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There are many factors working against trying to run a business of any kind successfully here in Northeast Philadelphia at the present time, whether it be a movie theater or anything else. And it’s been this way for a very long time now, though it wasn’t always the case. Now just to review the Devon Theatre a moment and why that failed, in looking over the expenses Gene Dinicolo had to grapple with each month, what jumps out at me most is what he had to pay each month in rent. For how, I wonder, was that $4,000.00 a month figure ever arrived to?! For the cost of rent must be in alignment with the business is capable of making each month, and it doesn’t appear that was ever given much thought to on the landlord’s part. For sure, the landlord can charge whatever he wants per month, but. If what he’s charging is far in excess of what that business can earn per month, then only a fool is going to rent this business from him and try to make a go of it. At the same time, not to come down too hard on the landlord, my guess is that he had little choice but to charge that much due to a combination of the especially high city property taxes on it plus Philadelphia’s “business privilege tax.” You have to remember that when Rizzo became mayor of Philadelphia he hit Philadelphia with the highest property tax hike in the city’s entire history. And since, that hike has never really been reversed. The only exception is that all new Philadelphia buildings get the 10-year property tax rebate, but, of course, that wouldn’t apply to the pre-existing Devon. But what I’m doing here, guys, is I’m following the money trail.
For let me put it to you this way: Any business can do well and flourish so long as it takes in more than what it has to pay out to stay in operation. But all parties involved have to work with that. I mean, you can’t have the government say, “This is what the property tax is, and that’s just the way it is.” For what the government collects in taxes from any business has to be fairly proportionate to what that business actually makes. Furthermore, it must use a sizeable portion of what it collects in taxes from that business to make things better for that business with regard to its earning potential. But the number one focus every party involved has to have is to make sure that business is in the black and not the red. And only in that way can the government be sure it’s not collecting too much in taxes.
Now in terms of Mr. Denicolo’s frequent complaints of not having enough customers, you have to look at when this occurred. For some idiot one day took a look at this city, which has a very sizeable blue collar population, and said hey, let’s phase out all the good-paying blue collar money making opportunities this city has (or that it once did have) and switch Philadelphia over to being a services based economy only. This in turn forced Philadelphia’s blue collar citizenry either into unemployment — which put them in a position of no longer being able to afford attending movie theaters regularly — or into service oriented jobs where they felt very much out of place and really weren’t the best cut out for. Take that Steck the typewriter repairman, for instance, who used to have his repair shop right across the street from the Mayfair Theatre. He probably was very good back when he worked in the manufacturing of typewriters down in Philadelphia’s Kensington section when industry was in full swing there. But as you could see in my post many many posts back, he clearly was not cut out for the services based industry at all. And if blue collar opportunities were brought back I’m sure he’d be the first to admit it.
But see, all this is just to show what was going on in Mayfair at the time the Devon closed. And these days Mayfair is overshadowed by Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel who makes more money per year (our taxes) then most business operators in Mayfair could ever dream of making, yet Perzel complains constantly that he’s still not making enough. So there’s that kind of breakdown in synchronization going on there right now. For everything has to be brought proportionately into the right balance, otherwise, no you can’t run a movie theater there. In fact, how many type businesses could hold up under that really? Which was why my whole angle with the Mayfair Theatre was to look for ways it could be run as a nonprofit. For at this point it is historic, and its architect ranks very high.
Does anyone have anything to substantiate the currently circulating rumor that Franklin Mills Mall is going to be shutting down in full soon, and that Donald Trump is eyeing the site for the possibility of building one of his largescale casino complexes there?
Hughie, if you’re referring to a personal e-mail you sent me, I never received it. Meantime, I’ve been to your site and I think it’s very good. Only trouble was, I wanted to post a comment at your site telling you congratulations but couldn’t figure out any way to.
Meantime, just to say a few things about it here, most people who grew up with the Orleans Theatre the way you and I did, Hughie, are gone now, while those who love it today love it for what it is now, which is a whole lot different from the classic old Orleans you and I remember. But let’s just be grateful it’s still a theater at all. For as Northeast Philly theaters go it is a survivor, I will say that for it, and a person would have to be pretty hardened in the heart not to admire it for that. Or to even think of replacing it with a Wal*Mart or Target Store or whatever at this late stage.
Because we’re living in modern times and it is located at a major shopping mall where business and making money is the most important focus, the way it is now seems to be the only fitting way for it to be. For you must keep in mind that it was part of a gestalt before, that is, an alignment that included Gimbels and Lit Brothers, which back in their day were very very upscale. For those who don’t remember, think “Are You Being Served?” But Gimbels is now long gone, and Lits is long gone, and they ain’t ever coming back. (You’ll have to excuse my lingo, but I just got back home from a Springsteen tribute concert.) But with that part of the gestalt missing you simply can’t run the Orleans today the way it once was. And all I was saying many many posts back at this webpage was that if there are plans to tear it down, at least leave the main auditorium intact.
But in all, if people love this theater now, 8 screens and all, you NEVER TEAR DOWN OR DISPLACE THAT WHICH PEOPLE LOVE, NEVER! For love is everything, even in business it is. It’s not my kind of theater the way it is now, and I’m pretty sure it’s not yours the way they have it chopped up into little theaters at this point.
But see for yourself. 2006. Other people like it, and they’re using it regularly. And that’s the whole bottom line really. And it’s the same with Burholme Park farther up Cottman Avenue from there. In that case, the Fox Chase Cancer Center, which around here everybody hates, wants to shove aside that which everybody loves, while some people every bit as shallow as the Fox Chase Cancer Center Nobel twits have thoughts of doing the same with the Orleans. And they’re assuming they can. But they’re assuming wrong.
