Prince Music Theater

1412 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19102

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Prince Music Theater

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The Karlton Theater opened on Chestnut Street between Broad Street and 15th Street, on Ocober 17, 1921, as a second run movie theater. The theater was built in a building that existed at least as of 1880. A photo of the building as Jacob Reed’s store, a famous clothing store that later built a flagship on the same block, appears in the book ‘Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square’(authors Robert Morris Skaler and Thomas Keels, publisher Arcadia, 2008). The theater was designed by Philadelphia theater architects Hoffman-Henon. Lobbies and foyers had Italian marble and fountains. The auditorium had 1,066 seats on one floor. By 1941, it was operated by Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp.

In 1943, Philadelphia theater operator William Goldman acquired the Karlton Theater and changed it into a first run movie theater. The world premiere of the movie “Adam’s Rib” was hosted November 16, 1949. With a double feature of “Gilda” and “Platinum Blonde” the Karlton Theater closed on October 16, 1950.

Renovations were carried out by architect David Supowitz. Green plastic covered most of the facade, and giant letters spelt out the theater’s new name, ‘Midtown’. The Midtown Theater reopened December 23, 1950, with the world premiere of the movie “The Goldbergs”, with the stars present and civic leaders, including the mayor. The popular film “Harvey” was shown in 1951. In 1954 a huge screen was placed in the auditorium to showcase Todd AO 70mm epics. In 1946, nearby, Goldman opened the theater named after him, the Goldman Theater, and also from 1943, on Chestnut a few blocks to the east, he operated the theater he named after his son, the Randolph Theater. The Midtown Theater was his flagship, where he had so much success that in 1967, two blocks to the west on Chestnut, he built the Regency Theater to show more movies.

The world premiere of the film “Beau Brummell” starring Stewart Granger and Elizabeth Taylor was held at the Midtown Theatre on October 5, 1954. The Midtown Theater hosted Philadelphia roadshows of epic movies including “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1956), “Oklahoma!” (1956), “South Pacific” (1958), “West Side Story” (1961) which was shown for one year, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) which was shown for fifteen months, and “The Sound of Music” (1965) which was shown for twenty-six months. “Oliver” (1969) played for 10 months.

In 1972 William Goldman sold his theaters to local operator Budco. The world premiere of “Rocky II” was held at the Midtown on June 14, 1979. Budco twinned the Midtown Theater’s auditorium by building a wall down the middle. The last movie to be shown in the single screen auditorium was “Caligula” on May 20, 1980. The Midtown Theater reopened on June 13, 1980 as a twin with “The Shining” on both screens. First run movies continued with the company Budco sold its theaters to, AMC, until the Midtown Theater closed in 1995. In that year, the theater was purchased so it could become a live theater, for the American Musical Theater Festival.

After renovations, in March, 1999, the newly named Prince Music Theater opened, named in honor of Broadway producer and director Hal Prince. The exterior of the Prince Music Theater resembles the 1950’s Midown Theater exterior execept the green plastic was replaced with aluminium and a new marquee installed. The interior is new, including the new 446 seat main auditorium, and a mural that Al Hirshfeld created in the redone lobby. The new auditorium occupies much less space, as the lobby was expanded, a taller basement was created, and a back stage was built. The Sansom Street wall of the new back stage is where the original movie screen used to be. When there is a live show on stage, the new movie screen is flown into the new fly tower. The second floor former ballroom was renovated to become a black box theater that can accommodate up to 150 people.

In 2010, the theater was rescued in bankruptcy by being purchased by invertors and leased to a non-profit organization. They rented it out for live shows and films, but announced closure in 2014 after the death of philanthropist Herb Lotman, who chaired the non-profit board. In 2015, the Prince Music Theater was purchased by the Philadelphia Film Society for film screenings and to be rented out for live shows.

Contributed by George Quirk, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 55 comments)

TheALAN on July 12, 2014 at 7:55 pm

What is that block called Mike, web sence? Maybe Cinema Treasures should use it. They seem to get plenty of stupid ass comments!

robtadrian on July 20, 2014 at 4:52 am

I remember coming here opening day to see National Lampoon’s Vacation. There was a blonde in a bikini standing outside the theater. Recently I’ve been to see the Totally Biased show with W. Kamau Bell. The TV show Hit Me Baby One More Time also filmed here

RickB on October 29, 2014 at 6:31 am

Operating organization terminates lease and intends to dissolve; theater’s future uncertain again. story here.

RickB on March 8, 2015 at 8:29 am

Film Society of Philadelphia buys the theater with $8 million in funding from a foundation. The venue will continue to be available for live shows; it will reopen March 18 with The Last Jimmy, a hip-hop musical. story here.

RickB on March 10, 2015 at 9:02 pm

Followup story with more programming plans and an interior picture here.

Coate on March 17, 2015 at 12:59 pm

“The Sound of Music” premiered at the Midtown 50 years ago today. With a reserved-seat run of 93 weeks, do you think it is the long-run record holder for this venue?

Also, on a related note, I would like to mention my new 50th anniversary retrospective for “The Sound of Music” can be read here.

hdtv267 on May 19, 2015 at 7:27 pm

The Prince will be back showing movies again, this time with “Tomorrowland”,

Tickets and showtimes available at that linkage.

Mikeoaklandpark on May 20, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Great news they are showing films in center city Philly. Anybody know if the screen is a decent size?

HowardB on May 20, 2015 at 10:09 pm

The screen size is a bit compromised due to it being of the non-fixed “flying” variety to accomodate live stage shows. The screen is still not what I would describe as “small”, just a bit undersized for the size of the auditorium. If the Prince was just to be used for film, and a fixed screen erected, the width of the stage could probably accomodate a 50' to 60' wide screen. I attended screenings of “The Great Escape” and “Once Upon a Time In China” some years back at the Prince and the 35mm film projection and sound were exceptional. I do not know for sure, but I would assume that Digital Projection has been installed. It’s great news that the Prince will continue thanks to the Philadelphia Film Society. As much as I would love to see a bigger screen installed, I realize that for the venue to continue to survive it will probably need to continue as a multi-purpose venue…but it would be great if it would be possible to have a “flying” screen that was better suited to the size of the auditorium.

Mikeoaklandpark on May 21, 2015 at 6:19 pm

I saw Scrooge and Funny Lady there in the 70’s and the screen was great. I can’t imagine how horrible it was a twin.

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