Rare glimpse at Philadelphia movie theaters

posted by HowardBHaas on August 23, 2007 at 7:55 am

Dennis Zimmerman, frequent contributor to cinematreasures, snapped photos circa 1968 of various downtown Philadelphia movie theaters. Dennis authorized me to flickr post them so they can be shared, and to link them to Cinema Treasures. Here’s a rare photo glimpse of historic Philadelphia movie houses:

opened 1921, and until its demolition in 1973:
Flickr Stanley

opened 1921, renamed a few times, here as CINEMA 19:
Flickr Cinema 19
closed in 1994 to become a CVS.

Keith’s opened 1902 but redone 1949 by theater owner William Goldman and depicted here as RANDOLPH CINERAMA.
Demolished 1971: Flickr of Randolph Cinerama

Karlton 1921, but redone 1954 by William Goldman as MIDTOWN:
It has since been redone as Prince Music Theatre.

opened 1946 by William Goldman, demolished 1971.Flickr Goldman

opened 1967, closed as AMC Palace in 1992.

Already posted by Friends of the Boyd was Dennis' photo of the Boyd.

Comments (13)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on August 23, 2007 at 11:51 am

If you want to know what killed the movie palaces, look no further than “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Ice Station Zebra” and “Star,” all expensive flops that played to empty houses.

exit on August 23, 2007 at 5:14 pm

I would like to talk to Dennis about featuring more of his pictures in a project I’m working on.

PS: blaming the demise of an entire way of exhibition could hardly be blamed on a handful of movies. The situation was far more complicated than that. Many of the sixties musicals are mistakenly lumped together as flops when some of them actually did quite well. Case in point: THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE was Universal’s top grosser in 67, ranking right behind AIRPORT, THE STING, JAWS, ET on the list of Uni’s all time best grossers. It made buckets of money and remained in release for well over a year.

exit on August 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

PS: thanks very much Dennis for posting the cool theatre shots.

HowardBHaas on August 23, 2007 at 6:25 pm

link was omitted to Dennis' photo of Theatre 1812
View link

As to Box Office:
(at the Goldman) Funny Girl was # 1 at 1968 box office.

2 was 2001: A Space Odyssey, followed by The Odd Couple, Bullitt, Romeo and Juliet

(at the Midtown) # 6 was Oliver

Planet of the Apes followed, then Rosemary’s Baby, then Yours, Mine and Ours,

(at Theatre 1812) # 10 was The Lion in Winter

(at Cinema 19) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was # 17

RickB on August 23, 2007 at 8:53 pm

And not too long after Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Cinema 19 had months-long runs of two movies that showed just how things were changing in the industry—I Am Curious (Yellow) and Easy Rider.

exit on August 23, 2007 at 8:58 pm

There’s a shot of the Boyd playing STAR! on their site. If I’d seen that earlier It would be on the DVD/Laserdisc. Check out a movie called THE PROJECTIONIST for some shots of the NY premiere of STAR! at the Rivoli in NY.

TheaterBuff1 on August 24, 2007 at 1:06 am

Truly all great theaters, but I wonder how much oversaturation itself caused their demise. For with each movie palace operating daily, and each having a very large number of seats, and many such theaters located in a concentrated area all told, how likely was it that all could operate daily at full capacity, or that any of them could as a result of this? Truly each theater must’ve siphoned patrons away from the others so that not a one could hope to have a packed house on any given day. If I’m wrong about that, it must’ve been a remarkable era in Philadelphia’s history when so many people loved attending Philadelphia’s countless downtown movie theaters in droves daily that way. So much so that every theater was running at full capacity daily.

But odds are, one movie palace rose up and proved highly successful, another quickly followed and both theaters did well. Then came a third and a fourth to replicate the succcesses of the first two, at which point oversaturation began setting in. With theater patrons having far more theaters to choose from, theaters that normally had been packed began seeing declines as a result of this increased distribution. Drop-offs in attendance per theater began causing many of them to fold — the whole fallacy side of Say’s Law kicking in (Say being the 19th century French economist who’s attributed with theorizing that demand would always rise to meet supply.)

For I don’t think it was the movies these theaters exhibited in their last days that caused them to fall. It was just too many theaters concentrated in a single place in relation to existing demand. Had there been fewer, and that number restricted, I don’t think the story of Center City Philadelphia’s movie palaces would’ve played out the same way. To me it was oversaturation that wound up killing them all off.

HowardBHaas on August 24, 2007 at 5:42 am

There’s pharmacy chains almost every block of downtown Philadelphia now. They will oversaturate the market, and every city one will close? NO.

Many sales activities, such as shoes, antique row, etc prosper with more rather than less.

Sound movies (and the growth of the neighborhood moviehouse), TELEVISION (killed Philadelphia’s Earle in 1953, the Mastbaum later in the decade, and resulted in the downsizing of seating at many including the Stanley), the move to the burbs, and multiplexes, killed the movie palaces. Same story played out everywhere in the world. Cities had many, then as of the 1950s…..