I’m pretty positive the last movie I ever saw at the Mayfair was “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” either in the winter of ‘69 or early in the spring of the following year. For I know that after that it was off to school in the Midwest for me, while others I grew up with and went to the theater that night with went on to their separate destinies as well. So for us it was very much a “The Last Picture Show” kind of thing, had that same exact kind of feeling. And oh was the theater run so classily well that night! Munching on the best tasting popcorn I ever had in my life while watching the images of Paul Newman showing off on that old bike to Katherine Ross to the tune of Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” on that gigantic Mayfair Theatre screen is something I’ll always remember! And for this particular movie it seems there could not have been a better theater for it!
Meantime, to you, Howard, sorry about the delays in my replying to your commentary above, but when I was making the Taliban reference, I was thinking how it would feel to the artist who did the murals that once decorated the Mayfair Theatre’s auditorium as construction workers who don’t know any better sandblasted them away or chipped them away with jackhammers in the same manner that back early in 2001 members of the Taliban used bazookas to blow away the faces of those thousand year old Bhudha statues in north central Afghanistan. What I was getting at was “To be that unhuman, that un-alive.” For simply put, business doesn’t trump art and history, Howard. And if we do see this happening, every single one of us should be saying “Uh oh.” For at that point we’re not people anymore, we’re just worthless things taking up space and resources, that’s all. Do you get it now? For I think my comparison between the Taliban’s actions leading up to 9/11 and what they did to the Mayfair Theatre was very fair and right on target. And if you yourself don’t see that, you better take a hard hard look again. Re-check out that link Jack Ferry gave us above of that mural photo. For see, I come from an America where don’t do this, where we don’t destroy others great creations because we cannot do the same. And all your talk of business means nothing in relation to that, Howard.
Great new website, Hughie! But why are my hunches telling me that it’s going to evolve into the “Save the Orleans” website if actual efforts are made by its current ownership to raze it to displace it with a Wal*Mart or whatever? For given its location, at a major shopping center with plenty of free parking, I’d say pressures are such that it couldn’t possibly be other than a multiplex. And going by some of the recent comments posted here, if there’s heavy residentialized areas near to this theater, this theater itself as it is right now is the major reason why. For people like to have nice things they enjoy in close walking distance to where they live, and it sounds to me that that’s how many people living near the AMC Orleans 8 feel about it. And one absolute rule of smart business is that you NEVER EVER shut down a business that is heavily trafficked and popular with everyone!
At the current time it’s not the type theater tailored to my own personal tastes, but then look at where it’s located — at a major shopping mall where people such as me would go to to shop only. But for others this is just the right setting for theaters they can identify with. And in the AMC Orleans 8’s case apparently many do. I would like to see Northeast Philadelphia have the other types of theaters, too — that is, single screen, very classy and palatial like. But palatial theaters require palatial settings, not hustle-bustle shopping mall type areas.
Not far from the Orleans you have two classic old theater buildings — the Tyson and Castor — and either one of them could be brought back as theaters thar are palatial like. But the Orleans' setting is such that strong demand is upon it that it always be very contemporary. I myself loved it back when it was single screen, but I can’t recall this love being any more intense than how I felt toward the Mayfair, Merben, Tyson and so on. I.e., if I went to the Orleans it’s because it just happened to be showing the movie I wanted to see at the moment. And since it was single screen it was as good as any, for originally it was very palatial like inside, plus Roosevelt Mall — which was part of the Lit Brothers and Gimbels line up alongside Cottman Avenue — was a lot classier back in those days.
And it’s important to have theaters that are like the AMC Orleans 8 around today to insure that palatial style theaters don’t get overpacked. For I mean, could you see trying to run a palatial style theater while getting bombarded with those who far prefer a much more generic multiplex style theater? For such puts everyone in a totally awkward position. On the other hand it’s unsmart business and worthless-style politics to write off the more discriminating theatergoers as “irrelevent” and “insignificant.” Which is precisely why Pennsylvania House Speaker John Perzel, who’s governing so much of Northeast Philadelphia, and has been the past 23 years or so, has got to go come this November. Either that, or have his gerrymandered district whittled down to the small one or two Northeast Philadelphia pockets that his style “leadership” is suitable for. For a new type of demand is striking Northeast Philadelphia now, and he just isn’t cut out for it, just as U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz, who currently represents here, clearly isn’t. What we’re getting from them now “leadership-wise” is kind of like that last snow fall that happens late in April after the trees have started to bloom, and the fallen snow only lasts an hour and a half or so.
Howard, the marquee that’s currently on the Holme Theatre is triangular — that is, it has two faces, both of which are at a slight angle to one another — and trust me, it is not the original marquee by any means. Meantime, even though I never got to experience the Holme when it still was open as a theater, that’s not to say I have no memories of it when it was a theater building. Having been renamed the Pennypack during its last years as a theater, I have good memories of when it was the Pennypack Theatre all boarded up, and by that point the triangular marquee was in place of the original rectangular one. My guess is they were attempting to make the theater look more modern among other things. I also remember the title that was on the marquee (perhaps missing a letter or two), it was “The White Sheep.” And that title remained there until the building was eventually reopened as other than a theater. Now interesting to note, right next door to the Holme Theatre building (where the lower half of the parking lot is today) had been Holme Drug Store, and looking at that one and only photo of when the Holme Theatre was in full swing (taken 1935 or so) it appears to me that when the Holme Theatre changed its name to Pennypack, the Holme Drug Store next door got the original Holme Theatre sign. Meantime, as for the Holme Theatre’s original marquee, going by that 1930s photo it looks like it doubled as an outdoor balcony of sorts. Hence explaining those doorway like formations in the original Art Deco upper part of the theater’s front exterior — which is still intact today (though the doorway formations have long been sealed up.)
