Erlen Theatre

1814 Cheltenham Avenue,
Philadelphia, PA 19126

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Showing 15 comments

calcynic on October 17, 2010 at 8:53 am

Boy, am I an idiot…lived in Olney for a time, went to the Erlen and never realized that Erlen is an anagram for Renel.

kencmcintyre on September 14, 2007 at 6:28 pm

In 1981, A.M. Ellis Theaters, Martin Ellis general manager, operated the following houses:
Philadelphia – Tyson, Erlen, Crest, Castor, Benner
Bala-Cynwyd – Bala
Allentown – Plaza
New Jersey – Dix Drive-In in Bordentown

HowardBHaas on July 22, 2007 at 12:27 pm

A friend emailed me the following:
“I took a trip there after most but not all of the demolition was completed. There was still a frame of iron girders around the proscenium arch….I went there late at night, and walked out to where the orchestra pit should have been.”

(That really was from a friend. I never saw the theater).

raymondgordonsears on March 21, 2007 at 2:50 pm

Looking for photos of this theater. Thanks rg E-mail

mediagy on November 8, 2005 at 6:49 pm

I browse this site once in a blue moon and was SO VERY saddened to hear of the Erlen’s demise. Born in 1935 I grew up at the movies in the Erlen, Renel, Lane, Yorktown and Keswick…all reachable by trolley and/or bus during the war years of WWII. What a time that was! The films were glorious and the theaters were also. My favorite was the Erlen. It was the only “atmospheric” in Philly I ever saw. It was GORGEOUS…with faux Spanish style garden on a small roof that stuck out about six feet along the sides of the auditorium. Yes…the proscenium was VERY much like Radio City Music Hall….beautiful gold leaf sunburst framing the stage. They had a VERY attractive and art deco modern waiting room with comfortable chairs. It was a glorious theater. I live in Connecticut now…and have seen the demise EVERYWHERE of the great palaces of the past. Thank God that the Friends of the Boyd apparently have saved it. NO NYC center city Broadway theater exists from the golden age, except Radio City which is not strictly speaking a movie theater today. SOOOOOOOOOO sad…..

Here in Connecticut many of the great palaces and atmospherics like the Erlen…HAVE been saved… the Keswick was… turning them into legitimate theaters. As the sun seems to be setting on movies because of the poor prints, lousy projection, end of continuous showings, no short subjects, cartoons or ANY sense of LIFE and community….theater seems to be booming. The 3,000 Palace in Waterbury, CT, which, like the Erlen, was closed for decades and rotting away, roof collapsing, etc….was restored last year TOTALLY….and today is a SMASH with touring Broadway shows, concerts, ballet, singing groups. WHY was a MAGNIFCENT theater like the Erlen allowed to die?

Philadelphians for many years….most of my life…..had NO appreciation for theaters and even as other cities began to save them, renovate them, and use them…Phildelphians just let them rot until they were torn down. To have lost the Keith/Randolph, the Fox, the Stanley, Stanton, Arcadia, Aldine, and Karlton/Midtown as well as the Goldman is just heartbreaking. And the MASTBAUM…operated for awhile by Roxy Rothafel himself….the loss of that INCREDIBLE structure was a CRTME.

My mother used to say that the rich in Philadelphia…those on the Main Line….and elsewhere….were the least supportive people in America of the arts. Yes…yes…the Art Museum….but WHAT ELSE from the golden age survives besides that and the Academy of Music. The GORGEOUS Erlanger legitimate theater is gone….as is the Locust. How sad….when other cities preserved their heritage by adapting it to new forms.

There will never be another Erlen….it’s likes in Philadelphia will never be seen again….and more is the loss for Philadelphia and its northern suburbs.

Kahan on April 4, 2005 at 4:09 am

For a tremendous trip down memory lane all you old movie theater fans must read the hilarious short story called “Leopold Doppler and the Great Orpheum Gravy Boat Riot” by the legendary Jean Shepherd from his book “In God We Trust-(All Others Pay Cash)”. Available at Amazon.

raymondgordonsears on April 1, 2005 at 4:44 pm

Saturday May 6,1961 this theatre featured “BEN HUR” in its roadshow format. 2 shows daily 1:30 & 8pm. YES Moshe your right. The BEST matinees for kids was the Renel. Cartoons, 2 reelers, serials and a double feature. Life was GREAT> rg

Kahan on March 31, 2005 at 9:42 am

I saw a lot of movies for free especially at the Renel, Erlen, Esquire but only the last half hour. In my youth (late 50’s) the doors would be opened near the end of the film for people to leave and of course there would be no one there to ask for a ticket. I constructed the earlier part of each film from my imagination.
Saturday afternoon matinee for kids at the Renel was sheer madness.
20 cartoons plus yo-yo contest and then a quality flick like Superman Meets the Mole Men.

veyoung52 on January 21, 2005 at 9:08 pm

I dimly remember the auditorium had something like the “sunrise” effect proscenium similar to Radio City. In 1960, it was one of the few theatres locally to show a 35mm print of “80 Days” after its downtown roadshow run.

raymondgordonsears on November 30, 2004 at 3:30 am

wHAT HAPPENED TO THE ELLIS THEATRE CIRCUIT. Does the circuit still exsist in name only. Are any of the family members still around. Can anyone supply with a list of theatre names. rg

GrandValleyHoldingsLP on November 16, 2004 at 6:22 am

Here is some more history on the Erlen. My dad used to work in North Philly and he took me past the Erlen often. I was never in it however I know it was an Atmospheric Theatre. This info is from the City of Philadelphia:

12/13/84 AM Ellis Theatres sold property to United Gospel Network Corp for $50,000. Ellis Theatres held a mortgage in the amount of $40,000.
2/15/85 The church borrowed an additional $18,000 against the property.
7/18/85 The church borrowed an additional $24,500 against the property. Both 1985 notes were held by a private party.
1995-1996 The property was listed for sale with an asking price of $575,000 and $375,000
2002 – The property was on the market for $250,000
4/1/02 – The property goes to Sheriff Sale for non-payment of taxes. City buys the property for $800. City demolishes the structure as it is beyond repair.

PhiladelMike on November 14, 2004 at 7:20 am

“Renel” is a re-arrangement of the word “Erlen”. Apparently
these were sister theatres. They were indeed within walking
distance of each other in the West Oak Lane neighborhood.

Also walking-distance away was the Cheltenham theatre, a relative
latecomer opening about 1961.

The Erlen had a very bright electric sign on the roof.

raymondgordonsears on November 12, 2004 at 1:26 pm

As a kid living West Oaklane the Renel and this theatre were in walking distance. It had a blue ceiling with clear lights, so you thought you were watching the movie under the stars. It was neat. After it closed it sat for a long time and then it became a church. The condition was very bad do to the bad roof. I was able to get the pop corn machine from the church before they moved. Today it is an empty LOT for sale. rg

timquan on November 11, 2004 at 8:12 pm

When I was growing up, we would always drive past this theatre every time our family drove from NJ to Ambler, PA where my uncle and aunt used to live. The only way my father knew to get to Ambler was through Cheltenham Ave and turn right to the 309 Expressway, which went past the Pennsylvania Turnpike.