Hidden City


Hidden CityHow To Spot A Theater
by Rachel Hildebrandt | Published by Hidden City Philadelphia
May 14, 2013

Editor’s Note: There are seemingly countless ways to imagine and understand the way cities like Philadelphia have changed over the last century, but none perhaps as clarifying as this: Philadelphia once had 400 movie houses, mostly on neighborhood avenues and retail streets. A mere five of them operate today as theaters. Those 400 theaters tell us about the scale of public commercial life and the quality of the urban night; they are a lens on the rich world that was exchanged for the television and subdivision. Contributor Rachel Hildebrandt has spent the last few months documenting the remains of this lost world. Like the once living thing itself, the ruins have a great deal to tell us. Here’s our interpretive guide.

For the past two decades, no building has held the attention of the preservation community like the Boyd Theater. The conspicuously vacant theater, heralded as Center City’s last movie palace, stands as a reminder of an era in which theaters lined Philadelphia’s downtown shopping streets and neighborhood avenues.

Few Center City theaters remain, but the same is not true of surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, we have identified and mapped 135 former theaters still standing. Masked by modernization and hidden in plain sight, they line declining—and rebounding—commercial corridors from Germantown Avenue to 52nd Street.

Interestingly, surviving theaters are often located on the outer edge of these retail centers, not in the densest core sections. A telling example is on 52nd Street: all the theaters at 52nd and Market are gone, but those near 52nd and Girard remain. A similar pattern emerges on Germantown Avenue.

(Click here to visit the article in it’s entirety from hiddencityphila.org)
Many thanks to THS Member Howard Haas (Philadelphia, PA) for passing along the link!

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