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If you would like to see this historic theater building — one of the last in existence in Philadelphia designed by the acclaimed 20th century theater architect William Harold Lee — be rightfully restored to being a movie theater once more, now is an excellent time to let your views be known. And one way you can do so is by attending the Holmesburg Civic Association’s next meeting, to be held at 7 P.M. at the Holmesburg Community Center at Rhawn and Ditman Streets this Tuesday, November 15, 2005. But be forewarned, the Civic Association’s president, Fred Moore, appears to be 100% opposed to the idea. Though I have yet to say it, and I’m not saying it now, those whom I’ve discussed Mr. Moore’s strange position with all believe he has received kickbacks from the new owners of this building to support their plan to make it other than a theater, even though that is what this historic building is most suitably designed to be. I myself will not be attending this Tuesday’s meeting, but I will do all in my power to block the new owners' plan by going over the misdirected civic association’s head and make use of other means that are available to me.
Meantime, if any of you have an open and amiable dialogue with Mr. Bryan Krefft, please encourage him to assert this theater building’s historic importance more than he has. This, in turn, will help me make the case that this is not just any building, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to be used by its currrent owners in whatever way they see fit. As I say, it is one of the last few William H. Lee buildings left standing in this city. Jenkintown has one, Narberth has one, Bryn Mawr has one, Gettysburg has one, and Easton has one, and they’re treating the ones they have as if precious gold. And ours is too, if we dare to give it a chance to be. But that precious gold we have in our midst can be gone in a flash if we stay silent. As I say, this is the time to speak up if you want to rightfully see it become a theater once more, for believe me, you will not like the alternative the current owners have planned for it. No one who’s thinking clearly would.
Rode my bike out to the AMC Orleans 8 Theatre this beautiful sunny Saturday autumn afternoon, not only to get some great digital photos of it, but also to try to get some first hand accounts of what it’s final fate shall be. For I asked someone from the NE Times to look into it yesterday, and AMC told them there’s no plans of tearing the theater down to make way for a Target Store there come next June. However, that might only be with regard to the main theater building. For various people I spoke with today at that small shopping center on Bustleton Ave said the building with the “HOLLYWOOD” sign on top will get torn down along with a few others in close proximity starting next year to make way for an all-new Target Store. And “a few others” might be in reference to the row of mini theaters the Orleans has in that seperate building just behind Pep Boys (formerly Pathmark). And that to me doesn’t look like it will be any real loss. For to try to squeeze several theaters into a building that small really was pushing it. I mean, could you see going there to see your favorite movie, anticipating seeing it on one of the bigger screens in the main theater building, only to be told that YOUR movie’s being screened in that dinky little building just behind it?! I mean, talk about tacky! The main theater building, though, I think shows a lot of promise, particularly if they can make it a single-screen theater once more. It has a very nice lobby area. They should look for ways of tying that main theater building in with Roosevelt Mall more, for right now I get this sense that there’s some type of stand-off going on between the two rather than the theater and the mall being mutually beneficial. It’s a shame that Wachovia just across the street couldn’t be made a **** restaurant once more, for I believe that would do it…
LATEST UPDATE (Nov. 11, 2005): In my ongoing effort to see that this theater building be rightfully restored back to being a theater once more, I am constantly being told by those who apparently don’t know any better that because I’m not the owner of it I have no right to any say in helping determine its fate. However, just as it’s true with original art that purchasers of it cannot do whatever they want with it simply because they “own” it, so, too, does this same principle apply to certain buildings as well. And I fail to see why this particular theater building should be any exception, given how it does possess tremendous potential of being restored to a movie theater once more, and a state-of-the-art 21st century style digital theater at that. In my proposal, what remains of the original theater would stay perfectly intact while all new that would be added would harmoniously blend with that. And in terms of what the restored theater shall be called, I would prefer that it be “Pennypack” rather than by its original name, the Holme Theatre. For that is the name it held when it was last a movie theater, after all, and given how Pennypack Park which it was renamed after continues to be Holmesburg’s most positive aspect, it appears its being renamed that back in 1946 was a very wise decision. And with the restored theater being called “The Pennypack” this will open the way to and will justify its interior decor having all Pennypack Park themes throughout, ranging from the use of photo murals of beautiful Pennypack Park scenes both in its lobby and auditorium area, to having a massive photo image of a Pennypack Park scene imprinted on the screen’s curtains themselves. For all told, my belief is that by taking the theater in this direction it will help to boost both Pennypack Park plus dramatically turn around Holmesburg’s long-suffering consumer business district, whose current authorities I’m very eager to see overruled. Think of it if you will as a major symbolic gesture of putting a long-awaited end to the longstanding occupation that has overshadowed and greatly harmed Holmesburg throughout most of my lifetime and likely your own as well.
