Randolph Theatre

1116 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19107

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Randolph

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Randolph Theatre opened on November 10, 1902 as Chestnut Street Keith’s Theatre or simply known as B.F. Keith’s New Theatre by Benjamin F. Keith. It was a dual format theatre, with both Keith-Albee vaudeville and Stanley Warner’s photoplay.

Designed by architect Bruce Price, with Albert E. Westover as associate architect, it was French Renaissance in style, and Keith’s Theatre had a large seven-story facade. The ground floor used three bays in a triumphal arch/Palladian motif with Ionic columns. A recessed entrance sat under the archway with dentils and relief figural sculptures. The second through fourth levels on the facade used a large arcuated central oriel, topped by shell and segmental scroll motifs on the 5-bay fifth level. Spandrels of the sixth and seventh floors, 5-bays each, were in the form of monumental Ionic pilasters. A huge ornamental projecting overhang sat above the top story. It had an equally beautiful interior, including two balconies and box seats, however there were some obstructed views.

Stars appearing on stage included Fred Astaire, Al Jolson, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers. By the late-1920’s, the theatre had become out of date as newer theatres had been built. Paramount and Alexander Boyd tookover, opening September 22, 1930, with the Marx Brothers in “Animal Crackers”. In September 1931, Loew’s replaced Paramount, and in March 1932, Stanley-Warner replaced Loew’s. Projection equipment was removed in May 1932, and the theatre closed until December 30, 1932, when for a short time, stage and movies were presented. Then, the theatre returned to showing movies only.

On May 8, 1943, Philadelphia theatre operator, the William Goldman Co. acquired Keith’s Theatre for his movie circuit. Stanley Warner’s longstanding policy was to show films here subsequent to their initial runs in other downtown theatres, but Goldman returned the theatre to first run status, starting December 18, 1948 with “Mexican Hayride” starring Abbott & Costello. In 1949, William Goldman had remodeled the theatre to the plans of architect David Supowitz. The facade was shortened to four stories and covered with plastic tiles. The various lobbies were combined into one foyer with modern decor. The auditorium was gutted, to create a new 2,020 seat auditorium, including one balcony, the seat count courtesy of Barry Goodkin who worked there. Goldman renamed it the Randolph Theatre in memory of his late son Randolph and reopened it December 24, 1949 with the movie “On The Town”. The movie musical “Excuse My Dust” had its world premiere on June 6, 1951. “An American in Paris” was a movie also showcased in 1951, and “Singin' in the Rain” in 1952. Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” had its world premiere in 3D on May 18, 1954 on a new 72 x 30 feet silver screen that had been installed in June of 1953. Later, after a couple of days, audiences complained about having to wear 3D glasses, so the movie was shown in 2D. In April 1956, the Randolph Theatre and Monaco Theatre had dual world premieres of Grace Kelly’s film “The Swan”.

In 1956, the epic “The Ten Commandments” had its roadshow presentation here. In the 1960’s, 600 seats were removed to enable the Randolph Theatre to become the City’s second ‘Cinerama’ venue. This was not real, ‘three-strip’ Cinerama with three projection booths, but ‘one-strip’ 70mm. The Randolph continued as one of downtown’s showplace first run movie theatres. It was well known for Road Show and 70mm movie presentations, including “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “2001- A Space Odyssey”, “Hello Dolly”, which ran for several months each!

On January 3, 1971, the Randolph Theatre closed and was demolished. The last movie that played at the Randolph was "Tora, Tora, Tora". Today, a clothing store sits on the site.

Goldman sold his other theatres to Philadelphia theatre operators Budco, but the Randolph was not to continue, as the movie theatre district had become concentrated west of Broad Street. The Earle Theatre, one block to the north, had long been demolished. When the Randolph Theatre closed, Goldman’s other Center City theatres were all within a block of 15th Street and Chestnut Street – the Midtown Theatre, Goldman Theatre and Regency Theatre. The Randolph Theatre was spared the fate each of those suffered, of having their auditoriums twinned down the middle.

