Neighborhood Movie Theaters

Shawn Evans, AIA, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects

Center City Philadelphia was home to the region’s most well known movie theatres.  Clustered in districts on Market, Chestnut, South, and North 8th Streets, these entertainment venues lined up along the sidewalks with blinking lights and glistening facades to draw in thousands of visitors to downtown.  An earlier blog post, “Historic Movie Theatres of Center City Philadelphia,” chronicled some of these places that are documented in the photograph collections of the Philadelphia City Archives.   Whereas downtown movies were for most people a special treat, the neighborhood theatres were a more integral part of weekly life. [i]

WEST PHILADELPHIA


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52nd Street in 1914, looking south from Market. Nixon Theatre
seen on right.


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Nixon Theatre, 28 South 52nd Street, seen here in 1914.

Many of the neighborhood theatres were located in commercial corridors.  West Philadelphia’s main street for well over a century has been 52nd Street.  For much of its history, the Nixon Theatre lit up its night.  Originally a vaudeville theater operating under a tent, the grand Nixon was built in 1910 near the head of the vibrant commercial strip.   The 1,870 seat theater was designed by architect John D. Allen, who had recently designed the much more elaborate Orpheum Theatre on West Chelten Ave.  Converted to film presentation in 1929, the Nixon operated until 1984.[ii] The brick and stone classical façade featured a two-story arched entrance, topped with a gentle bow window, and a prominent baroque split pediment.[iii] The site is now occupied by a nondescript building housing Payless ShoeSource and Rainbow Kids.


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Eureka Theatre, 3941 Market Street, seen here in 1915.

Another eye-catching classically designed theatre in West Philadelphia was the Eureka Theatre.  While the building had a much smaller capacity of 450 seats, the large terra cotta façade was designed to be seen from a fast moving train on the elevated Market Street line just feet away.  Designed by Stearns and Castor, now best known for their Colonial Revival homes, the Eureka opened in 1913 and operated through the 1950s when it was converted into a furniture store.[iv] It was demolished in the 1970s to make way for the high-rise which is now the University Square retirement home.


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Commodore Theatre, SE corner of 43rd and Walnut, seen here
in 1952.

Many of the neighborhood theater buildings have survived but today serve other purposes.  The 1,105 seat Commodore Theatre in Walnut Hill opened in 1928.[v] Designed by the Ballinger Co., the Moorish styled building was converted in to the Masjid Al-Jamia mosque in 1973.  While the interior’s Moorish ornamentation was thematically appropriate for a mosque, much of it seems to have been removed.[vi] The theater was designed for film, but transitioned to legitimate theatre (with a thrust stage) in the 1960s for a few years before becoming the Miracle Revival Tabernacle church, prior to its use as a mosque.  The large rooftop sign structure, now empty, was installed in the 1930s.

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA

Neighborhood theaters provided an air-conditioned respite from the grind of modern life.  This is perhaps best represented by the fictional 1930s South Philadelphia Paloma Theater in the 1995 film, Two Bits.  Twelve-year-old Gennaro spends the nearly whole film searching for two bits (a quarter) to see a film in his Mifflin Square neighborhood’s brand-new theatre.


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Stratford Theatre, South 7th Street and Dickinson, seen here
in 1956.

Prior to the Paloma, Gennaro might have walked fifteen minutes north to Dickinson Street to see a film at the 600 seat Stratford Theatre.  Opened as Herman’s in 1913, the theater became the Stratford in 1920 and showed movies into the 1960s when the building was acquired by the City and demolished for the parking lot that now occupies the site.[vii]


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Broadway Theatre, South Broad and Snyder, seen here in 1931.

One of South Philadelphia’s largest and most popular theatres was the 2,183 seat Broadway Theatre.  The building was built in 1913 as a vaudeville theatre to the designs of Albert Westover, a theatre architect whose office was in Keith’s Theatre Building at 11th and Chestnut.  The theater was renovated in 1918 by Hoffman-Henon, the architects of the Boyd Theatre.  The refined white brick and terra cotta Broadway was demolished in the 1970s for a drive-through restaurant.  The site is now a parking lot for a Walgreen’s. [viii]

NORTH PHILADELPHIA


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Great Northern Theatre, North Broad, Erie, and Germantown
Ave, seen here in 1925.

