Prince Theater

1412 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19102

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Prince Music

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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 40 weeks, and “The Sound of Music” (1965) which was shown for 93 weeks. “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. Director M. Night Shyamalan and star Bruce Willis attended the world premiere of “The Sixth Sense” on August 2, 1999 at the Prince Music Theater.

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. It was renamed Prince Theater. Starting with “Tomorrowland” on June 22, 2015, movies returned daily to the Prince Theater for the summer.

Contributed by George Quirk, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 63 comments)

HowardB on May 23, 2015 at 8:49 pm

It was pretty bad as a twin, but not quite as bad as some other “twinnings” from that era. It was a typical wall down the middle job and while the theaters were still large they were very long and narrow, at least the one I was in. It would be great if the Prince under the ownership of the PFS still features some film revivals in between the more commercial films, live shows and Philadelphia Film Festival.

Mikeoaklandpark on May 24, 2015 at 9:21 am

I don’t remember it being a large auditorium or that it had a balcony.

HowardB on May 24, 2015 at 4:31 pm

I grew up at the Jersey Shore and never had the opportunity to see a film at the Midtown before it was twinned, just as a “twin” and in its latest incarnation as the “Prince”. I would imagine being set up for Todd-AO 70mm that it had a very large wall to wall curved screen and multi-channel sound. If anyone recalls details about the screen size and presentation I’d love to hear about it. Apparently many older theaters made some major changes in the 50’s to accomodate the wide screens for Cinemascope and 70mm. Some ripped out or widened the original prosceniums while some just erected screens, speakers, curtains, etc in front of the old prosceniums.

Michael R. Rambo Jr.
Michael R. Rambo Jr. on May 27, 2015 at 7:30 am

The balcony itself was added when the AMC Midtown Twin Theatre was converted into the Prince Music Theatre. That was when the interior wall Budco added was removed, and the stage was added.

June 14th will be the 37th anniversary of ROCKY II opening at the Budco Midtown Theatre.

Jack_K on June 30, 2015 at 12:09 pm

I fell in love with the Midtown when my parents took me there to see Around The World in 80 days.

The screen was basically wall to wall with only enough room to accommodate the open curtain. There was a row of exit doors under and as wide as the screen.

In 1958 I became an usher there. I started the 48th or 49th week of South Pacific. The theater had the most perfect projection (70 MM) and stereo sound of any I had experienced.

The theater did have then a balcony, left over from the Karlton. But it was closed off by curtains and only contain air conditioning equipment and at the top the projection room.

After a short time I was made assistant manager. I felt more important than the President of the US.

I have fond, but fading memories of the Midtown, but would be please to answer any questions for might hove.

andyp on July 13, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Jack_K: I also worked at the Midtown from January 1969 to November 1970. Saw Oliver there for ten months. Norman Gordon was manager, and assistant manager was Bob Beck. It was a wonderful theatre before it was twinned.

HowardBHaas on September 1, 2015 at 9:28 am

Today Inquirer article states 156 seat cabaret Prazz Room to be upstairs

PPDDSS on September 18, 2015 at 1:24 pm

Jack K mentions seeing Around the World in 80 Days there. As of now, 2015, there is still the ghost of a painted sign on the rear Sansom Street wall advertising that film.

Jack_K on October 5, 2015 at 1:43 pm

andyp Mr. Gordon was the manager when I worked there. He ran a pretty tight ship. It was a pleasure working there and a pleasure working for him. I learned a lot. When we were not busy he was constantly trying to get me to learn and memorize all the state capitols.

Jack_K on October 5, 2015 at 1:47 pm

PPDDSS I remember the painting when it was new. I have seen it since is has become a ‘ghost’. Not a fitting tribute to a once great movie theater.

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