When this theater was in its prime (when that 1930s photo was taken) Holmesburg had been involved in bootlegging activity during Prohibition. This I know, because my father grew up in a house somewhere along Frankford Avenue, and he remembered looking out the bedroom window late at night to hear muffled voices in an alleyway running behind the yards, and seeing shadowy figures and cars back there, and boxes of contraband being moved from one vehicle to another via flashlight. And then the cars would part their separate way. And just to show how little times have changed since then, back last October, when I attended the Holmesburg Civic Association meeting and it was the very first time I suggested the old Holme Theatre building be brought back as a neighbrhood movie theater again, the MAIN topic of that meeting that night was all the unsavory criminal activity (most of it illegal drug trafficking) going on in the historic old African American community that’s right behind the Holme Theatre building. The African Americans who live back there — and who are all very decent people, by the way — don’t want any part of that illegal drug scene but are forced to accept it anyway because they’re black in an area that when Rizzo came to power as Mayor in 1971 was mistakenly forced into becoming predominantly blue collar white and has been forced to be ever since. Today, however, it’s on its last leg with Councilwoman Joan Krajewski soon to be retiring, she being the last leftover up here from the Rizzo era. Which is why I’ve been saying all along that turning the old Holme Theatre building into a mini mall is a mistake. I was just trying to help the new owners from losing their shirts is all. At the same time, and this I didn’t know when I first came forth with the restoring it as a theater idea last autumn, it’s not quite time yet to make it a theater again. I was on the right track with that idea, but too much the early bird as it were. And as luck would have it I got the worm, to which I can only say “Yuck!!!”
Anyway, right now Holmesburg’s in that very in-between period, and I can’t invest, and I can’t sway other investors I’m teamed up with to invest, until the smoke finally clears on that. And the gambling that’s coming to Philadelphia is going to really muck things up both on my end and yours, Howard. Though on my end not quite as much as yours, since no slots parlors have been proposed for up here. But we do have this nuisance thing called the Independence Pointe development proposal (which isn’t far from the Holme Theatre building) to worry about. And that’s gotta be taken by the horns and steered the right way somehow. And it ain’t easy when those in charge of it, including U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz, have I.Q.s something like -3. But she’ll be gone after next November, so I’m not too put off by that, just so long as we can keep the Independence Pointe proposal stalled till then. And so far so good on that.
Ah, Thalheimer and Weitz! But then again we do have to concede that the Devon Theatre’s best feature isn’t its architectural design. At least externally. Which is why for many years it was relegated as an adult movie house and nobody minded much. Not when the Mayfair Theatre not far from there was still in full swing, and the Orleans was still single screen. And of course the Merben was still open, and the Tyson and the Crest and so on. And I believe the Oxford, too, though I have no recollections of going to that theater. Or the Castor. By the way, does that book say who designed the GCC Northeast? For of all the Northeast Philly theaters that was designed so lack-of-talentedly that I’d really be surprised if anyone actually took credit for it. Yet, when it was up and running I do remember it being a pretty nice theater just to give full credit to whoever was managing it. But you’re fully right about the Holme, it hardly got to serve much as a theater at all. And most probably because of the fact that it was in a predominantly residential area and when it was a theater it had no parking at all. So I think in many ways the automobile killed it. For I can’t see how television could have, given how TV was back in the ‘50s. For we so forget now just how bad television was back then. Spoiled with the quality of how it is today, I don’t think most of us today could stomach for five seconds trying to get something from a 1950s TV set, with rabbit ears, blurry round screen about 10 inches in diameter, and everything in fuzzy low-resolution black and white. Yet the movies at the theaters were very good quality by then. Technicolor, stereo sound, sharp clear picture, and acting and scripts that far surpassed anything on TV, etc. We can actually still watch those movies today, and be every bit as enraptured by them as when they were fresh. But if you try watching old TV shows from the '50s you have to ask, how did people ever get anything out of it?
Anyway, getting back on topic with the Orleans Theatre, my view is that if people like that theater, and they attend it regularly — which sounds to be the case when you went there to see CARS, AWatson — then that’s the bottom line to me: what the people want. For if that isn’t given top priority, then what the hell kind of country are we? Or are we becoming? For that’s the whole thing with Burholme Park not that far from there. People love it, while Allyson Schwartz (whoever the hell she is) snootily says, “No, that doesn’t count for anything.” While my outlook is, well if that doesn’t, then nothing does. And as for the Orleans, now that we know — thanks to Howard’s research — that it WAS designed by a somewhat noteworthy architectural team, that brings it up several notches from the evaluations it was given before, that is, that combined with the fact that it’s very popular, going by what everyone is saying. As JonFox above put it so movingly, “If they tear the theater down and build a Wal*Mart, that would make bad happenings for everyone in the area.” And in the whole of things, what overrides that? What? For if many people love the Orleans Theatre, that’s the bottom line. There’s no other.
This might sound a bit strange to some of you — especially those looking at things from a strictly business viewpoint — but in my campaign to restore the Holme Theatre (which is not all that far from the AMC Neshaminy 24, and just a stonesthrow away from the AMC Orleans 8) I’m delighted to hear the AMC Neshaminy 24 draws such huge attendance! As that’s exactly what I DON’T want to happen in the Holme Theatre’s case. Because the Holme Theatre building, unlike the AMC Neshaminy 24 (and also the AMC Orleans 8) is located in a predominantly residential and also highly historic area, it would be an absolute disaster to have too many people coming to it.
Those who are strictly businessminded would surely laugh at my saying this — particularly those who run the United Artists Grant Plaza Cinema 9 which also is not that far from the Holme Theatre, and which doesn’t appear to have much of a customer base at all.
But my thing is not to make money so much, but to really restore and run an historic old theater in the best possible way. And NOT in a way that competes with the AMC Neshaminy 24 and so on, but that will stand as something that is pretty much totally different. I mean, I’m not seeking to take customers away from the AMC Neshaminy 24 and so on any more than the Le Bec Fin restaurant in Center City Philadelphia (ranked as one of the top restaurants in the country) is after the McDonald’s fast food chain’s market. So if anybody’s worried about that they can all pretty much rest easy now. For there are the people who prefer the McDonald’s over the Le Bec Fin, so to speak, And they SHOULD have theaters geared specifically for them. And they DO in the AMC Neshaminy 24, AMC Orleans 9 and so on. And quite frankly I wish there were more. Specifically so that the Holme Theatre can operate without pressures to be that way, too. So at long last I hope that makes sense to y'all.