The 1,058 seat Great Northern Theatre was built on a triangular lot where Germantown Avenue crosses North Broad Street.  This large theater had entrances on both streets with a lobby at the point facing northwest.  A nickelodeon had been located here which was expanded in 1912.  This photograph, looking northeast to the Broad Street elevation, shows the pronounced advertising of the silent film, the Sea Hawk.  The theatre survived into the 1950s and was converted into a drug store in 1953. [ix] While the lobby portion was long ago demolished, the auditorium section of the building seems to have survived.


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Jumbo Theatre, Front and Girard, seen here in 1916.

Also surviving as a shadow of its former self is the Jumbo Theatre.  This 1,300 seat theatre was constructed in 1909 to the designs of Carl Berger and renovated in 1912 by Hoffman-Henon Co. [x] Seen here in 1916, the theater is covered with signs about its “5 cent reels.” Said to be one of the largest theaters in the city when it opened, it showed films into the 1960s. As evidenced by the huge elephant sign suspended over the front doors, the theater was named after the famous elephant that P.T. Barnum bought from the London Zoo in 1882. The elephant was given the name Jumbo by the zookeepers and through Barnum’s publicity machine, Jumbo became synonymous with “huge.” [xi] (Remember that the next time you order a jumbo popcorn at the movies!) Recently operated as “Global Thrift,” the façade had been insensitively covered.  The building is currently being converted into a dollar store and the paneling has been removed, exposing the original ornamental brickwork.  The proscenium arch inside had survived until this spring.


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Ogontz Theatre, 6033 Ogontz Avenue, seen here in 1985.

The Ogontz Theatre was one of Philadelphia’s most beautiful neighborhood theatres.  Located in the West Oak Lane neighborhood, the Ogontz was designed in the Spanish renaissance style by Magaziner, Eberhard, & Harris.  This 1,777 seat theater opened in 1927, closed in the 1950s and was subjected to decades of neglect and vandalism prior to its 1988 demolition.[xii]


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The Uptown Theatre, 2240 North Broad, Seen here in the 1970s.

The 2,146 seat Uptown was also designed by Magaziner, Eberhard, and Harris, and is considered one of their finest buildings.  As described in the 1929 opening day program, the building is “an Exquisite expression of 20th Century art. Grace of line, delicacy of coloring, beauty of craftsmanship, and mystery of scintillating and reflecting surfaces.”  Like many theatres of this period (the Boyd included) it was laid out for film more than vaudeville, and featured a narrow stage.  Despite this, the theatre became a major center of Philadelphia’s African-American culture in the 1950s.  It closed in 1978, briefly reopened in 1982, and is now the focus of an ambitious preservation effort by the Uptown Entertainment Development Corporation.[xiii]


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Midway Theatre, Kensington & Allegheny, seen here in 1932.

The Midway Theatre opened in 1932 in the Kensington neighborhood.[xiv] It  “was the last truly grand building of the motion-picture palace era in Philadelphia.”[xv] An art-deco show-stopper, the building could be seen down the avenue for blocks. The 2,727 seat theater was one of the largest theatres outside of Center City – and operated as a second-run theatre showing films that had already opened downtown.  It survived into the 1970s and was demolished in 1979, following neighborhood opposition to plans to convert the building into a rock and roll venue.

Of the 468 movie theatres built in Philadelphia since the 1890s, 396 were located outside of Center City in the neighborhoods.  As with the downtown theatres, the vast majority (more than 90%) of these buildings have been demolished, but they remain as vivid memories for many.  These amazing photographs of both lost places serve as inspiration to those working to save theatres like the Boyd and the Uptown.


