Philadelphia Movie Palaces, Where Art Thou?

posted by Oliver on March 9, 2005 at 4:43 am

PHILADELPHIA, PA — How many out there enjoyed sitting in the old movie palaces in Center City, Philadelphia back in the 50’s and 60’s???

I am talking about the Boyd, Fox, Stanley, Randolph, Goldman, and Midtown Theatres. These theaters showed the film on a first run, even on a reserved seat engagement. Watching classics such as “Gone With the Wind”, “Ben Hur”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “West Side Story”, “My Fair Lady”, and “The Sound of Music” on a giant screen was a view to behold. Sadly, these movies lose their dramatic effect when shown on a TV screen.

These were the days when a film played at one particular theatre anywhere from nine months to two years before general release. It was sort of special when I would go to these theatres with my family. Those were the days of going to the movies. Does anyone remember when the usher wore uniforms and white gloves???

I am glad that Clear Channel is restoring the Boyd Theater, to its former glory. I worked at some of these theaters as an usher in the late sixties. Anyone else out there a former theater employee???

Andy P.

Comments (12)

Mikeoaklandpark
Mikeoaklandpark on March 9, 2005 at 9:29 am

Andy
Do you remember where Lawrence of Arabia and West Side Story played?

Oliver
Oliver on March 9, 2005 at 2:11 pm

Mike:

When I worked at the Midtown (saw Oliver! for ten months), we talked about the graet movies that played there. West Side Story played for about one year, and Lawrence of Arabia, for fifteen months. The Sound of Music played there for twenty-six months.

Andy P.

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on March 9, 2005 at 9:23 pm

My parents started me on traveling to Center City back in the 50’s to see the original Cinerama travelogues at the Boyd. We went to the Boyd many times. I continued traveling from Lancaster after I was old enough to drive. Saw many films at the Boyd, Stanley, Midtown, Fox,Goldman, and Randolph Theatres. Some of my friends thought I was crazy to drive to Center City. However, once they made the trip with me they were hooked. Many times we spent the day in Center City, shopping at Wanamakers, dinner at some restaurant, and then a movie! Have not been in Center City since the last “Indiana Jones” movie played at the Sameric(Boyd) and I saw what a horrible condition they allowed to happen to that movie palace. Going to the movies in today’s world is just not the
same. When you saw a movie in Cinerama or 70MM you saw something. When those giant curtains opened at the Stanley you knew you were in for an experience. As the lights dimmed and the overatures would start, that was movie going first class! I have a book of ticket stubs and a collection of souveneir programs from most of the reserved seat films of the 50’s and 60’s.

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on March 10, 2005 at 4:14 pm

P.S. – I am finding out through this site that I am not the only person who misses the movie going experience of the roadshow attractions. We did not have any movie palaces in Lancaster that projected in Cinerama or 70mm. And, after 1967, all the movie palaces located in one block of downtown (4 of them) were torn down in the name of urban renewal! I have photos of the outside of many of the theatres in Center city which I took when going there for their latest reserved seat attraction. However, I wish I was able to have a collection of photes of the interiors of those marvelous palaces. I have collected many books of the movie palaces, but very few have many interior pictures of Philadelphia Theatres. I walk through the “hallways” of the multiplexes and think how boring! Then walk into one of the theatres with a small bare screen hanging on the wall showing 20 minutes of commercials and think, why bother?
It will be out on video soon and can watch it in the comfort of my own “in home theatre set up” without the hassle of talking neighbors, cell phones ringing, people constantly getting up during the film. I could go on and on, but thanks for letting me know I am not alone in missing the “good old days.”

Oliver
Oliver on March 11, 2005 at 12:32 pm

DennisZ

I sometimes work in Center City, and when I walk down Chestnut St and Market St and look at some of the closed theatres, I wonder what happpened. Most of the movie palaces were torn down in the 70’s and 80’s for development and office building in their place. I wish that the owners of these building would put a banner or something, stating what used to be there for some sort of historic record of what used to be Center City Philadelphia.

