Stanley Theatre

1902-10 Market Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Stanley

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The Stanley Theatre was one of the major motion picture palaces of Philadelphia. This was the second theatre named after Stanley Mastbaum, the late president of the Stanley Co. (which later became Stanley Warner). When this one opened January 28, 1921, the original theatre’s name was changed to Stanton (and later Milgram). The lobby was 72 feet by 26 feet, lined with rose Travertine marble and had a polychrome vaulted ceiling. The auditorium was in an Adam style design in shades of old rose and ivory. The Stanley Theatre opened with 4,000 seats, but was reseating gradually brought it down to 2,916. The original screen was only twelve feet by sixteen feet. There was a 3 manual, 21 rank Kimball organ.

Jules Mastbaum, who succeeded his brother as president of the Stanley Company, made this theatre into a leading centre for operas and movies. Silent pictures were accompanied by a 55 piece symphony orchestra, the city’s best after the Philadelphia Orchestra (which itself performed once in 1923). The orchestra also played concerts. The stage shows were the city’s best, with stars of stage, screen and radio.

In May 1929, Al Capone was arrested in the Stanley Theatre’s lobby for having concealed weapons.

Because of the large seating capacity, Stanley Warner played many popular movies here. The Stanley Theatre and the Stanton Theatre (later Milgram Theatre) were the major venues for horror films in Philadelphia. In 1931, “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” (which had a midnight show) were shown. “Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” was shown in 1932, and in 1933, “Island of Lost Souls” and “King Kong”. In 1933, the theatre was redecorated to a red velvet and crystal chandeliered interior. In 1935, architect Drew Eberson redesigned the lobby and starting with that year, the entertainment consisted solely of first run pictures. In April 1936, fans crowded the theatre for the visit of Al Jolson for the premiere of his film “The Singing Kid”. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” broke attendance records in 1938, and “Pinocchio” was shown in 1940. Abbott & Costello appeared in person for the opening of their movie “In the Navy” in June 1941. Stars led off by Bob Hope attended the world premiere of “Nothing But the Truth” on September 17, 1941. “Mrs Miniver” shattered attendance records during a two month run in 1942. Other popular films shown included, Hitchcock’s “Notorious”(1946), “It’s a Wonderful Life”(1947), and “Key Largo”(1948). Frank Sinatra appeared at the October 1953 opening of “From Here to Eternity”. “On the Waterfront” was shown in 1954.

By 1955, the screen was forty feet wide. In 1957, at the opening of the movie “The Delicate Delinquent” the film’s star Jerry Lewis, appeared on stage. In 1959, much of the auditorium’s ornate decor was covered over with gray drapes in a modernization which used cinder block to reduce the seating capacity from 2,916 to 1,300, but increased the screen to a huge 64 feet wide. In January, 1958, James Garner appeared in person on the stage for the world premiere of the war feature “Darby’s Rangers”. 70mm movies showcased here including “Mutiny on the Bounty”(1962), “Cleopatra”(1963), “My Fair Lady”(1964), “The Great Race”(1965), “Hawaii"1967), "Camelot”(1967), “Finian’s Rainbow”(1969).

Due to declining patronage, the Stanley Theatre was closed on January 20, 1970, showing the movie “Viva Max!” and that evening, the previously filmed, fictional ‘Super Fight’ between Rock Marciano and Muhammad Ali, which was shown only in cinemas, and only on that evening. The Stanley Theatre was sadly demolished in 1973. Today, the Philadelphia Stock Exchange stands on the site of the Stanley Theatre.

Contributed by Michael r. Rambo Jr., Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 39 comments)

veyoung52
veyoung52 on July 28, 2008 at 9:44 pm

A few facts about the Stanley remodeling in 1959.
In December of 1958, Loew’s Theatres took a gamble by announcing a front-to-back remodeling of its Times Square theatres, the State, into something modernistic that would become a “destination” moviehouse. It worked, and was a huge success. It was also said that Loew’s also wanted a state-of-the-art premiere house for the upcoming MGM “Ben-Hur,” and the Capitol was deemed too large for a roadshow. The renewed State reopened in March with “Some Like It Hot” and continued referring to itself as the New Loew’s State until well after “Ben-Hur” had vacated the premises. Stanley-Warner theatres followed suit with the Stanley in Philadelphia. Its remodeled “New” Stanley reopened its doors on the evening of November 10, 1959 with celebrities such as Charlton Heston (who was about to appear two weeks later at the Boyd as Judah Ben-Hur). Opening attraction was the equally-as-modern Ross Hunter production of “Pillow Talk.” The Stanley, too, was a success, after its $500,000 facelift. The seating capacity was reduced to 2200, not 1300, and featured a lobby with “walls of formica and tile and padded doors of bronze and glass. The mezzanine has been transformed into an intimate lounge…six crystal chandeliers have been installed in the ceiling…For the comfort of the patrons the seating capacity has been reduced to 2200, allowing wider space between the rows of longer chairs on the main floor and ‘bodiform’ chairs in the balcony…Following a color scheme of gold and blue, the theatre has been completely recarpeted and redecorated with rich draperies. The stage will boast a traveler curtain, similar to the one that was used at the Boyd for Cinerama productions. It will be illuminated by flood lighting from the balcony. Also newly installed is a sound and projection system performing the showing of every form of medium…except Cinerama. Another innovation is the automatically controlled year round airconditioning unit…The only object remaining from the ‘old’ Stanley is George Harding’s mural, ‘Le Carneval,’ which will still be displayed in the lobby.”