Well I hope you’re not the only one in the area who feels that way, JonFox, for at least it’s a theater that people around it can still go to. My second oldest brother worked there as an usher sometime back in the mid-60s when it was still a single screen theater. And when it was a single screen, and still fresh and new, it actually had some class to it. I remember seeing “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines” there sometime during the latter half of the 1960s. But apparently it just wasn’t designed well to stand the test of time. You can readily see how its design was influenced very heavily by cost-consciousness — meaning, “Why hire someone such as William Harold Lee to design it when for just a tiny fraction of that cost Joe Schmoe the gas station/port-a-john designer can design a theater ‘every bit as good’?” And though I don’t know for a fact, I assume the theater’s name, “Orleans,” was not after the city of New Orleans in this country or Orleans in France (of Joan of Ark fame), but rather, the Philadelphia area builder A.P. Orleans who recklessly ruined so much of Northeast Philadelphia’s onetime natural beauty with his really poorly planned out housing developments following the end of World War I onward. For prior to then all this up here had been the original Main Line, you know. And then came the idiots, thinking only of money, who simply didn’t get it. (And some who apparently still don’t.)
For Northeast Philadelphia is long overdue to come roaring back in a huge way, and to have some of the best cinemas around when all is said and done. But the advent of those best cinemas, of course, hinge on other changes in Northeast Philadelphia that must take place as well. Given your current location I’m sure you’re aware of the Fox Chase Cancer Center v. Burholme Park controversy not that far from there, and how much the Fox Chase Cancer Center’s insane proposal to try to expand at its current location will reeeeeeeally harm that area, and a thousand times worse than a Wal*Mart replacing the Orleans Theatre will! It has to do with the stretch of Cottman Avenue (which the Orleans is just a block back from) between Roosevelt Boulevard and Burholme Park. We’ve got to get that issue wrapped up the right way, which is why I’m telling everybody to vote for Raj Bhakta — who favors saving Burholme Park — this November (2006). For like you, he’s from this area, too. And we’ve got to get him in and U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz (who fully stands with the Cancer Center) out. For she’s not from here. She doesn’t know anything at all about here. She doesn’t care anything at all about here. She’s from New York, and she takes all her orders from Bryn Mawr.
You’re right about the Hiway, Howard, and I stand corrected. At the same time it helps me appreciate the Holme Theatre all the more in that it’s a pureplay. And because the Holme Theatre was designed by one of the top movie theater architects of the 20th century — unlike the Orleans (which to the best of my knowledge no one wants to take credit for) — there’s solid grounds for the Holme Theatre’s holding status above and beyond being “just a business like any other.” Which, in turn, would allow it to have the leverage it needs not to have to debase the moviegoing experience by gouging on concesssion prices, running commercials in addition to film fare, being chopped up into a multiplex and so on. Of course, this would hinge on how it’s restored. Understandably, given how it has not been a movie theater since the late 1950s, much of what was in place originally is missing today, while there are scant few records of what’s been lost. But to be sure, anything that remains from when it was a theater last would be fully preserved and restored. The ONLY possible exception to this would be if there’s any trace of the original proscenium left that would conflict with its being made a widescreen theater. Alas, it would be great if only William Harold Lee himself were alive today and he could oversee the full restoration and updating. But, life goes on, and we who are living today can pretty accurately project — based on the role W.H. Lee played with the Hiway and other theaters — what he would do if given the task of restoring and updating the Holme Theatre today.
Now in terms of economics, there’s no one set type. There very much is a type of economics that forces a theater to cheapen itself, as we clearly see in the case of the AMC Orleans 8. But that’s only one variation. And such type economics really doesn’t work in the vicinity of the Holme Theatre’s location. And we can now pretty much conclude it never will, and thank God for it. For it was tried for there, it failed miserably, and now it’s in the process of dying out. The reason why is because Holmesburg, like a great deal of the rest of Northeast Philadelphia, is far more suitable as a residential area where money is not that relevant, than its being geared for commerce. In brief, it has never been a suitable place for anyone to come to to try to make a fortune. Rather, that’s the province of Center City Philadelphia and so on. And once upon a much better time in Philadelphia’s history, Kensington and North Philadelphia.
So the Holme Theatre has to be run in alignment with that reality. It has no other choice — not that I’m complaining, mind you! At the same time the restored Holme Theatre would not be an “arthouse theater” per se. It would indeed exhibit mainstream films, but at the same time would do it selectively on the basis of these films having high artistic merit. And most mainstream films I must point out DO have that merit. So the Holme Theatre would be specially geared to bring that artistic quality to the forefront. For instance, did you know that 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin',” which was released last November, was in many ways a brilliant African Americanized version of the “Ben Hur” story brought to modern times? For you certainly wouldn’t know this given how it was exhibited at the Orleans last fall. Shown there all wrongly the way it was, it came across as a movie that was pro-drug culture. And it likewise drew a very pro-drug oriented crowd. And Walt Disney’s “Chicken Little,” produced in 3-D, completely fell on its face when shown at the AMC Orleans 8 last year. Which is fine for moviegoers willing to settle for that sort of movie exhibiting. But the whole purpose of the restored Holme Theatre would be to show the mainstream films the way the producers, and directors, and actors and so forth want them to be exhibited, and where that, rather than making the buck, is the major objective.
