codes change constantly, and the FLC is doing its best to raise funds to cover the high cost of seat replacement, while maintaining the historic charm of the building. It’s times like this we need our community supporters more than ever to help keep the community alive and well!

    • L

      Sounds like CAL 133 issue. Call a commercial furniture vendor like Red Thread. They deal with this issue all the time. They can help you select a new cushion & fabric that is rated to meet CAL133. Then, BFD will want the assembly certified. So you’ll need to send one chair for a burn test. Red Thread can help you with this too. I want to say the test cost about $5,000.
      One other note: I have heard that BFD has been talking about eliminating this code because the chemicals may indeed be more harmful. Best of luck! FLC is a great place. You’re doing great work!

  • rincwhitman

    How old are the current seats? Isn’t there a way to make the existing ones safer for fires?
    When you go to a place like Symphony Hall (I know they obviously have tons more money), the seats there look like they’ve been there as long as the building’s been there. One imagines that they’ve been treated or reupholstered or whatever to be both fire-safe and keep the history of the place.

    • kmacjp

      The current seats are c. 1920s. The FLC first looked to see if the existing seats could be restored to code but that is cost prohibitive and would take a long time. Also, though the original seats are charming and we love them, they do not allow for reconfiguration or accessibility as well as modern chairs, and one of the FLC’s goals is to make the building more accessible. Funny you mentioned Symphony Hall, because one of our members investigated the seats at Symphony Hall, which are absolutely top of the line and beautiful! But, $$$$$$$$$$$.

  • Binky

    Yeah, this article gives no indication what part of the fire code the current seating violates. Is it just that they are wood? Badly spaced for making exiting difficult? Some weird other fire code violation that is purely technical? Seems like the very first question I’d ask: What is the problem with the current seats?

    • kmacjp

      Hi, Binky! According to our consultants (Platt-Anderson, who are very kindly helping us out) the existing seats’ frames are made of wood and metal. The cushion covers are a 1920s Naugahyde type material. The stuffing is horsehair and batting. The existing seats are not about to spontaneously go up in flames, but the seat materials and mechanics simply no longer meet current theater/assembly code per BFD. It’s as simple as that. The current seats’ spacing and placement are compliant. The replacements will be spaced and placed somewhat differently in order to better improve accessibility, and of course to accommodate the more modern sizes of the seats and risers. I hope that this answers your question. 🙂

      • Monster

        “better accommodate…modern size seats”


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