Bryn Mawr Film Institute
824 W. Lancaster Avenue,
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The Seville Theatre opened September 29, 1926, designed by Philadelphia theatre architect William H. Lee. Lee designed 200 theatres, including nearby theatres such as the Anthony Wayne, City Line Center, Lansdowne, Narberth, Norris (Norristown), and Suburban (Ardmore). Local theatre owner Harry Fried owned the Seville Theatre from its construction until 1946.
The Seville Theatre was constructed with a Neo-Classical facade and a Spanish Gothic style interior. An ornate, free-standing ticket booth (which survives) led to a spectacular two story glass vaulted atrium arcade lined with storefronts. The skylight atrium led to a foyer, which in turn opened into the auditorium. On each side of the stage, the auditorium had a decorated chamber for the organ pipes. Towards the stage, the front portion of the auditorium ceiling had what looked like wood beams, but were likely made of plaster. The remainder of the ceiling had intricate plaster patterns. The side walls had large draped arches. All 1,006 seats were on one floor.
In 1946, Philadelphia theatre operator William Goldman took over from Fried, and by 1947 renamed it the Bryn Mawr Theatre. The original marquee was replaced by a more modern marquee with huge Bryn Mawr neon letters. The atrium skylight and second floor arcade were concealed by a dropped ceiling. The Gottfried pipe organ was removed in the 1950’s and the original decor of the auditorium was removed or covered up. In the late-1960’s and early-1970’s, the Bryn Mawr specialized in arthouse films. Goldman sold his theatres in 1972 to local movie operator Budco, who in 1978 twinned the auditorium by building a wall down the center.
In 1987, Budco sold their theatres to national theatre operator AMC. In 1996, AMC preferred to focus on multiplexes and did not renew the lease. United Artists Theatres took over. The United Artists (UA) regional manager at the time stated that ‘it would be a shame for such an historic theatre to close’. In bankruptcy, UA ceased operating the Bryn Mawr in 2000. Other Lower Merion theatres operated by UA ceased forever as movie theatres, the Wynnewood becoming a restaurant and the Ardmore being sold and gutted to be a gym. A gym also sought to obtain the Bryn Mawr. Fortunately, local government opposed that reuse. Local movie theatre operator Greg Wax took over the Bryn Mawr, and began a midnight classic series in addition to first run movies. Alarmed at the prospect that the building could still be sold as a gym, local businesswoman Juliet Goodfriend organized in 2002 a nonprofit organization, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute and gathered much support from the Main Line business and civic leaders.
In December 2004, the Bryn Mawr Film Institute purchased the building. The theatre closed, and after a refurbishment, reopened March 12, 2005 with Sir Ben Kingsley cutting the ribbon. In 2005, the theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Voith Mactavish Architects of Philadelphia worked on renovations. In March 2006, a new marquee, sympathetic to the original marquee, was installed. The marquee was made a little shorter than the original so it would not be hit by vehicles. In 2009, restoration of the lobby arcade was completed after a fundraising campaign to re-install the 400 glass panes of the stunning skylight and restore the paint and plaster to original colors.
The finest arthouse films are shown. One auditorium has 350 seats, and the other has 310 seats. An elevator has been installed to the 2nd floor multimedia room used for film education classes, receptions and community events.
In June 2010, a fundraising campaign was announced to reconfigure the auditorium from twinned theatres to a triplex. However, the next year, the plan changed so that the existing auditoriums would be refurbished and two more auditoriums added in the adjoining parking lot. New auditoriums 3 & 4 opened in January 2014, with their own projection booth, stadium seating, and 163 seats in each. In addition to digital projection, auditorium 4 also has two 35mm projectors. The original two auditoriums were shortened a bit to provide soundproofing and a hall to access the new auditoriums, so seating capacity was decreased from 350 seats in auditorium 1 (at the left) to 285 seats and in auditorium 2 from 310 seats to 247 seats. All screens are configured at ‘flat’ with masking at the top and bottom for ‘scope’ projection. As auditoriums 3 & 4 have screens that are 33 feet wide, that means very large screens for movies that are ‘flat’ or less wide.
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