When I first began this effort, greatly inspired by the recent success of the newly restored Ambler Theater in Ambler, PA, I was told by Fred Moore, President of the Holmesburg Civic Association, that “Holmesburg isn’t Ambler.” And right he is, albeit in a way he apparently has no realization of and perhaps never shall. For Holmesburg isn’t Ambler in that its destiny is to become a thousand times greater than Ambler could ever possibly hope to be…
You’re right, and I fully apologize, for this page should be about the Orleans Theatre itself. Speaking of which, what is Eddie Jacobs basing his rumor on that it will be closing down next June to be replaced with a Target Store? Is the rumor he’s spreading true, or simply his roundabout way of expressing how put off he is by how generic this theater is? For even I’ll admit, even though it’s the last theater right around here, that it would be difficult to get too sentimental about it if it does shut down. It’s as if to say it was never designed in such a way that people could feel sentimental about its closing down. It lacks that certain “presence of soul” or whatever it is.
The major flaw of what the current owners of the historic Pennypack Theatre building plan to do with it — to make it a mini-mall that has a Dollar Tree, Pizza Hut, upscale coffee shop, laundromat, etc. (all things which this area has plenty of already) — is that no sort of public hearings were ever held in reaching that decision. Furthermore, every pre-existing business along that stretch of Frankford Ave was totally kept in the dark about it until after this decision was made. Meaning that over all the whole project is probably illegal. What is making the situation especially difficult, however, is that the Holmesburg Civic Association is 100% supportive of what the new owners plan to do with the Pennypack Theatre building, even though no efforts were ever made on its part to find out what the community at large thinks first. And that failure on the HCA’s part, too, for the most part is probably illegal. But hey, when you have politicians overseeing Holmesburg such as Philadelphia Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, State Reprentatives Mike McGeehan and John Perzel, State Senator Mike Stack, U.S. Representative Allyson Schwartz and last but not least, Mayor John Street, the over all attitude appears to be, “Hey, what’s wrong with a little illegality?”
Now I could advise you attend the next Holmesburg Civic Association meeting, to be held next Tuesday evening (Nov 15) at 7pm at the Holmesburg Rec Center at Rhawn & Ditman, to let your views be known there. But be forewarned it’s rigged. And so from my perspective what that means is that in order for the Pennypack Theatre building to be properly restored to its rightful honor of being a movie theater once more, the only way it’s likely really going to happen, at least if it’s going to be done right, will entail overriding those resistence factions entirely. I.e., totally ignore them just as they’re ignoring us.
At the national level, meantime, there very much is a powerful campaign to reverse the current trend of existing movie theaters closing down left and right, as well as to introduce totally new ones, especially now that digital cinema is ready for roll-out and already is taking hold in certain places in the U.S. Meantime, right here in Northeast Philadelphia we constitute a huge movie-going audience that’s currently not being tapped into — compliments of the above named politicians, at least with regard to the Holmesburg area. For in my own efforts to see that Holmesburg not be overlooked by the nationwide campaign, I have not met one Northeast Philadelphia resident — NOT ONE — who doesn’t want to see that Pennypack Theatre building rightfully restored to being a movie theater once more. (As for Pizza Hut, I have nothing against them whatsoever. My only point was that it’s silly for that chain to try to compete in an area where people can and prefer to buy real Italian pizza at actual locally-based pizza parlors. If they want to try, short of their being an obstacle to efforts to restoring an historic movie theater, my only response is power to them.)
Meantime, in terms of your being able to help reverse the trend of Northeast Philly theaters shutting down, let those who head up the movie industry know about it, rather than trying to talk sense to Northeast Philly politicians who couldn’t care less what we the people living here think or want. For the more Hollywood knows there’s a powerful market here just waiting to be tapped into, the more that will become the ultimate overriding factor. For ultimately it’s we the people who count, not a silly small group of politicians who have forgotten us, and illegally so from the looks of it.