[i] As with the earlier blog post on movie theatres, most of the factual information in this piece has been culled from the work of Irvin Glazer (1922-1996) who documented the history of Philadelphia theaters in two books:  Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History (Dover Publications, 1994) and Philadelphia Theatres, A-Z: A Comprehensive, Descriptive, Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724 (Greenwood Press, 1986).  His collection of photographs, clippings, and research files is housed at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.  Most of the photographs have been scanned and are available online in a format that permits zooming.  http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/co_display.cfm/483480?CFID=60415619&CFTOKEN=31750787

[ii] NIXON: Glazer 1986, p.176; Glazer 1994, p.11; and http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10327.

[iii] Images of the façade can be found here:  http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/image_gallery.cfm/7240.

[iv] EUREKA: Glazer 1986, p.108; Glazer 1994, p.22; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/33645; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5588.

[v] COMMODORE: Glazer 1986, p.90; Glazer 1994, p.55; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/25802 ; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5729.

[vi] As seen in the photographs in this Daily Pennsylvanian article: http://www.dailypennsylvanian.com/node/52658

[vii] STRATFORD: Glazer 1986, p.220-221; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/10667; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5340.

[viii] BROADWAY: Glazer 1986, p.74; Glazer 1994, p.16-17; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4912; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5826.

[ix] GREAT NORTHERN: Glazer 1986, p.132; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/7293.

[x] JUMBO: Glazer 1987, p.141; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/15280; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/6884

[xi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumbo

[xii] OGONTZ: Glazer 1986, p.178; Glazer 1994, p.48; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/9070; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/16638.

[xiii] UPTOWN: Glazer 1986, pp.230-231; Glazer 1994, pp.60-65; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1807; http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/21193; and http://www.philadelphiauptowntheatre.org/.

[xiv] MIDWAY: Glazer 1986, p.170; Glazer 1994, pp.79-80; http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/9172; and http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/21351.

[xv] Glazer, 1994, p.79.

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Kill the Rats!

When we hear “bubonic plague” most people tend to think of the “Black Death” that swept across 14th century Europe. Transmitted to humans by bites from infected rat-fleas, the pandemic infamously killed up to a third of the entire population of Europe. What is mostly unknown is that bubonic plague also had deleterious effects on the populations of Asia, South America and North America. Cases of bubonic plague have been reported in nearly every country in the world. And while we also tend to think of bubonic plague as relegated to the history books, stunningly, cases are still being reported into the 21st century.

The United States remained plague-free until 1900 when an outbreak occurred in San Francisco. Though this outbreak was nowhere near the proportions that had affected Europe and Asia (“only” 121 people died), it was enough to thoroughly scare some other states into ending all trade with the entire state of California, fearing that the plague would literally be imported into their populations as well. Since rat infestations were mostly a problem of urban centers, many American cities began to put in place practices to stave off an outbreak of plague.

Philadelphia was no exception. Philadelphians were urged to “rat-proof” their homes and businesses and to turn over any trapped rats to the city for disposal. On September 4, 1914, the Philadelphia Bureau of Health erected a rat receiving station at the Race Street Pier and offered a bounty: two cents for each dead rat and five cents for live ones. By January 1, 1915, the Bureau reported that 5,238 rats had been turned in to the station. The Bureau of Health was also greatly expanded during this time including the hiring of a team of special agents, the “rat patrol”, who inspected all incoming ships and set and monitored traps all along the waterfront.

The measures apparently worked as Philadelphia did not experience a plague outbreak. Fears of bubonic plague would be overshadowed in a few years as Philadelphians, and indeed all Americans, would have to contend with a far more deadly epidemic – the Great Influenza.

http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/Detail.aspx?AssetId=7769

Source:

Zueblin, Charles. American Municipal Progress. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1916, p. 129.

“Kill the Rats!” is the first article in “Snapshots of History,” a new series of blog entries that will provide background info on select images from the PhillyHistory.org database.

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A Special Relationship: Philadelphia and Great Britain

With the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton dominating the news, we here at PhillyHistory.org have been reflecting on the historical ties between Philadelphia and Great Britain, many of which are captured in our photo collections. As a former colony of Great Britain, the United States has always maintained a special relationship with its mother country and, in many ways, Philadelphia and Great Britain have their own special relationship as well. A brief survey of writings on Philadelphia and Great Britain shows that historians have explored topics as diverse as trade relationships, the Quaker influence on British abolitionism, architecture, industrialization, and theater and popular culture, just to name a few. Moreover, the historical ties between Philadelphia and Great Britain do not end with the colonial era but rather extend over centuries and have had an enduring impact on the city that Philadelphia was and the city it has become.