The Orleans Theatre is a survivor that’s for sure, and I give its current management full credit for that. And I’m much happier about new people to the area who want to see it kept going as a theater — despite its having been chopped up into a multiplex — than those anxious to see it razed and replaced by a Wal*Mart or Target Store. Meantime, you have me curious: When you say it was packed for CARS, do you mean packed as in “packed in like cattle with making the buck the main objective and the heck with how the experience is for the theatergoers themselves”? Or do you mean packed as in “a really healthy turn out”? For right now we’re looking to take Northeast Philadelphia in a direction where the former is seen as a huge turn off by those newly coming to here but the latter is seen as a very good sign. For see, I’ve been spreading the word about acquiring and making the Holme Theater — which isn’t all that far from the Orleans — a classy neighborhood theater once more, it’s not having been a theater since the late 1950s. But since the Orleans is the only theater around, and this has been the case for over several decades now, the Orleans is what a lot of people think of when you say “movie theater.” And so it’s no wonder, then, that they react like it’s the plague when I and others say, “Hey, let’s make the Holme Theatre a theater once more, too!” For in the Holme Theatre’s case it would have to be run in a way that’s totally classy. Meaning that, unlike the AMC Orleans 8, it would have to be single screen, could never run commercials in addition to film fare, and could never gouge on concession stand prices. Plus it would have to be much more selective in the quality of the films it exhibits. With the Orleans they just show whatever’s new and demand. And that’s fine, there’s a need for that. But at the same time it works in the Orleans' case because it’s situated at a major NE Philly shopping mall. The Holme Theatre’s location on the other hand is the exact opposite. The area right around it is heavily residential not to mention very historic, and to a high level, scenic, given its closeness to Pennypack Park which is not all that far from it. And, incidentally, it was designed by the same architect who designed the HIWAY you mention.
Howard, it closed sometime in the latter half of the 1950s. This I know for a fact because my older brother saw Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” there, and that movie was released in 1956. And Howard, if you sometime come up to Holmesburg to study the situation more carefully you would know that if it were made a theater again it could only be single screen. Two reasons for this: 1) The parking lot it has is not that large that it could accommodate anything more than that, and 2) it’s located in an area which is primarily residential, meaning that anything other than a single screen would be overwhelming for that location. And even though Frankford Avenue, which it faces upon, is a major Northeast Philadelphia thoroughfare, it is hardly Roosevelt Boulevard. In William H. Lee’s original design it had a 1,364 seat capacity. But in my restoration plan it would have somewhere between 600 and 700 seats tops. And though even those low figures exceed what its parking lot could accommodate, the fact that it’s located in a spot which is easy to get to via public transit, on foot or by bike makes that seating number practical.
Now in terms of why back in the ‘50s it didn’t survive as a theater, while the advent of TV was partially to blame, the biggest reason of all was because it wasn’t wide-screen plus it totally paled with the much more modern theaters down in Mayfair, the Mayfair Theatre and the Merben. And I’m also pretty sure it wasn’t air-conditioned. And given that very narrow sidewalk it has in front, and with it arranged at that time so people had to stand outside to buy a ticket, I’m sure that was probably a huge turn-off, too. And unlike today, back when it was last a theater it was squeezed tightly between other businesses. There wasn’t any parking lot at all.
So contrast all that to today where there are no classy single screen theaters around it anywhere and so on. And now it does have a parking lot which it didn’t have before.
But I’ll be the first to agree with you, Howard, that there are a lot of uncertainties about making it a single screen theater again. And Wall Street hates uncertainty. And if we went ahead and restored it as a theater now, there’s two totally opposite type disasters that could result. The first is that nobody would come to it despite the sizeable investment. And of course then what do you do? And the second is that it would be too popular, attracting too many people to that area. I know that latter “disaster” might sound funny from a business standpoint, but you have to remember it IS located in a predominantly residential area. And that must be respected at all times. In fact, that’s why I was hoping the Mayfair Theatre farther down the Avenue could’ve become a movie theater again. For you must keep in mind that I’m far more of an artistic temperament than I am a businessman. Meaning that my number one concern is, is the moviegoing patron getting the best possible moviegoing experience? On the other hand, is Holmesburg ready for this and will it ever be? For it would be silly to force through what everyone is just going to say, “Huh, what?!” to. Which is why I’m holding back and letting the mall thing go through for now. Pizza anyone? And if that fails, then it might make it easier for me to step in and say, “Okay, let’s consider this theater idea again”…. For I’m ready to go forward with this thing when everyone else is. And right now we don’t know; that time might never even come. We don’t even know what the gambling’s going to do to this city yet. And even up here where no slots parlors are being proposed we have to think about that. A drag, isn’t it?
“Jonathan Livingston Seagull” at the Steel Pier Theatre? Hmmmm. While the Steel Pier Theatre was at the Shore, Atlantic City —even back then — was hardly the type of seashore resort anyone would go to if getting closer to the natural seashore environment was the goal. Particularly when such at that time was readily found in all the other New Jersey seaside resorts to the north and south of it. Atlantic City was distinguished by the fact that it was as unnatural a seashore environment as it gets — its number one selling point — while the other seaside resorts to the north and south of it were distinguished by their being very laid back and natural — their number one selling point — with each distinctly different type seaside resort helping to promote the other in a weird but pleasant sort of way. Vacationers staying in Atlantic City on occasion would visit the more laidback resorts nearby to better appreciate how Atlantic City was distinctly different, and of course the reverse happened as well, which is what I most remember. The day I saw “A Hard Day’s Night” at Steel Pier it was during a one day bus trip from Philadelphia, PA, and from my perspective I didn’t think of it as a “trip to the Shore” per se. The closest I got to the natural seashore environment that day was when I went down in the “Diving Bell” which Steel Pier had at its very end. Other than that, memories are of the lady on the diving horse — which the animal rights activists eventually got shut down (even though the horse seemed to enjoy it) — and seeing the taping of the “On the Pier” TV program, or at least the forerunner to it. But the thing that stayed with me the most from that day was seeing that Beatle movie at the Steel Pier Theatre. The movie, combined with the theater which I saw it in so enthralled me, that I can still vividly remember that wait for the bus back to home and swearing I could hear the songs “A Hard Day’s Night,” “All My Loving,” “She Loves You,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and so on playing in the roar of the diesel bus engines. For that’s the way movies should move people (hey, why do you think they call them “movies”?) and the Steel Pier Theatre did it. For with the Beatles themselves having been there in Atlantic City only months before, it was the perfect alignment. And with the ornate fanciness of that theater’s interior as I recall, which seemed to echo the fanciness of the theaters the Beatles were shown performing in in that movie, it was like you were right there in those theaters seeing them for real. That theater was so alive that day, seeming to be the most alive part of all Atlantic City.