At this moment those who own the Pennypack Theatre building — which was called the Holme Theatre until 1946 — are digging in their heals determined to make it a sort of mini-mall rather than an all new digital cinema. Call it politics at its absolute worst. The current owners of that building are totally ignoring the fact that there’s way too many dollar type stores, pizza chains, laundromats, etc., in this area already, what is known as oversaturation. As business policy goes, it will fail, and of course it will fail, that’s the whole point. For it’s the everyday taxpayers' dollars that are paying for it all, or will be paying for it all in terms of bail-outs when it fails, not the owners of these businesses. But so long as the taxpayers don’t mind this even though they themselves don’t derive any benefit, there’s little to stop them. Meantime, how many consumers around here right now do you know of who are saying, “Golly gee, I only wish we had more dollar type stores around here, pizza chains, laundromats and so on”? Now some might argue that movie theaters can’t make as much money as those other type businesses can. But that’s missing the whole point. What movie theaters do is make a particular consumer business district that much more alluring. And proof of this right now can be seen in Ambler, PA with its newly restored Ambler Theatre. And the same in Phoenixville with its newly restored Colonial Theatre. These theaters in themselves aren’t making a ton of money, but they’re having a miraculous effect on turning around the long slumping economies all around them. Meantime, the main consumer business strip through Holmesburg has been in a slump since the 1950s, the same year the Pennypack Theatre closed. Coincidence? Hardly.
Anyway, what’s happening with the Pennypack Theatre building right now is that there’s strong resistence on the part of its owners plus the NE Phila politicians and local civic association against making it a movie theater again. And so long as that resistence outweighs the desire of those of us who want to see it become a theater again, those putting up the resistence will prevail. Only to give NE Philly what it has too much of already, which then, of course, will fail due to oversaturation — each identical type business sapping business away from the other. And this we all pretty much know ahead of time. For I passed the Pizza Hut in Mayfair the other day and consumer traffic going in and out was dead. It was all brightly lit up for business, yet totally empty. For why would anyone bother going there when there’s so many local pizza parlors all throughout NE Philly where you can buy real Italian pizza? And when I passed by the closed up Devon Theatre down that way the other day, I saw passersby pausing to read the sign in front, eager to know when it will finally be reopened once more. As for the Pennypack Theatre building right now, how many people passing by it can’t wait till the dollar store opens up there, especially when there’s another one practically right across the street from it where Andy’s Hardware used to be, another at the nearby Holmesburg Shopping Center at Frankford Ave & Blakiston, another down where Mayfair’s Pep Boys used to be, etc., etc., etc.? Are you seeing people lining up in rows of two or more to shop at the area dollar stores right now? Or packing into the local laundromats with baskets piled high with laundry to be done? For I’m sure not.
So in a roundabout sort of way, right there is the powerful campaign to make the Pennypack Theatre building a theater once more. And Texas Instruments, Christie Digital, the entire motion picture industry out in Hollywood and many others are all ready to step in and make it happen whenever you are. So however you can, speak up, and stay tuned…
It’s a tricky situation right now, with the current owners of that building — plus apparently the area politicians and Holmesburg Civic Association head — determined to see it be made a mini-mall that has a Dollar Tree Store, Pizza Hut. upscale coffee shop, laundromat plus some light retail all in one, whereby everyone on the consumer end throughout Northeast Philadelphia wants to see it become an all-new digital movie theater instead. As everyone who lives around here knows, there’s too many dollar stores. pizza shops. laundromats. etc., as it is, but at the same time way too few movie theaters. As I guess you heard, the AMC Orleans will be closing next June to be replaced with a big Target Store. So when that happens there won’t be any movie theaters around at all. And this despite the tremendous success the newly restored Ambler Theatre in Ambler, PA and the Colonial Theatre out in Phoenixville are currently enjoying. Both theaters are doing wonders to turn around their surrounding long slumping consumer business districts. As for Holmesburg’s consumer business district — the stretch of Frankford Avenue between Hartel and Stanwood — it’s been in an economic slump since the 1950s. the same year the Pennypack Theater ceased being a