From its inception, the connections between Philadelphia and Great Britain were literally laid into the foundations of the city by virtue of the grid system that William Penn and his surveyor Thomas Holme designed. In hopes of staving off the overcrowding, fire, and disease that plagued European cities, Penn envisioned Philadelphia as a city modeled after an English country village, with ample space separating homes and businesses and an abundance of gardens and orchards. Published in 1683, Holme’s A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania, 1683 brought Penn’s vision to life, laying out the city on a grid system of wide streets intersecting at right angles between the Schuylkill River to the west and the Delaware River to the east. Also visible on the 1683 map is perhaps the best known feature of Penn and Holme’s design, the four squares of dedicated parkland that Holme envisioned as “for the like Uses, as the More-fields in London.” Further proof of the English influence on Philadelphia’s topography, Moorefields was a public garden that notably evoked the “well-ordered spaces” of public recreation that, according to William Penn, would bring a sense of moral discipline and healthful living to the city. Along with Centre Square (later the site of City Hall), the four original squares of dedicated parkland were Northeast Square (now Franklin Square), Northwest Square (now Logan Square/Logan Circle), Southwest Square (now Rittenhouse Square), and Southeast Square (now Washington Square). Notably, while Philadelphia’s five squares have largely endured in one form or another, Penn and Holme’s careful, English-style planning did not; as early settlers began to populate Philadelphia, they largely ignored the grid design and crowded by the Delaware River, which remained the city’s de facto economic and social hub for more than a century.

Even as Philadelphia did not develop according to William Penn’s original vision, the city did emerge as a principal colonial trading port and, as the social and geographic center of the original thirteen colonies, was once the second-largest city in the British Empire. Of course, Philadelphia was also a key site of political and military activity during the American Revolution, including the British occupation of Philadelphia, then the national capital, during the winter of 1777-78. While many historians have highlighted the Philadelphia campaign as a turning point that eventually led to the defeat of the undermanned British forces at Saratoga and France’s entry into the war, the British occupation of Philadelphia also has a more subtle cultural legacy. As it had done in New York City the winter before, the British army staged theatre productions during its occupation of Philadelphia both for general amusement and to benefit the widows and orphans of British army and naval officers. Performed at the Southwark Theatre at Fourth and South Street, productions ran throughout the winter and into the spring and included several Shakespearean dramas, as well as such lesser known works as Duke and No Duke and The Wonder: a Woman Keeps a Secret. Interestingly, the spectacle of British theatre performed in Philadelphia continued even after the Revolution, as the scarcity of American texts in the new nation caused British dramas to dominate Philadelphia theatre productions in the early nineteenth century.



As America established itself as an independent nation, larger cities like New York and Boston increasingly overshadowed Philadelphia, which nonetheless became a popular destination for British tourists. Recounting travelers’ impressions of the United States between 1840 and 1940, historian Richard L. Rapson observes that of the cities along the Eastern seaboard British tourists found Boston more English than other cities, but Philadelphia was often complimented for being pleasant and “clean.” And, with its wealth of historic sites and attractions, Philadelphia has remained a prime destination for tourists and dignitaries alike – from King Hussein of Jordan and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands to Queen Elizabeth II of England.

In 1976, Philadelphia memorably played host as the first stop on a six-day state visit by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Phillip in celebration of America’s Bicentennial. On July 6th, an estimated 5,000 Philadelphians greeted the British royals at Penn’s Landing, where they arrived aboard the 412-foot royal yacht Britannia. Wearing a dress with white and navy blue stripes, a matching coat, and white straw hat, the Queen was greeted by Mayor Rizzo who then received the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at City Hall. The royal couple also took in a panoramic view of the city from the Penn Mutual Building and hosted a luncheon party aboard the Britannia where 54 V.I.P. guests dined on lobster and eggs, lamb cutlets, and apple caramel.


