Renel Theatre

7238 Ogontz Avenue,
Philadelphia, PA

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mlittle
mlittle on March 24, 2013 at 9:32 am

I was an usher in the Renel Theatre in 1952 or 1953 (I was 15 years old). At that time, my responsibilities were to usher patrons to their seats by holding a flashlight behind me and focusing is on the patrons feet, to clean the theatre after performances (a formidable task after Saturday matinees), and to clean the restrooms. I also had to change the marquee on a very high ladder (in poor condition) with new performances. I got to know the projectionist quite well and he would invite me into the upstairs booth to watch while he switched from one projector to the next. When he needed to splice broken film he would give me a few 35 mm frames from films. I had frames from “Young Bess,” “Stalag 17” and others. Most of the films shown I would watch 15-20 times, and it was after “The Juggler” played that I taught myself to juggle. My most vivid memory was when we converted to 3-D. I worked until 3:00am while the screen was painted silver and a device was added to the two projectors for coordinated projection. Films that we had during this period were “Bwana Devil” and the “Wax Museum.” The Renel was a “2nd Run” theatre so most of the films that were presented were several weeks or months old by the time they arrived at the theatre. Several years later, my sister worked at the Renel in the ticket booth selling tickets.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on August 18, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Here is a better view of the 1969 photo. The photo is from the Irvin Glazer theater collection:
http://tinyurl.com/pwxpwh

teegee
teegee on March 18, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Thanks, Howard, for the link to the Renel’s fireplace. I remember those chairs very well, although I never sat in them. When I was going to the Renel in the late 50’s and early 60’s the lounge always seemed to be very dimly lit and creepy to this young boy. I was very quick in going to the boys room (I think to the left of the fireplace, girls to the right) and did not want to linger in the lounge at all.

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on February 16, 2009 at 8:49 am

The next time I come home from work that way I will stop in and check it out. rg

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 16, 2009 at 7:46 am

If you google search EXACTLY “Boxoffice May 29, 1937” and when the issue appears, type “Philadelphia” in the search box then after enough clicks, you will eventually see a photo of the glass block fireplace & mural above it! (next to a photo of a giant Hollywood vertical sign).

Does the fireplace & mural survive?

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on December 3, 2007 at 5:17 pm

Every so often when coming home from the station I will drive through my old neighborhood and I will stop church (theater). The folks are sooo nice and let me spend a little time remembering when I was a kid and spent a lot of time in this building. rg

veyoung52
veyoung52 on September 14, 2007 at 6:56 pm

I was just at a funeral service at this former theatre, now the Upper Room Baptist Church. I was never in the Renel, but from reading these posts now see why this theatre was called the “sister” of the Erlen further Northwest, since there was also a “sunrise proscenium” effect here (see Bobo’s post of 10/11/05) and a post of mine on the Erlen page on 1/21/05. The building, especially the lobby area, is in remarkably good shape. Now I wish I would have spent some Saturday afternoons here. BTW, the church lists its street number as 7236 not 7238.

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on March 21, 2007 at 2:48 pm

Looking pictures of this theater before it went to adult movies. Thanks rg You can contact me at

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on October 11, 2005 at 12:08 pm

YES the Saturday matinee was GREAT. Cartoons, Shorts, Serial and 1 or 2 Features. What a GREAT afternoon. My Cub Scout pack held a scouting program at the theatre which gave me some freedom to move around. I have a nice B&W photo with my cub pack on the giant stage. rg

bobo
bobo on October 11, 2005 at 11:37 am

Wow!!! Wasn’t the Renel Theatre a “Wonderful Place” when we were kids… Yes, it did had a Sunrise Procenium that we associate w/ Radio City Music Hall. I remember the ceiling was a blue and gray tile with an aluminum/stanless steel lighting fixture running straight from the back to the front procenium. The procenium it self was painted a dark pink/mauve. The stage curtin was deep red with two green swatches of material on either side of the center, and there were always those 3 white stripes stitched near the bottom.
Can’t forget the red, blue, orange & yellow foot lighting. The side walls of the auditorium were a dark maroon textured fabric. The side lighting was actually resessed into the wall with a black marbelized glass panel that ran from about 4 to 5 feet from the floor extending to the ceiling. There were 6 of these, 3 on each side of the audi-
torium and were lit up in orange lighting before the show and a dim green when the movie was running. I remember so vividly because from about 1957 to 1960 I attended practically EVERY Saturday Matanee. When the movie started they projected it right onto the curtin, as the curtin opened there was always this “Loud SCREAM” from the kids, popcorn, candy wrappers, soda cups were tossed so high that you could see them on the screan.
In the early sixtys when I started going on Sundays the movie was continuous from 12:00 Noon till the last show at 8 or 9:00 PM and probably ran till about mid-night. What a difference, quiet, no screams…
My father took me to Radio City Music Hall as a child and in later years this became my neighborhood theatre. I now live in Center City Philadelphia today and now only have the old “Boyd” or SamEric that we’re waiting to be restored.
But nothing was better than my childhood home in West Oak Lane living right around the corner from the good old “Renel Theatre.”-BJ

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on April 1, 2005 at 4:10 pm

Does anyone know the history of the Ellis Theatre Circuit from Phila. that owned this plus several other neighborhood theatres. rg

raymondgordonsears
raymondgordonsears on March 11, 2005 at 5:20 am

The Renel is a church and most od the intero the same. The area where the cany stand and the inner lobby (with the fire place)is several offices. The aud. was cut in half. The front half is the chapel and the other (stage and storage) was turned into a meeting room and kitchen. A second floor was added. The church takes good care of the buiding. rg

sears
sears on July 3, 2004 at 5:34 pm

The Erlen Theatre was on Cheltenham Ave. The ceiling in this theatre was dark with mini lights. When the movie was running it looked like the sky with stars. When the theatre closed it sat for a long time then became a church and was torn down several years ago.

PhiladelMike
PhiladelMike on May 2, 2004 at 3:23 am

The Renel was, indeed, a very nice neighborhood
(West Oak Lane) theatre. Supposedly, it was sister
theatre to the Erlen which was also in West Oak
Lane. (Renel is a rearrangement of the letters
in Erlen).

The Cheltenham Theatre was also walking-distance
away.