Uptown Theatre – Philadelphia, PA

The Uptown is one of the theaters that was exclusive to my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. However, due to the events of today (11.6.20) I think it’s fitting I post a theater from the city of Brotherly Love.

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.

Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, and the Supremes all have one thing in common, besides being renowned musical artists; they all performed at the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. The Uptown originally opened on February 16, 1929 in the North Central neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 2,040-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Magaziner, Eberhard and Harris. It was built by Samuel Shapiro (who owned several theaters in the Philadelphia area) and operated by the Warner-Stanley (Warner Bros) Theatre Circuit.

The auditorium ceiling was painted a flat grey during a remodel of the theater.

Opening day at the Uptown consisted of a showing of “On Trial” starring Pauline Frederick and Bert Lytell and a Movietone address by Dr. Charles Beury, the president of nearby Temple University. The Movietone sound system allowed the Uptown to show talking motion pictures as soon as it opened. Vaudeville acts were also part of the regular bill and unlike many of its contemporaries the Uptown held vaudeville performances until 1950.

In 1957 Philadelphia radio personality Georgie Woods began producing shows at the theater. Woods was responsible for turning the Uptown into Philadelphia’s answer to Harlem’s Apollo Theatre by booking many famous African American acts. He referred to the Uptown as “the grand jewel of entertainment for Black America.” The theater became part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit”, which was the informal name given to performance venues across the United States that were safe for African- American entertainers to perform in during the period of segregation. According to R&B singer Ruth Brown, the Uptown was one of the four major theaters on the circuit that you had to play to prove that you had made it as an entertainer. The others were: the Howard in Washington DC, the Regal in Chicago, IL and the Apollo in New York City.

View of the auditorium from the center of the balcony.

Like the Apollo, the Uptown became known for amateur nights where local artists could compete for prizes. Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates got his start at one of the Uptown amateur nights. Hall attended Temple University and won a record deal at an amateur talent show at the theater. The Uptown was also famous for booking acts at a very low price. Allegedly, Woods was able to get the Supremes for a 10-day engagement for just $400. Woods was also very active in the American civil rights movement and often used the theater to promote it. He would hold “freedom shows” to promote civil rights at the Uptown, giving the profits to charities of his choice, regardless of race or creed. Woods was honored for his involvement in the civil rights movement by the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP in a ceremony held at the Uptown. By 1971 the shows were grossing $250,000 a year and films were only shown during the times when no live performances were booked. However, in 1972 Woods stopped producing shows at the Uptown. By 1978 the theater’s audience grew too small for even the minor acts and it was forced to close.

Since this photo was taken much of the detail work on this wall has been destroyed.

The Uptown reopened as a church in the 1980s. Services were held at the theater until the roof was damaged by a storm in 1991 and the church was forced to vacate the property. The Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation (UEDC), a nonprofit whose mission is to develop revitalization projects in downtrodden neighborhoods, bought the theater in 2002. UEDC raised enough money to stabilize the roof, restore the building’s exterior and renovate the attached office space. They plan to use the funds raised from renting out the office building to fully repair the roof and restore the auditorium so that the Uptown can be reopened as a performing arts center. UEDC estimates it will cost $8 million dollars to fully restore the building.

Looking back at the auditorium from the stage area.

Digital Theater Reconstructions

Mark Jabara, an artist from Australia, has been taking some of my theater images and restoring them in Photoshop. The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas day in 1928.  It closed in 2002, and the auditorium was demolished in the spring of 2015.

Auditorium of the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, PA

Digital Restoration of the Boyd with original colors.

The Madison in Peoria, IL was originally designed in the Adamesque style and was remodeled in 1936 in the simpler art deco style to ease the maintenance of the building. Mark restored some of the lost adamesque details near the stage.

Auditorium, Madison Theatre – Peoria, IL

A digital restoration of the madison theater in Peoria IL

Digital Restoration of the Madison Theatre with some original details restored.

The United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan opened on February 3, 1928 and closed in August 1972. It’s one of the most dangerous and deteriorated theaters I’ve ever photographed.

Decaying auditorium of the United Artists Theatre in Detroit

Auditorium, United Artists Theatre – Detroit, MI

Digital Restoration of the United Artists Theatre with original colors.

The Boyd Theatre is featured in my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. The Madison and United Artists are featured in my latest book, After the Final Curtain: America’s Abandoned Theaters. Both are available on my site, Bookshop.org, and bookstores everywhere.

Logan Theatre – Philadelphia, PA

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Logan Theatre in Philadelphia, PA opened on January 24, 1924. It was built by the Stanley Company of America for $1.1 million, or $15.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1894-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Henon, who also designed the now mostly demolished Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. Designed in the Adamesque style, the plasterwork in the auditorium featured mythological creatures, and there was a fresco of a sailing ship in the lobby. The building also had a large ballroom on the second floor, known as the “Waltz Studio.”

View of the auditorium from the stage.