In my trying to figure out the inconsistencies between David M. LeVan’s support of the restoration of the Majestic Theatre on the one hand — which I perceived as a good thing — and his seeking to introduce a casino to historic Gettysburg on the other — which is about as evil as it gets, when I re-read the comment that Karl B posted above (April 25, 2006), the last paragraph in particular, it hit me that there are no inconsistencies whatsoever. For ticket price gouging, plus too tight seating arrangements, are not things that any well-meaning and respectable theater operator would ever resort to. For what that is is none other than greed, ladies and gentlemen. And odds are the Majestic has experienced a major profitability shortfall because of it. What LeVan is doing is taking full advantage of the tremendous incompetency of the state of Pennsylvania’s government, one which has Pennsylvania’s Speaker of the House John Perzel complaining about such things as cowmilkers in Pennsylvania making too much money, some legislators having difficulty applying for credit cards (according to him because they’re not making enough), and so on. Yes, the same Pennsylvania legislators who voted themselves an illegal pay increase last year and then later were forced to revoke it. And with legislators around such as that it’s bound to bring Pennsylvania’s worst citizenry to the fore, which is exactly what I’m now seeing in this David LeVan guy.
For it sounds like the Majestic is a really great theater and could be a major boost for Gettysburg if managed right. And right now I realize it’s not under David LeVan.
With the casino shutdown in Atlantic City that began on the morning of July 5, 2006 and expected to end by Monday, July 10, hopefully it will draw some attention to the movie palaces now missing from Atlantic City, which in many ways were written off as “unimportant” back when legalized casino gambling first got underway in Atlantic City 28 years ago. Though I never got to experience any of Atlantic City’s movie palaces, I saw the Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night” in the theater at Steel Pier in 1964 — which was not long after the Beatles themselves performed at Atlantic City’s Convention Center — and I count it as one of my most memorable moviegoing experiences of all time.
Another South Jersey moviegoing experience I count as being very memorable was seeing “Moby Dick” sometime back in the 1950s at one of the seashore theaters where you could actually hear the sound of the sea washing beneath the floorboards as the movie played. I mean, talk about a full moviegoing experience! But with my being so young at the time I have no memories now of what theater it was or at which resort.
Finally, in 1987 I saw Brian DePalma’s “The Untouchables” at Ocean City’s Strand Theatre, which also happened to be during the same time period Philadelphia’s Nicky Scarfo was meeting regularly with other members of La Cosa Nostra just a block away at the Ocean Colony Condominiums. So again it was the full moviegoing experience in many ways, though one filled with much sadness in that case, as it was the last year the Strand Theatre would be single-screen. With powerful economic pressures on it, and apparently little sympathy for movie theaters as “art forms” as opposed to being businesses like any other, the Strand was forced to go the way of the multiplex.
Great photos, and a great restoration job, one that all at various levels of society who are interested in acquiring and restoring historic old movie theaters in the best possible way can derive a great deal of inspiration from, and learn from. Thanks for posting them.
By allowing itself to be part of a chain, the Strand Theatre has become a far lesser theater than what it could be otherwise. To better understand where I’m coming from, please see the July 1, 2006 comment I posted at the Cinema Treasures' link:
Ocean City, NJ has allowed itself to become too much of a “McResort” geared to “McVacationers” and “McYear-rounders” while sacrificing its far greater side in the process. Which is why anybody with a soul still intact these days avoids that town like the plague. But once it comes to light what is wrong with that town (which, by the way, just did), so, too, surfaces the new direction of how it must change.
As for the Strand Theatre itself, I believe it CAN be run as an independent, and better than it ever was before. But its becoming an independent theater, rather than remaining part of a chain, is the only way this is possible. And to reach its highest level, of course it would have to be made a single-screen theater once more. For in the realm of art we don’t try to cram several paintings into one frame; why should it be any different with real theaters?
Just to more thoroughly explain the very rough rendering I posted at the following link
those of you who are firsthand familiar with this building know that it faces directly (and abruptly) onto a very narrow sidewalk that is directly alongside what at times can be a heavily trafficked Northeast Philadelphia thoroughfare, Frankford Avenue. Thus it would be totally impractical, I feel, and would greatly undermine the movie-going experience, to restore it in such a way that would have it so the patrons must line up out along that narrow sidewalk while awaiting to buy tickets. Because of the theater’s close proximity to Frankford Avenue it’s an absolute must that they’ll be able to stand inside the theater’s sizeable lobby area — just as if it were a bank or classy hotel.
Now originally the theater was such that it was tightly wedged in between other buildings, hence why it was designed with no windows of any sort along the sides. Sizeable buildings once stood where its parking area to the left of it is now. But now that the left side of the theater is fully exposed, it really wouldn’t make sense to keep the left wall of the theater’s lobby portion windowless. Thus why I decided to introduce that large side window there. This way, those standing inside the lobby will be able to look out to see not only Frankford Avenue and other businesses directly across the avenue from it, but the adjacent parking area (where some of them will have their cars parked), plus a view of Frankford Avenue to the north of there, the historic Peale house which stands caticorner to the theater at Frankford and Welsh, and even a partial glimpse of Pennypack Park off in the distance, which the theater had been re-named after in the late 1940s. Inside the lobby area, meantime, the ticket counter will be just to the right of that side window so that patrons can enjoy that view as well as those out the front windows as they’re standing in line.