Following the luncheon, the Queen and her husband toured Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell pavilion, but the centerpiece of the Queen’s visit to Philadelphia was the official presentation of the Bicentennial Bell. Cast in London’s Whitechapel Foundry where the original Liberty Bell was cast in 1752, the six-and-one-half ton Bicentennial Bell was a gift from the British people in commemoration of the 200-year anniversary of American independence and bore the inscription “For the people of the United States from the people of Britain 4 July 1976. Let Freedom Ring.” Delivered to Philadelphia in June 1976, the Bicentennial Bell was installed in the bell tower of the Independence National Park Visitor Center where it still resides today. At the ceremony, the Queen signaled for the bell to be rung for the first time and spoke about Independence Day as a day of mutual celebration for America and Great Britain, two nations bonded by the common cause of freedom. An estimated crowd of 75,000 witnessed the afternoon’s festivities, and the royal visit to Philadelphia concluded that evening with a dinner and reception at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

From street design and theatre performances to visits by British tourists and even the royal family, Great Britain has left its mark on Philadelphia and vice versa. The historic ties between our mother country and the City of Brotherly Love add yet another dimension to Philadelphia’s reputation as a city rich with history and tradition, a legacy so vividly captured here in PhillyHistory.org’s photograph collections.

References

“Queen Calls 1776 a Lesson that Aided Britain.”  The New York Times, July 7, 1976.

Charlton, Linda.  “Queen Gets Rousing Welcome as Visit Begins in Philadelphia.”  The New York Times, July 7, 1976.

Greater Philadelphia Geohistory Network.  “A portraiture of the city of Philadelphia in the province of Pennsylvania in America, 1683.”  Accessed April 27, 2011,  http://www.philageohistory.org/rdic-images/view-image.cfm/HOL1683.Phila.001.Map.

Milroy, Elizabeth.  “‘For the Like Uses, as the Moore-fields:’ The Politics of Penn’s Squares.”  Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 130:3 (July 2006): 257-282.

Pattee, Fred Lewis.  “The British Theater in Philadelphia in 1778.”  American Literature 6:4 (January 1934): 381-9.

Rapson, Richard L.  “British Tourists in the United States, 1840-1940.”  History Today 16:8 (August 1966): 519-527.

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The Girard Piers

Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront has played a significant role in the city’s development ever since William Penn himself stepped foot on the area we now call, rather appropriately, Penn’s Landing. Penn’s oft-mentioned plan for Philadelphia as a “greene country towne” included a tree-line waterfront that would serve as a serene promenade for Philadelphians to come and relax. However, the waterfront quickly become the economic and commercial heart of the young city, with the Delaware River serving as a major highway for the importing and exporting of goods from the European continent. Penn’s idea of serenity quickly gave way to the hustle and bustle of a rapidly expanding city. As the city grew, shops, warehouses, and factories continued to cluster along the waterfront, and with the advent of the railroad in the mid-19th century, the area become further congested with tracks leading from the docks, piers, and warehouses into the interior of the country.

For the first centuries of the nation’s life, Philadelphia was considered by many to be its most major port. However, by the early-20th century, Philadelphia’s port infrastructure was showing its age, and Philadelphia had clearly been surpassed in importance by ports in cities like New York City, Boston, and Baltimore. In 1907, the City of Philadelphia created the Department of Wharves, Docks, and Ferries and tasked it with rejuvenating the waterfront area and making it once again a competitive port for international trade and commerce. This long-term plan included the dredging of the Delaware River channel from the sea to Allegheny Avenue to a depth of 35 feet to handle larger ships, the construction of the Delaware River Bridge (now called the Benjamin Franklin Bridge), and the construction of several new, municipally-owned piers to be leased out to private companies. The entire project took two decades to be fully realized and cost an extraordinary (for the time) $27,000,000.

