Regency I & II
1601 Chestnut Street,
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Firms: Thalheimer & Weitz
Previous Names: Regency Theatre
William Goldman opened the Regency Theatre, on June 30, 1967, with the movie “Divorce, American Style” (the opening was originally planned for June 13). The Regency Theatre replaced the palatial former seven storey flagship restaurant and headquarters of the Horn and Hardart restaurant chain. Once H & H decided to depart the location, Goldman bought it to demolish it. The plain modern architecture of the Regency Theatre couldn’t compare to the fabled ornate restaurant, built in 1926 with the finest stained glass, sculpture, marble floors, and limestone exterior. The Regency Theatre, like the former restaurant, was on the NW corner of Chestnut Street and S. 16th Street.
At the time of construction, Goldman accurately predicted the Regency Theatre would be the last really large (single screen) theatre built in downtown (Center City) Philadelphia. In the Center City Philadelphia, Goldman then opened the Randolph Theatre (named after his son), and within a block or two of the Regency Theatre, he operated the Midtown Theatre (now Prince Music Theatre) and the Goldman Theatre.
On the Regency’s façade, Motion Picture Exhibitor described ‘a venerable waterfall of extruded Duranodic aluminum flutes simulating a great bank of organ pipes cascades from the rooftop’ (so that’s what that was supposed to be!). A huge tri-faced glittering, golden marquee with many light bulbs on its underside was approved by Philadelphia’s Art Jury. With the Duke & Duchess Theatres on the same block, and many other movie theatres nearby on Chestnut Street West, the theatre marquees lit up at night to give a cinematic Broadway style appearance to Chestnut Street.
The color scheme of the lobby walls was white on ivory in a ‘montage’ pattern vinyl contrasted against an austere brown-olive cork vinyl used to simulate the Duranodic entrance doors and trim. The carpet throughout the theatre was a ‘red on red sort of sky-rocket-explosion effect shadowed in black.
Upstairs was a spacious rotunda-like mezzanine lounge, ‘La Ronde’ with a lighting fixture simulating a giant stalactite, towering picture windows, black naugahyde benches on stainless steel bases, copper and aluminum urns for smokers, and restrooms. The ladies room was decorated in pink and white ceramic tile, and personal vanity enclosures. The men’s room had beige and blue tiles.
The auditorium had 1,200 seats including a small and shallow balcony with perfect sightlines. The side-walls of the auditorium were covered to wainscot height with white on ivory vinyl, and above that there was ivory and white drape fabric. The Regency Theatre was equipped to show 35mm and 70mm films. Mainstream movies were shown. When there were not enough first run films for Center City theatres, like many of the other Center City theatres, the Regency Theatre showed ‘X’ rated pictures, causing Hollywood studios to have disdain for Philadelphia movie operations.
In 1972, Goldman sold his theatres to Budco, another Philadelphia movie theatre operator. Budco twinned the theatre in 1976, with a wall down the middle, turning it into the equivalent of two bowling lanes or tunnels. As a single screen, the Regency Theatre showcased films. As a twin it lacked the appropriate architecture for movies. The Regency Theatre finished as a single-screen theatre with the 10:35pm showing of “Taxi Driver” on April 6, 1976. The twinned theatre reopened May 19, 1976 with “Tunnel Vision” at Regency I and a double feature, “Hard Times” and “White Line Fever” at Regency II. The world premiere of Brian DePalma’s “Blow Out” was held at the Regency Theatre on July 23, 1981 with stars John Travolta and Nancy Allen attending.
At the end of 1987, the Regency Theatre closed. One of the last movies shown “batteries not included” about residents trying to save their building from demolition, seem fitting. By then, the Regency’s Chestnut neighbor, the Duke & Duchess theatres, and other buildings had already been demolished. Open for movies at Christmas time, the Regency Theatre sat alone on the block, it too, about to be closed and demolished for the construction of the glamorous Liberty Place office skyscrapers, hotel, and shopping mall complex. The Liberty Place announcement specified that movie theatres would be included. They were not.
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