As you travel Moody Street and cross the traffic bridge over the Charles River, to the east is the granite Moody Street Dam marking the juncture in the river between the recreational lakes district of Auburndale and the industrial section that leads to Watertown. In 1813, the Boston Manufacturing Company opened one of the nation’s earliest water-powered textile mills here along the area’s north riverbank. The factory has national historical significance as a site of industrial innovation where, for the first time in America, all aspects of cotton textile production were merged. Today, those brick factory buildings are housing for the elderly and artists’ studios. Waltham’s earliest commercial way was along Main Street. The first bridge to span the river at Moody Street was not built until 1847. Later, Waltham struck a deal with Newton to purchase acreage south of the river from the town of Newton, which had previously owned all the land on that side of the river. During the 19th century, Waltham had grown from a small, agricultural-based economy to a populous and diverse center of industry and employment. As additional industries developed, workers moved to Waltham from increasing distances. New residents meant more housing and neighborhoods were needed.
With the development of this new neighborhood, Moody Street became an important retail hub. The early twentieth century saw the arrival to the area of national retailers such as Woolworth’s and big department stores such as Grover Cronin’s, which filled the block across from the original Embassy, and remained in business until 1989. Later in the 20th century, the popularity and convenience of malls and big box stores eroded the economic vitality of this retail area, although certain significant adaptive re-use, reconstruction, and community development efforts have since occurred: the redevelopment of Cronin’s Department Store by Archstone Properties into a large apartment complex; the replacement of former retail and business spaces into new ethnic restaurants, specialty grocers, and the new Landmark Embassy Cinema; the transformation of the factory rooms of Boston Manufacturing into an innovative mix of artists’ studios, senior residences, and the Charles River Museum of Industry; and the establishment in 1992 of the Charles River Walk, a public promenade and parkland along the north river bank.
Embassy Park on Moody St. takes its name from the original Embassy Theater, c. 1928, which stood in this location for nearly fifty years. In the heyday of independent suburban movie theaters, before television was introduced, as many as five movie houses conducted business in Waltham’s downtown area. Of this group, the Embassy was the most celebrated. The Embassy’s building had many distinctive architectural features. On the outside, there was a terra cotta façade with ornamental mythological creatures and a magnificent art deco multi-story vertical sign. A marquee over the sidewalk was added later, as architectural styles changed. The inside was modeled after a Spanish courtyard with a star-lit painted ceiling, more than two thousand seats, a large Kilgen organ, and a pit for a live orchestra. In 1972, the building was razed and the site was transformed into a municipal public parking lot. The Embassy was the last of the old-time combination vaudeville and movie theaters in Waltham to close. While the exact origins of the Park at this location are unknown, a set of drawings in the Waltham Planning Department indicates that the current design dates from the mid-1990s.
Sources are from the Waltham Public Library’s Waltham Room Collection including articles on the Embassy Theater by Rudy Currier and Patrick Golden that appeared in the Waltham News Tribune.