theater. And in no way will a Dollar Tree, Pizza Hut, laundromat, and coffee shop introduced at that site solve this dilemma in any way. In fact, due to what is known as oversaturation it will have the exact opposite effect, each identical type business sapping strength away from the other. And when the inevitable occurs as a result of this oversaturation, the business owners along there will go begging for government bail outs (i.e., your and my tax dollars) to help them revive their struggling businesses. Now we could tell the business owners along that stretch this, but they pretty much know it already, and don’t care when your and my tax dollars are wrongfully used to line their own pockets, and without any benefit to you or I as the taxpayer whatsoever. All told, it’s a type of racketeering going on along that stretch at the current time, and with we the taxpayers not being given chance to say no to it. Complain to area politicians about it, and with a dumb look they’ll just say, “Well, they’re operating within the law,” totally missing the whole point, of course. For it’s not as if we the taxpayers can continue having our taxdollars thrown away for nothing this way, while they all seem to think we’re a bottomless well in that regard. And by our not speaking up and saying we want a movie theater there instead, we’re letting them. For right now with too few movie theaters in this area it’s a case of undersaturation in that respect. Yet how many consumers around here right now are saying: “Alas, if only there were more dollar stores around here, pizza shops, laundromats and so on”? If you know of any please let me know…
Those of you who are saddened by the news that the AMC Orleans 8 will be closing in April might be somewhat comforted to know that a powerful campaign is currently underway to see the Pennypack Theatre building (at Frankford Ave. & Welsh Road in NE Philly’s Holmesburg section) be restored to being a movie theater again. Built in 1929 and with a 1,364-seat seating capacity plus a sizeable parking lot, and designed by the acclaimed 20th century theater architecture pioneer William Harold Lee, because of the year it was built, the same as the ‘29 crash, it never got to be a full-fledged theater the first time around. So all these years, ever since the Pennypack Theatre closed sometime in the 1950s, it’s been this cinematic gem waiting to be rediscovered. If the campaign to make it a movie theater once more is successful, it will be a digital cinema theater, which will make it Philadelphia’s first — the closest one to Philadelphia right now being way up in Elizabeth, NJ.
The fact that you would love to see a movie theater there once more brings it that much closer toward reality and away from wishful thinking. In fact, with the advent of digital cinema technology, it would be far more economically feasible to make that historic building a theater once more than what its current owners have planned for it — a laundromat, Pizza Hut, Dollar Tree Store, plus retail shops all within that single building — as if Holmesburg, where this theater building is located, isn’t oversaturated with those type businesses already. Meantime, did you know that at this moment there aren’t any digital theaters at all anywhere in the Philadelphia area? The closest one is up in Elizabeth, NJ, over 61 miles away. Contrast that to Ireland, which currently is converting all its theaters throughout the entire country to be digital. So if Ireland can get with digital, why can’t we? The answer with existing theaters in operation in the Philadelphia area right now appears to have to do with current commitments they have. But in the Holme Theater’s case it has no such commitments, given how it’s not served as a movie house for well over half a century now. Meaning that it well could become Philadelphia’s first digital theater if all parties involved on the Philadelphia side of things give it that chance to be — and quite possibly with little to no cost to them. So stay posted.
If I as the theater owner and operator of a digital cimema pledge never to run commercials at my theater at any time, guess what folks: You can rest assured you’ll never see any commercials ever when you come see movies at my theater. And as for the arrival of digital cinema representing a loss of jobs for projectionists, not so under my watch. Rather, if they come to work for me they’ll operate the digital equipment instead — that is, same pay (if not better), same benefits (if not better), but for a job that’s suddenly become a thousand times easier for them!
And let me also say this: Anyone who owns a digital theater and opts to run commercials at it has got to be a total idiot businesswise, since one of the biggest things people look forward to when they see films in theaters is that the experience will be commercial-free. So unless such owners are secretly working for the TV manufacturers, etc., while posing as theater owners, those who opt to show commercials at their theaters clearly have a screw loose somewhere!