Contributed by Michael R. Rambo Jr., Howard B. Haas, Peter Clericuzio

Recent comments (view all 51 comments)

jackjs2swartz
jackjs2swartz on June 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm

as we started to close the theatre,nothing was left we pulled ou the seats and sent them to a theatre in chambursburg. the screen,which was made up of 2 inch louvre strips was simply cut down and we sold the scaffolding on which it was installed. the cinemascope lenses ,which were rented, i retuned.with the warning,if you drop these kid,just keep going.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Multiple sources from the early 20th century indicate that Bruce Price was the lead architect of Keith’s Theatre in Philadelphia, and Albert E. Westover his local associate. The web site of the Art Institute of Chicago displays three photos of Keith’s Theatre, originally published in the journal The Inland Architect and News Record:

Entrance

Crystal Room

Lobby

The March, 1904, issue of The Theatre had an article about Philadelphia’s theaters which included the following description of Keith’s Theatre:

“Another interesting example of distinctions in Philadelphia is furnished in Keith’s New Chestnut Street Theatre, in the next block. B. F. Keith first gave Philadelphians the ‘continuous’ in the Bijou Theatre on Eighth Street. While very popular, the playhouse did not draw many people from Chestnut street, the chief promenade of the city. So Mr. Keith invaded the fashionable shopping district by erecting his new million-dollar playhouse. Besides being one of the largest and safest theatres in the city, Keith’s is a veritable palace after the style of the French Renaissance. Marbles and mural paintings, rich hangings, sculptures and pale lights are somewhat bewildering at first with their elaborate designs. A salon in white and crystal is traversed while passing into the auditorium. The music room and women’s parlors are models of luxury. A series of mural decorations were done by William McL. Dodge, whose paintings in the Congressional Library in Washington attracted so much attention. Opened two years ago last November, Mr. Keith’s new theatre has become one of the fashionable resorts in the city.”

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 9, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Panoramascope screen installed in 1953: boxoffice

BREAKTIME
BREAKTIME on August 8, 2012 at 3:38 pm

HI;My Name is Joe I WORKED THE Randolph from 1967 until 1970. I Was a usher then so called chief usher. I Remember during the intermission of the show in the middle of the lobby we would sell these small cartons of orange juice, we set up a small table.A FEW Times when the candy stand got busy Mr.Burke asst Mgr .or MR.Cohen told me go help behind the counter,could never forget that Butter Machine

andyp
andyp on September 20, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Breaktime: I remember those OJ cartons, I sold them also when I worked a the Midtown from 1969 to 1970. Saw the movie “OLIVER!” for ten months.

BREAKTIME
BREAKTIME on September 24, 2012 at 1:25 am

To Andyp From BREAKTIME,Thanks for response,after 40 yrs.you also remembered the OJ.IM Sure you still have marks on your neck from wearing the Usher Uniform Rock Hard Cardboard Fake shirts with Black Bow Tie. If I Still remember the Jackets were Burgundy.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 27, 2013 at 5:40 pm

Dial M for Murder world premiere in 3D here http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/dial-m-blu-ray-review

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 27, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Here are links to a couple of items about the Randolph Theatre in Boxoffice that were mentioned in previous comments but not linked:

Article about the remodeling from April 1, 1950.

Photo of the lobby from October 7, 1950.

rivest266
rivest266 on May 25, 2014 at 11:30 am

Grand opeing ad at

http://fultonhistory.com/Newspapers%2023/Philadelphia%20PA%20Inquirer/Philadelphia%20PA%20Inquirer%201949/Philadelphia%20PA%20Inquirer%201949%20b%20-%206317.pdf

as well as the photo section

johnm001
johnm001 on June 3, 2014 at 2:03 pm

When HELLO, DOLLY! and TORA! TORA! TORA! played, I practically moved-in to The Randloph. I saw both those films, many times there. Loved this theater and its great screen and sound system. Jack’s comments, about so few people in the audience for HELLO, DOLLY!, don’t match-up to my recollection, at all. The 10 times I saw it there, were with very large houses. Also, it was the 5th highest-grossing film of the year. Of course, he worked there, so he would know better. TORA! I recall experiencing the dwindling audiences. I love that film.

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