One of the last components of the project was the construction of Piers 3 and 5 North in 1922-23. These two new piers were constructed on the site of several aging wooden wharves built in the 19th century with money that had been left to the city by Stephen Girard. Therefore, the piers were officially called the “New Girard Group”, though they came to unofficially be known as just the “Girard Group” or the “Girard Piers.” These double deck piers were designed with all the latest technological advances of the time in order to increase efficiency and handle the maximum amount of cargo in one day. They extended 550 feet into the river, the maximum amount allowed by the federal government to maintain safe navigation of ships through the channel, and could therefore service more than one ship at a time. “Turn over” doors that folded upward and inward ran along the entire length of each side of the piers and allowed for the loading or unloading of cargo from a ship’s deck from any point along the pier. Each pier had about 100,000 square feet of storage space and also contained office space on both the upper and lower decks for the companies who would lease the piers. Finally, each pier had an automatic sprinkler system installed that was connected to the city’s water system.


While the steel-framed sides of the piers were certainly utilitarian in their appearance, the inshore and outshore steel frames were encased in brick and limestone and were designed with utmost care by John Penn Brock Sinkler, City Architect from 1920-1924. The embellished facades belied the piers’ strictly industrial use, and at the time they stood in stark contrast to the plainness of normal pier design. The Girard Group’s blend of state-of-the art functionality with architectural expression was said to have ushered in a “new interpretation of industrial architecture.”

Despite all of their technological advancements, the Girard Group piers were rendered obsolete after World War II with the construction of newer port facilities in South Philadelphia and changes in methods of cargo handling, particularly the rise of containerization. The Delaware waterfront industry in general began to suffer in the 1950s and 1960s as companies moved to markets with cheaper labor. Demolition of many waterfront factories and warehouses in order to construct Interstate-95 in the late 1960s delivered a final crushing blow. The Girard Group, once a source of great pride for the city, sat derelict and decrepit.

As Philadelphia began to plan for the country’s bicentennial, city planners sought to finally realize William Penn’s vision of a tree-lined promenade along the waterfront. Called Penn’s Landing, the Girard Group were marked for demolition to make way for this park. However, like other large-scale city projects, only half of Penn’s Landing was finished in time for the bicentennial, thereby sparing the Girard Group. In 1983 the Girard Group were added to the National Register of Historic Places and were renovated as luxury condominiums. Renamed “The Piers at Penn’s Landing,” the luxury condo conversion struggled at first, but by the 1990s they were successfully established luxury condominiums. The turn-over doors once used for loading and unloading cargo became large picture windows, the railroad entry and loading depot on the ground floor became a parking garage, the roofs of both piers were removed creating a sun-drenched atrium for residents in the center of each pier, and a marina full of recreational boats rather than cargo ships now surrounds the piers.

This blending of the past with the present, with taking something old and repurposing it into something new, is something that seems to occur often in Philadelphia. The Girard Group/The Piers at Penn’s Landing stand as testaments to how adaptive reuse, plus a little patience, can further add to the rich historical story for which Philadelphia is known.

Resources:

Kyriakodis, Harry. “The History of Pier 3.”  http://www.pier3.net/history_of_pier_3.

“Piers 3 and 5 North (The Girard Group), 1923.” http://www.workshopoftheworld.com/center_city/pier_3.html.

“Penn’s Landing – William Penn’s “Greene Country Towne” has Finally Become a Reality Here.” http://www.ushistory.org/tour/penns-landing.htm.

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Selecting Images for Augmented Reality

Work continues on the PhillyHistory.org augmented reality project, and we’re having fun testing and tweaking the project to make it as useful and enjoyable as possible. While the software developers write code and discuss spatial issues (including geometry and the calculation of angles at one point), we’re busy with our own projects over at the City Archives.

As Hillary mentioned in her last blog post, the augmented reality application will provide access to almost every image in PhillyHistory.org that is connected to a location – a total of nearly 90,000 images. From those 90,000 images, we’ve selected 500 photos to receive a bit of special attention. Each image has been “pinned” in 3D space so that it’s easier to see how the angle and view shown in the photo match the current landscape. The result will be a group of images that are oriented properly, meaning that the building in the photo lines up with the same building seen through your smartphone. Hopefully, this should prevent you from having to dramatically maneuver the phone to align the images. Selecting the photos was both overwhelming and gratifying as we got to spend some time exploring the huge collection of images. For more information on the image selection process, read “Something New in Your Neighborhood: Augmented Reality.”