As for the parking lot itself, because it isn’t real large it will have to be for reserved/valet parking only. But keep in mind that the Holme/Pennypack Theatre is located in a very pedestrian-oriented area plus is within easy walking steps of several major public transit stops.
Regarding the beige-color facing you see along the side, this will be a type of stucco coating over the theater’s original brick facade, and will get spraypainted regularly to eliminate any blemish or graffiti that occurs. The theater will have no outdoor murals of any kind, but within there will be photo murals of Pennypack Park in the lobby portion and that will be changed regularly as the seasons change. Inside the theater’s auditorium meantime there will be hand-painted murals, again of Pennypack Park scenes, plus fancy plaster work around the theater’s proscenium and so on. And the curtains themselves will depict a large Pennypack Park scene. In fact, there’s going to be four sets of curtains with Pennypack Park scenes on each, each displaying a different season and to match whatever season it happens to be.
As for the theater’s marquis, it will be semi-rectangular in shape, and rather than having hand-placed letters, will display an L.E.D. print-out instead. And alongside the theater’s entrance to each side inside the outer vestibule area there will be wall-mounted movie poster display cases. But rather than their containing posters they will display L.E.D. printouts that will look like back-lit movie posters instead.
The plan is also to have it so no cellphones will ever be able to ring within the auditorium. As for the movies that will be shown there, since it’s to be a digital cinema, it will vary between first-run and classic films. And the seating style in the auditorium will not be stadium.
Other considerations, all its electricity needs will be provided by a combination of both roof-mounted solar panels and wind generators, its heating and cooling will be geothermal, and it will even rely on a roof-mounted rain-capturing system to acquire gray-water for its lavatories. And both the mens and ladies rooms will be manned by valets.
And at all times, admission cost will never exceed $5, and most times it will not even be that high. Add to this that there will never be any commercials shown in addition to film fare, plus concession stand prices will always be at an absolute minimum — the same as what you’d pay at any convenience store or supermarket. Maybe even less, if we can swing it.
But the big question is, IS Holmesburg ready for this yet? For that’s what’s really holding things up right now. For clearly the plan of this theater is not geared toward the tastes of the McConsumer set.
And yes, it absolutely will be single-screen.
In reading about the Senate Theater I am truly amazed by how the long list of the many classic theaters William Harold Lee had designed just continues to grow and grow, though it’s sad that the discovery of many of these comes too late. For with so many of his masterfully designed theaters either they’ve been torn down, or, they’re now under the control of those most determined to see that they never get properly restored as they were originally intended to be. Which is why it’s good — at the very least — that he designed so many. A truly futurist thinker, he must have well understood the law of averages in that if you design enough theaters in various different locations that at least some of them will survive. And though the Senate Theater didn’t make the list of those that did, to some extent this is made up for by our own keeping records of what was lost and the specifics of why. So thanks, John, for this latest addition to Cinema Treasures' archives!
Again there’s a lot of misunderstandings here as opposed to my remarks being interpreted accurately. For with more careful reading of the things I’ve said in the past, you’ll see that my whole focus is on the future. For I’m the one who’s saying Philadelphia cannot return to how it was in 1928 when the Boyd Theatre was built if nobody else is. Nor can Center City Philadelphia where the Boyd Theatre is located go back to how it was in 1959 either, when Ben Hur premiered there at the Boyd.
But Philadelphia DOES need to evolve over all so that it does become much more intellectually friendly, both at its commercial heart (Center City) and its residential areas — where the Holme and Pennypack Theatre buildings are located. And Philadelphia’s classic theaters when restored the right way will go a long way in achieving this goal. For speaking of the past, wake up people, for we’re not still back in the Frank Rizzo era anymore, which is when the Sameric people came pretty close to totally destroying Philadelphia’s grand old lady as you say. Fortunately, the Boyd Theatre has survived. And all I was asking was, at this late stage — nearly 4 years into the acquisition and restoration — is any trace of the Sameric era still left?
For you may not appreciate this, but in terms of my own efforts towards raising money for the Boyd Theatre’s restoration, I’m doing everything I possibly can to get some very influential people interested in this theater. But right now it’s a very hard if not impossible sell with last vesiges of the Sameric era still obscuring the Boyd Theatre’s underlying beauty. As I say, that stacked Sameric marquee sign on the theater’s upper portion front facade should’ve been removed long ago. It should’ve been one of the first things to go. And I believe it’s a very fair —and 100% unhostile — question to ask why it’s still there? For I’m sure we can all agree on this: Paul J. Henon, Jr., who designed the Boyd Theatre originally, was a great great architect, as evidenced by his Mastbaum Theatre and so on. And the same could be said of William Harold Lee who later reworked the Boyd Theatre in the 1950s, as evidenced by his State Theatre up in Easton, Pennsylvania, his Majestic Theatre out in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and so on, both being magnificent theaters we can all go and see today.
However, when the Sameric people got ahold of the Boyd Theatre and reworked it the way they did, were there any great architects involved in how they chose to transform it? Obviously not. And NOTHING drives that point home more clearly than that stacked Sameric multiplex sign I’ve been very critical of. As I say, that sign should’ve been taken down before anything else was done. And why oh why is anyone getting angry at my saying this?!
Now as for me and why I have not contributed money towards the Save the Boyd effort so far, any of you who have familiarity with me know that I’m an investor. And among we investors we have a saying: Don’t throw good money after bad. Meaning that if we feel that money that’s already been invested is not being directed properly, plain and simple, we don’t invest. And we WON’T until that changes. And that, in brief, is how ALL intelligent investment works. Then there’s the other style of investment, case in point, HDTV267’s blindly throwing money at things he (or she) doesn’t fully understand.