TheaterBuff1 on August 24, 2007 at 11:52 pm

Howard, if the countless pharmacies throughout all Philadelphia survive and prosper — and you’re right, Philadelphia does have an abundance of these now — it means that the pharmacy market in Philadelphia has not been oversaturated, and it could possibly withstand even more pharmacies being introduced before such happens. And if demand for such is that high, then yes, more pharmacies = more prosperity. Just so long as supply does not outweigh demand. And the same with shoe stores, antique row and so on.

And all those things you cite did reduce demand for Center City Philadelphia movie houses. Oversaturation simply means too much supply in proportion to existing demand. And such oversaturation can be arrived at in two ways: One way is to increase supply beyond existing demand. And the other way is to fail to decrease supply in proportion to existing demand.

Another thing that some Center City Philadelphia theaters failed to do — such as the Earle — was to upgrade so as to be competitive with the advent of television. And even there oversaturation was a factor. For in terms of non-televion owners, which constituted the demand for theaters that were competitive before television came along, that demand dramatically shrank as television ownership became more common.

As for the Mastbaum, though, from what I can determine, its shutting down was purely political. Television had nothing to do with that. Totally separate from Philadelphia’s other theaters, in a totally different league architecturally, I don’t classify the Mastbaum as having been a movie theater per se. Though it was used for that purpose, its architecture far exceeded this use being the most fitting. For those who aren’t familiar, the Mastbaum for the most part was a major city building — in league with Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, the American Academy of Music, and even Philadelphia City Hall for that matter. With the high steps leading up to its front entrance, it’s tall pillars and so on, architecturally it was far removed from what anyone conceives when they think of a movie theater, or even a movie palace for that matter. It wasn’t designed for the in and out flow that a movie theater requires. And interior-wise, it was far more like a grand opera house. And it appears, more grand than what Philadelphia politically was willing to tolerate. To survive, it tried to make it as a movie theater for a time, but it was like expecting people to want to go to City Hall to see movies. And for that, needless to say, there wasn’t much demand. And why it was never put to the use that it was designed for, that I would say was political. Created as a memorial to a one time leading Philadelphia political figure and named in his honor, apparently that clashed with many Philadelphia politicians in that politician’s wake. The Mastbaum was like France’s Versailles Palace, put in place one minute, gone the next.

HowardBHaas on August 25, 2007 at 8:43 am

One our Friends of the Boyd volunteers wrote to me after seeing the photos:

I remember going to all of these theatres…First “date” with my former husband was at the Cinema 19 (“I Am Curious Yellow”) !

Another supporter wrote the following:
Great memories, and thanks for making me feel old. I actually saw Finian’s Rainbow at the Stanley, as well as Ice Station Zebra in Cinerama at the Randolph.

TheaterBuff1 on August 25, 2007 at 8:52 pm

Though I was much too young to see the controversial Swedish film I AM CURIOUS YELLOW when it was showing at Philadelphia area theaters [according to my brother, when they tried showing at the Orleans Theatre in Northeast Philly it drew a huge crowd of angry middle-aged housewives outside with protest signs reading “I Am Furious Red!], many many years later I rented a VHS copy of it from Movies Unlimited, "curious” to find out what all the fuss once was. And surprisingly, it has some really great stock footage of Dr. Martin Luther King, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm roughly 4 years before that movie was released. So on that basis — while the rest of the film I can assure those who haven’t seen it is totally laughable — it remains to this day a well-worthwhile movie to see. Meantime, how the stock footage of King ties to that film’s over all story line is anybody’s guess! But in an odd sort of way I think it captures the crosscurrents going on at that moment.

paxnovus on November 3, 2007 at 8:18 am

My mom remembers 3 movie theaters she attended weekly back in the 30’s and 40s right on Lancaster Ave. Her cool stories are filled with fond memories..
Those were the days….
As far as the McPharms opening up like fast food chains..it is a crime and extremely tiring to see —I love how our local McDrugstore that is located every .8 miles in Delaware County has a direct linoleum path now right to the Pharmacy ..too many trumped up prescriptions are the cause of oversaturation — maybe when this dies down they will all crumble like a house of cards… what a waste of resources…

I love this site..thanks to people who want to keep art alive and preserve our real timeless treasures. If I had the resources, I’d snap up the Lansdowne theater— this was one I fondly remember going to see many films until its closing in the 80’s. Now it stands in limbo as well….
Save the Boyd!! :)

TheaterBuff1 on November 3, 2007 at 10:29 pm

If any theater is going to fare well as a movie theater, it is imperative that it be able to share in the profits of the movie itself and not be forced to rely on concessions, though I can understand Hollywood’s reluctance to share this privilege with just any movie theater. But there are certain ones that the movie industry should be most delighted to adopt, and Philadelphia’s Boyd, still awaiting a new buyer, certainly tops that list.

If I were a filmmaker or film actor of today, I would be very much concerned with how the public views my movies, most particularly the context in which they do. For that is 99% of the over all artistry. The film industry’s directors, actors, and so forth, need to start becoming VERY vocal about this. For when you see John Travolta with his private jets, George Clooney practically owning all of Italy’s Lake Como, etc., etc., etc., it’s a no brainer to see that the money is clearly there to start pouring big time back into America’s movie theaters again. And Philadelphia’s Boyd would make an EXCELLENT starting place. It would be a great tragedy to see the Boyd’s next five years be a dismal repeat of the last five years.

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