GOOD NEWS! At least partially… Though no plans are in place to transform the Pennypack Theatre building back to being a movie theater once more – at least yet – the building stands on solid ground for now in that its new owners have no plans of razing it. And in preparing it to serve as a movie theater once again, the parking lot just adjacent to the theater building’s own parking lot – the one at the corner of Welsh Road & Frankford Ave with the giant billboard signs – has just been purchased by the building’s new owners and will be added onto its own parking lot to make it that much bigger. So now the big challenge is to convince the new owners that their building is ripe for being made a movie theater once more, this time a digital theater, given how right now the closest digital theater is over 61 miles away in Elizabeth, NJ. Digital will enable that theater to air live sportscasts as well as the latest movie fare, so given that factor I’d say yes, it’s ripe for becoming a theater once more. And if you all agree, please let it be known. And the sooner the better.
Well-crafted movies, when viewed on the big screen and in the context of a well managed theater, can do more to lift the spirits, inspire and positively motivate people than anything else I can think of. So with that it comes with great sadness to have to report that the Holmesburg Civic Association, plus apparently every single Northeast Philadelphia-based politician who has any say in the matter, stands adamantly opposed to allowing the classic old Pennypack Theater — designed by architect William Harold Lee — to be reopened as a movie theater once more. And with no rational reasons given why.
Meantime, you who reside in the rest of Pennsylvania who have a special and well-run disliking of Pennsylvania Speaker of the House John Perzel over the insane salary increase he and the other Pennsylvania legislators voted for themselves this summer just passed should know this closed up theater is part of his district, while meantime I read in the paper just the other day that Pennsylvanians in other parts of the state can’t understand why Philadelphians — the ones who keep voting him back into office — are so passively accepting of his corruption. And all told I will admit that those who reside in his district are a pretty spiritually dead lot right now. Yet how can they be otherwise with few if any things to lift their spirits up or enable them to see the bigger picture? (No pun intended.) For the churches around here, plus the schools, jobs, shopping outlets, libraries, bars, restaurants, athletic fields, parks and TVs-watched-at-home can’t do that, at least not in and of themselves.
But movie theaters, when well run, can do wonders. And here’s the Pennypack Theater just begging to be brought back to life in that capacity.
But no, those who regard themselves as the “powers that be” say we can’t have that because rumor has it it’s owners wish to convert it to a Dollar Store instead. And this in an area that has too many of such type stores already. Ah, but Dollar Stores sure do wonders for the spirit don’t they? (Being facetious.)
The greatest way to ensure classic theaters such as these don’t encounter the wrecking ball is to make sure the movies they present are in alignment with what the community surrounding them is feeling in general and most would like to see. Too often recently the type of movies Hollywood has been turning out are not particularly attuned to what the current mood of the people happens to be, with rare few exceptions — such as James Cameron’s “Titanic” several years back, and Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” released just last year. But at the same time it’s not only all up to Hollywood to determine what is best, but it’s also important that community theaters themselves establish a strong rapport with those in the community and base what they present on that rather than indifferently show whatever Hollywood sends their way. Just as filmmaking is an art form that requires getting a deeper understanding of what audiences want to see so as to be successful, so, too, is this true of running successful movie theaters.
2ND CORRECTION: It’s http://www.holmesburg.com/ (must include the slash on the end)
CORRECTION: The official URL for the Holmesburg Civic Association is http://www.Holmesburg.com, not –.org as originally posted.
As a long time Holmesburg resident I’ve been pushing recently, namely through the Holmesburg Civic Association, to have Holmesburg follow Ambler’s lead and have the old Pennypack Theater restored back to being a movie theater once more. Though it’s still not certain if its current owners will go for it or not, or if Philadelphia City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski, who seems to really have it in for movie theaters, will allow it to happen or not. But if you think it’s a good idea, please contact the Holmesburg Civic Association’s President Fred Moore to let him know that you support the proposal. He can be reached through the http://www.Holmesburg.org website.
The news of the Ambler Theater being fully restored is fantastic news and truly a refreshing step in the right direction! Now if only the same thing could be done with the old Pennypack Theater at Welsh Road and Frankford Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia, a beautiful old theater building that currently sits empty and all boarded up, its new owners seemingly not quite sure what to do with it. But with the highly oppressive and backwards leaning Philadelphia Councilwoman Joan Krajewski about to be retiring soon — and thank God for that! — bringing the old Pennypack Theater back to life could mark the start of an exciting new era for Northeast Philadelphia, for Northeast Philly’s Holmesburg community especially.