Now as for failings regarding the restorations of the Holme and Mayfair Theatres up here in Northeast Philadelphia — right now the Holme Theatre building, designed by William Harold Lee, is being made into a mini-mall, the Mayfair Theatre building, designed by David Supowitz, is being made into a bank — with all due respect, Howard, these historic theater buildings being misconverted are your failures as much as they are mine, if not moreso. For just to remind you, YOU’RE the one who has much better connections than me in this city, as you rubbed in my face in an e-mail you sent me several months back. So if you’re going to blame me for those two failures, please be sure to blame yourself as well just to keep it fair.
Ah, HDTV267 strikes again with his “words of wisdom” I see! — and once again based on none other than shear ignorance, in this case his ignorance having to do with business itself. For he doesn’t understand that every store the restored Holme Theatre building is to contain is to be none other than but a mere replication of what that part of Northeast Philadelphia has plenty of already. Meaning that whatever new jobs it will create plus tax dollars for the city will be shortlived. The only exception is if it gets bail outs from the state to keep going, which is the case with many (if not most) of the businesses in Northeast Philadelphia’s Mayfair section, which is just to the southwest of the Holmesburg community where this historic theater building is located.
While it IS true that the area economy right around the Holme Theatre building could use more jobs, and the city of Philadelphia itself could use more tax dollars, the jobs that are needed here in the Holmesburg community are top-paying ones as opposed to those that entail stocking shelves with slave-labor produced goods from China, working behind an ice cream counter for penny wages and so on. For at this point in time that is NOT the direction that Holmesburg now needs to go in.
Meantime, my viewpoint right now is that I was just a little early when I came forth with my proposal to restore the Holme Theatre building back to being a classy neighborhood movie theater once more. Being as I’ve been away so ofttimes from Holmesburg in recent years leading up to when I first put forth my proposal last year, I didn’t know that Holmesburg still had some residue from the ignorant Frank Rizzo years still left in it. And going by HDTV267’s remarks above, I can see I’m still a bit early.
In any event, check out a very rough rendering I did of how I envision the future of the Holme Theatre building to look enroute to its being restored to a classy neghborhood movie theater once more. Along with photos I took of the Holme Theatre building last autumn, it can be seen at the following link:
HDTV267, with all due respect, nothing could possibly be more offensive than the comment you just posted above. However, given how I now have some familiarity with you based on various comments you’ve posted in the past, I know that you’re speaking from the viewpoint of one who doesn’t know any better. I know, for instance, that you didn’t grow up with the Mayfair Theatre back in the days when it was a really classy neighborhood movie theater to go to and back in the days when Northeast Philadelphia was far more on the up and up than it is today. For I, for one, and it’s based on what Mayfair was at one time compared to what it’s like today, find it VERY hypocritical for America to be sending troops into Afghanistan to bring down the Taliban when we allow something very Taliban-like to fester in Northeast Philadelphia unchecked — which I feel is greatly symbolized by the current state the Mayfair Theatre building is in. I mean, look, it’s not easy seeing corruption when it’s right in front of your eyes and an integral part of your existence rather than far off overseas somewhere. And so when that is the case, too often people turn a blind eye to it, feeling they have no other choice. Trouble is, that doesn’t make the situation any better. While I can fully assure you it does make things a lot lot worse.
Now with that said, Northeast Philadelphia DOES have to get out of the rut it’s currently in. And your remarks, based totally on ignorance, certainly aren’t helping things any. And based on your comments, I assume you’re not college educated. Either that, or you did not have very skilled instructors/professors, or the college you attended was such that they allowed you to fake your way through. Because I can fully assure you, based on the actual facts rather than mere opinions such as you express, that it is YOUR thinking, rather than mine, that is unbalanced. So I’m going to ask you to take a big step, and that is for you to stop assuming you know it all, because you don’t, okay?! For I can assure you that if there were more educated people around here rather than such a large number of ignorant people such as you, that Mayfair Theatre building would be being restored to a classy neighborhood movie theater right now rather than transformed into being a bank — as if Mayfair needed another one atop the many underutilized ones it has now.
If that entire area right around the Boyd Theatre were earmarked for historic restoration — which I myself would love to see, by the way (that is, a real Headhouse Square kind of thing) — then fully restoring the Boyd Theatre to how it had been originally would make total sense. But right now to do this I feel would be setting it up for all kinds of vulnerabilities. One really great thing the Boyd currently has going for it is its closeness to Rittenhouse Square. But right around the Boyd Theatre itself things are a bit messy, and I don’t see much if anything currently being done to correct this; it’s just being allowed to default to whatever. Meaning that what the Boyd Theatre gets restored to cannot be too delicate. For such is what caused the Boyd Theatre when it was the Sameric to fall into a quick state of demise, and downgrading that particular block of Chestnut Street even further in the process. And one thing that’s really hurting the enthusiasm to save the Boyd Theatre now is the continuance of keeping that stacked Sameric marquee sign over the building’s original upper facade — as in what is taking so darn long in finally getting rid of it??? For it has no historic value, and God, I hope no sentimental value for anyone! Right now it’s masking over the best external feature the Boyd Theatre has going for itself right now, making many of us wonder, is the Save the Boyd crew serious or isn’t it?!
Meantime, to yvgtspike, potentially any theater or theater building is up for sale if you’ve got the bucks to spend. But make sure you’ve got a very good business plan in place if your plan is to have it be a theater and you hope to recoup your initial investment. And learn as much as you can from others' mistakes, such as those made by the Sameric people.
QUICK CORRECTION: It appears that rendering was drawn by someone named D.E. Lidton, or Sidton, it’s hard to make it out exactly. But whoever he was I assume he was part of the Hoffman & Henon firm.