Originally a silent film theater, the opening day celebration included a showing of
“The Common Law,” starring Corinne Griffith and Conway Tearle. The film was accompanied by music from the Kimball organ, and the house orchestra, which was known as “The Loganians.” Then-mayor of Philadelpha W. Freeland Kendrick and Jules E. Mastbaum, the president of the Stanley Company, spoke at the the opening. Like most of its contemporaries, the Logan eventually switched over from silent films to “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound.

The former “Waltz Ballroom” space.

The Logan was closed in 1972, and in May of 1973 the building was sold by RKO Stanley Warner for $350,000 to the Deliverance Evangelist Church (DEC), one of the largest congregations in the area at the time. DEC made some alterations to the theater, including adding a closed circuit television system, as the theater was often filled to capacity. This allowed people to watch the three-hour-long services from the former Waltz Studio ballroom. DEC moved out of the Logan in 1992, and the theater was abandoned. Soon after, the roof began to leak, causing major water damage.

The lobby of the Logan Theatre.

Dr. Owen Williamson purchased the Logan in 2005, and began to restore it as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda. Since purchasing the building he has repaired the roof, repainted the interior and updated some of the wiring. Dr. Williamson plans to reopen the theater as a live music venue with a restaurant named “Claretildaville,” However, the building remains closed to this day.

The Logan has a relatively plain interior when compared to other theaters built around the same time.

During the years the Logan was a church a baptismal font was on the stage.

When the theater opened, afternoon matinees cost fifteen cents, evening shows a quarter or thirty cents.

Gold spray paint was used to repaint the gold in the auditorium.

View from the center of the balcony.

Snapshot: Metropolitan Opera House

Post 2 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.

View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.

View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.

Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House opened on November 17, 1908 as the Philadelphia Opera House. The 3,482 seat theater was built by architect William H. McElfatrick for Oscar Hammerstein, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II, the famous musical theater lyricist. However, Hammerstein fell into debt and was forced to sell the opera house to one of his competitors, the Metropolitan Opera of New York City, after only two years.

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Q&A with Howard B. Haas, President of Friends of the Boyd

The Boyd Theatre's proscenium arch.

After photographing the Boyd Theater I learned a little bit about the Friends of the Boyd.  I had a lot of questions, and luckily the group’s president and chairman Howard B. Haas was available to answer them.  Below are his responses to several questions about the history of the Friends, his own personal experiences with the theater and some of his hopes for the future.

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The Boyd Theatre

The Boyd is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania‘s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas Day in 1928. Located in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood, the 2,450 seat theater was commissioned by Alexander Boyd and built by Hoffman-Henon, a Philadelphia architecture firm also known for the construction of the nearby Prince Music Theatre. One of the companies commissioned for the Boyd’s interior decoration was the Rambusch Company, who later decorated the Loew’s Kings Theatre.

View of the lobby from the main level.

Unlike many theaters built in the 1920’s, the Boyd was originally intended to be a movie theater and, although there were backstage dressing rooms, did not feature vaudeville shows. According to the opening day brochure the Boyd was dedicated to women’s progress throughout history.  This appreciation for women is referenced throughout the theater, especially in several murals, one of which shows an Amazonian queen fighting African and Asian armies.

The proscenium arch.

Alexander Boyd sold the theater to the Stanley Warner company, which ran many of downtown Philadelphia’s theaters, after the construction was completed.  Shortly after the Boyd changed hands a Kimball theater organ was installed. It remained in the theater until 1969, when it was removed it was the last theater organ in a downtown Philadelphia theater. Various movie premieres were held at the theater over the years, including “Rocky III,” and “Philadelphia.” At the premiere of “Philadelphia” actor Tom Hanks is said to have remarked “Oh, a real movie theater!” when entering the Boyd.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

After being sold in 1971, the Boyd was renamed the SamEric by it’s new owners, the Sameric Corporation. They renovated the theater and eventually added three additional auditoriums next to the original, which was renamed again as SamEric 4. The theater closed and was slated for demolition in 2002 before a group of concerned citizens formed the “Committee to Save the SamEric” (which later became “Friends of the Boyd”) to save the theater from demolition. In the following ten years several attempts were made to restore the theater, without success.

In 2013, Florida theater chain iPic agreed to lease the building from developer Neal Rodin. iPic planned to restore the facade, and gut the interior of the theater to build an eight screen theater as well as a restaurant. Since the Boyd was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the Philadelphia Historical Commission met to vote to approve iPic’s plans. On March 14, 2014, after hearing the opinions of many Philadelphians for and against the demolition, the Commission voted to approve the plans. However, iPic’s plans fell through and in December 2014 Pearl Properties bought the property for $4.5 million. Pearl began demolition of the auditorium on March 14, 2015.  Tatel, a Spanish restaurant, is opening in the former lobby and foyer of the Boyd.  The Harper, a 27 story apartment tower, was built in place of the demolished auditorium. The Friends of the Boyd saved a number of artifacts from the Boyd before it was demolished, and have donated them to other theaters, including the Lansdowne Theatre in Lansdowne, PA.

The auditorium ceiling.