Andy P

WaltFay
WaltFay on March 13, 2005 at 12:56 am

I just found this thread. Great topic. I know the Boyd/Sameric very well having pretty much grown up in it. My father had a drapery shop in the basement for about ten years.He did all the drape and front end work for the Sameric Corp. mid 70’s to mid eighties. I have great memories as a kid walking(sneaking) up to see a movie. I remember seeing Earthquake in Sensuround, Rollerball, Starwars 1, Holloween and the premiere for Rocky 1. The last time I was there was for the premiere of Philadelphia. It was the last of the great movies houses that graced center city. Its great that they are rescuing it. The former owners did nothing to upkeep it. It just did not mesh with their multiplex mindset. It has been demonstrated that a well run classic house can be profitable. The Senator theatre in Baltimore is proof.There is a great book that was printed in the early 90’s about the great Phila movie palaces, with a lot of great pics. I forget the author and title. I will try to find out though.

Coate
Coate on March 15, 2005 at 10:21 pm

These articles/engagement lists should bring back lots of memories for those who saw these movies in their first-run.

“The Sound Of Music” (Midtown):
View link

“How The West Was Won” (Boyd):
View link

“2001: A Space Odyssey” (Randolph):
http://www.in70mm.com/news/2004/2001/release.htm

Coate
Coate on March 22, 2005 at 10:34 am

I forgot about “Oklahoma!” at the Midtown…

View link

Oliver
Oliver on March 22, 2005 at 5:04 pm

If anyone walks behind the Prince Music Theatre (the former Midtown Theatre) you can see the worn out advertisement for “Around the World in 80 Days”.

MPol
MPol on March 1, 2006 at 10:58 am

Hi. Was just reading your “Philadelphia Movie Palaces, where art thou?” article, which I read with much interest and enjoyment. I remember seeing the film West Side Story at the Charles Cinema in Boston back in the summer of 1976, where it played for 3 whole weeks. Since WSS is my alltime favorite film, I took full advantage of the 3-week stint of this great classic at the above-mentioned cinema and attended a showing of this great classic film every other night for all 3 weeks. What a wonderful way to see such a great film, and, how sad it is that very few, if any of these great movie palaces or cinematic treasures, if any, are left. Other wonderful films that I viewed at the Charles Cinema in Boston are Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars I, Dr. Zhivago, to mention afew.

Oliver
Oliver on March 1, 2006 at 11:45 am

To: MPOL

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me on this page. It is a shame, we can’t enjoy with our children, what we enjoyed back in the 60’s of going to a Movie Palace. Note I didn’t say movie theatre.

ffoulkrodrogers
ffoulkrodrogers on April 10, 2009 at 8:22 am

As a longtime ex-pat of the Philadelphia area, I read these comments with a sigh of nostalgia. I remember taking the Chestnut Hill local to Center City so I could marvel at the latest Hollywood spectacular. I can see that impressive sight of the neon marquees pulsating with excitement. The “palaces” have pretty much been covered in the above comments. Has the Boyd renovation happened? I haven’t been to Center City in about 5 years. I remember seeing Ben-Hur there and several Cinerama movies. Anyone remember the Mastbaum (sp)? A big neo classic affair as I vaguely remember. Then there were the little single screen theatres which saw their share of hits: Trans Lux, Arcadia, World (foreign/art films). I’d go to Whitman’s counter on Chestnut St., have some sinfully rich concotion at the art deco counter then escape to the fantasy world of old world movie magic. I’m happy to report that some preservation still goes on in the SF Bay area. Aside from the magnificently restored Paramount Theatre in Oakland,$5.00 movies several times a year, take the tour if you are ever out here, the recently restored Alameda is great and they show classic films 2x’s a week in their restored auditiorium. The recently reopened Oakland Fox is nicely restored minus permanent seats for live events.The venerable Castro is one of the few remaining single screens in S.F. The organ rises up from below and plays San Francisco before weekend shows.We also still have the Grand Lake in Oakland, faded but still open and the smaller jewel Orinda. Netflix will never replace the experience.

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