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 51 comments)

Mikeoaklandpark on May 31, 2012 at 4:19 pm

We have this block at work called web sence and it blocks the stupidest things.

RickB on January 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

The building has been sold to a group that has leased it back to the theater company. What exactly will be presented here in the future seems to be a bit up in the air. has the story.

Mikeoaklandpark on January 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

VEry glad the theater will remain in oepration. Would love to see them also show movies.

HowardBHaas on December 31, 2013 at 11:23 am

In light of new movie Saving Mr. Banks, I asked Vince Young where Mary Poppins was shown in Center City Phila. & he replied as follows: It was the Christmas attraction at Philadelphia’s favorite theatre for musicals….the Midtown….and ran for months!

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.

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