1814 Cheltenham Avenue,
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The Erlen Theatre opened on November 14, 1930 with Metropolitan Opera star Frances Alda singing from the stage on opening night. A photo of the exterior with grand opening style decorations appears in the 1971 (3rd Quarter) Marquee publication of the Theatre Historical Society of America with Richard Arlen in “Santa Fe Trail” – ‘Kiddie Shows Sat’ on the marquee. Opening prices ranged from 10 to 15 cents for weekday matinees, to 20 to 35 cents for Saturday and holiday evenings.
The Erlen Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architects William H. Lee and Armand de Cortieaux Carroll. The name ‘Erlen’ was derived from parts of the last names of developers Charles G. Erny and James A. Nolen. A preliminary sketch of the Erlen’s facade looks very different from what was actually constructed, and is found on page 12 of Volume Two of the book “American Theatres of Today” (1930). The foyer was decorated with red leather, shiny metal moldings, black columns and silver carved mirrors. The 125 foot wide auditorium had 1,700 seats. The auditorium was in the form of a huge arch that was cove lit to give it the effect of a midnight sky. The Erlen was built for local movie operators Sablosky brothers, who the next month opened another Lee designed Art Deco semi-atmospheric movie palace, the Norris in Norristown, PA. With the Midway Theatre, the Erlen was one of the last large single screen theatres built in Philadelphia.
The initial operation was second run neighborhood showing of movies, and that policy continued through the 1970’s. Unfortunately, despite considerable litigation, the Erlen was unable to book first run films because of opposition from operators of movie theatres in downtown Philadelphia. By 1981, local theatre operator Ellis Theatres was showing movies here. In 1984, Ellis Theatres sold the Erlen Theatre to a church. In a 1985 Philadelphia Inquirer article discussing the possible sale of the theatre to become a Christian Cinema, the color of the interior was then described as royal blue. By 1994, the Erlen was for sale. In 2002, the theatre was auctioned off by the City for nonpayment of taxes, and for only $800 was acquired by the City. The City demolished the Erlen Theatre in 2002.
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