All of the above, further commentary, and an artist’s sketch of the lobby is in the Philadelphia “Inquirer” issue of November 8, 1962.

The statement “every form of medium…except Cinerama,” is not quite true inasmuch as the ‘old’ Stanley was one of only a very few theatres that had installed the original horizontal projection system, VistaVision, which predated IMAX by more than a decade. And about that traveler curtain, and its lighting, which stretched across the entire width of the auditorium, not just the width of the proscenium, DennisZ in May, 2006 described the “pink” effect used for the “My Fair Lady” engagement. At the time, it was rumored that this curtain was the largest used in a motion picture theatre, except for Radio City Music Hall and the Great Northern in Cleveland.

It was, I supposed, a bit typical of the Philadelphia we-don’t-like-to-brag mentality of the time, that whereas Loews’s continued to boast of its “New” State for years, the “New” in Stanley lasted less than two weeks in local publications. It just reverted to the “old” Stanley if you didn’t know any better.

In the list of 70mm attractions, add “Fall of The Roman Empire,” which switched to a 35mm print when the film went off roadshow to continuous performances. And there we no 70mm prints of “Hawaii” distributed anywhere in the U.S.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on March 4, 2009 at 9:14 pm

If you google search exactly
Boxoffice October 30, 1948
and type 28 in the page box
there’s a photo of Stanley exterior showing “Red River” with a parade of Indians, cowboys, rodeo girls, steers

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 3, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Tidbits from the late 1930s: 13 Aug 1938 Box Office had an ad that “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” set box office records in cities including Philadelphia’s Stanley Theatre.
29 July 1939 Box Office reported that the “The Man in the Iron Mask” was being shown at the Stanley, and 2 Dec 1939 Box Office reported that “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” was shown.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 3, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Tidbits from the early 1950s: “The Third Man” was a popular 1950 movie at the Stanley. 11 Nov 1950 Box Office” reported that Suzanne Dalbert, a star of WW2 movie “Breakthrough” appeared at the film’s premiere at Stanley on the 9th. 17 Nov 1951 Box Office reported that Stanley Theatre sold out a telecast fight. 12 April 1952 Box Office reported that Abbott & Costello appeared in the Stanley lobby to promote Easter seals to benefit crippled children. “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was a popular 1953 movie at the Stanley.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on May 8, 2009 at 11:18 pm

The Stanley can be seen in this 1952 photo:
http://tinyurl.com/qhtxcc

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 8, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Thanks to Vince Young for the last day information as below, from an ad:

“Viva Max!” was the final screen attraction. 5 shows that day, final at 6:10 PM TONIGHT AT 10PM Doors Open at 8 PM BUY TICKETS NOW! All Seats $5 incl tax

“THE SUPERFIGHT” The computerized fight sports fans will be talking about for years. Who’s the Greatest? Rocky MARCIANO vs Muhammed ALI Filmed Live and in Color This is not animation or photo tricks but live action in color, filmed in secret and edited to a computer printout programmed for over 200 variables. This great bout will never be seen on T.V. or in newsreels. There will be no second run….This has to be the greatest fight ever!"

Also played that evening: Ardmore, Astor, Benn, Cheltenham, Broadway, Logan, Nixon, State, Midway, Warner (WChester), Plaza (KoP), Waverly, Towne, and Moorestown Plaza.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

In reply to my question as to which Center City movie theater “Auntie Mame” was shown, Vince Young replied that “Mame” was the well received Christmas 1958 attraction at the Stanley….ran for weeks on end.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on March 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Last night, I enjoyed at the Prince Music Theater an archival print of “North by Northwest” with a Q & A on stage before the movie of star Eva Marie Saint. I asked Vince Young where it was shown in original issue, and he replied that it was a big hit at the Stanley in the summer of 1959.

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on May 4, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Click here for an exterior view of the Stanley Theatre in 1932.

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