Back before multiplexes, home entertainment centers and the man-cave-ifcation of America, neighborhood movie theaters were the places where people went for news, entertainment, and air conditioning. And the builders of these theaters appreciated the aesthetics of their buildings as part of the overall experience. These were the movie palaces, not just some brick and stucco box with a nice surround sound system.
Shawn Evans, writing for PhillyHistory.org, has a fascinating and depressing look back on many of the great neighborhood theaters. It’s fascinating for obvious reasons (who doesn’t like to imagine a time when you could walk around the corner to the movie theater?). On the other hand, to read in each case about what currently occupies the sites of these old theaters can leave one with just the slightest tinge of regret. The glorious 2183-seat Broadway Theatre at Broad and Snyder occupied a spot that “is now a parking lot for a Walgreen’s.” (See what I mean?)
The city archives has pictures of nearly every part of Philadelphia going back pretty much to when cameras were invented. So those of you who have lived in Passyunk Square (or, as I’m sure it was called back then, South Philly) may recognize this:
…as the Stratford Theatre (which obviously had seen better days by the time this picture was taken in 1956). Located at 7th and Dickinson, it was torn down in the 1960s and replaced… by a parking lot.
Check out Evans’ post for more great pictures and information about some of the other theaters that were once havens for residents throughout the city.
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