Choosing 500 photos wasn’t the last curatorial decision we had to make though. We also needed to select twenty images for which we would provide historical information about the places and activities shown in the photos as well as links to additional resources. To select those images, we teamed up with Dr. Charlene Mires and Dr. Howard Gillette, two of the editors of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, and Dr. Amy Hillier, the project director for Mapping the DuBois Philadelphia Negro. Together with researcher and writer, Doreen Skala, and the rest of the PhillyHistory.org team, this advisory group selected images that touched on a few of the memorable historic locations, people, and events in Philadelphia history. The selected photos cover a variety of topics and locations. An image of the Italian Market in 1954 and another of Gimbels Department Store in 1966 connect to upcoming Encyclopedia essays on the history of the Italian Market or Center City department stores. A photo of Engine House #11 relates to events in African-American history, and an image of high school students visiting a pretzel vendor gives insight into the history of formal schooling in Philadelphia.

While these twenty selected images certainly do not cover the entirety of Philadelphia’s rich history, we hope they will provide more details about a few events and locations. Due to the small screen size available on a mobile phone, we had to limit the text to only a short paragraph. With each image, however, we also included a list of sources and links to possible sites for more information. We hope you enjoy the chance to learn more about these amazing photographs!

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Something New in Your Neighborhood: Augmented Reality

One of the coolest features of PhillyHistory.org is the ability to browse historical photographs alongside the contemporary Google street view, enabling users to meld past and present at the click of a mouse.   But what would that feature look like in real time – not through a computer screen but rather on a smart phone via an application that overlays a historic image on the modern landscape? Through a combination of the GPS and camera technologies available on today’s smart phones, a prototype augmented reality application for PhillyHistory.org will provide users with the opportunity to experience the site’s archival collections in this truly unique way. Currently, we plan on making nearly every image in the PhillyHistory database that is associated with a location available on the augmented reality prototype. Out of the whole collection, however, we’ve also selected 500 images that can be viewed separately. These 500 images have been “pinned” in 3-D space, meaning that we’ve tried to line up points in the photo with points that still exist in the current landscape such as a roof line or street corner. The result, we’re hoping, is that the photos will appear on your phone in the correct orientation. If you’re slightly to the left of the location where the photo was taken, the photo will be angled slightly to the left. If you’re facing the location, the photo will be visible head-on. This should enable users to more easily see how the historic image compares to the current landscape.  While this technology underlying augmented reality is exciting, a lot of other behind-the-scenes work in the City Archives is also helping to bring the project to fruition.

Everyone has a favorite photograph or area of the city to explore on PhillyHistory.org but to select approximately 500 photographs out of the site’s roughly 93,000 images was a daunting challenge.  From the outset, we aimed to provide broad geographical coverage of the city in our selections, as well as represent the variety of collections available on PhillyHistory.org. In addition to the Department of Records, the database also includes images from the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Office of the City Representative, and the Philadelphia Water Department.  Primary considerations for selection included the date of the photograph, historical and aesthetic interest, and educational value, as well as how accurately a photograph matched up with the available Google Street View (current street level photos of Philadelphia), which we used to pin the photos as described above.  In addition, we were interested not only in photographs of locations that had changed dramatically but also photographs where some elements of the historic image and current street view were the same. We also had to avoid aerial photos since users would never be able to physically reach the point where the photo was taken. Ultimately, even with all these parameters in mind, our search of PhillyHistory’s collections yielded a fascinating wealth of photographs that offer compelling snapshots of the ties between Philadelphia’s past and present.

Some of the most interesting areas of the city to explore through augmented reality are college and university campuses, which have often changed dramatically over time.  Several of the photographs selected from the University of Pennsylvania area notably highlight the development of Woodland Walk, the central artery through campus that, in 1936, was a far cry from the manicured walkway that it is today. Similarly, images of St. Joseph’s University around 54th Street and City Avenue chronicle City Avenue’s transition from a largely undeveloped road to a bustling commercial hub over a scant twenty years time.  In North Philadelphia, Temple University’s expansion down North Broad Street is evidenced in various photographs of the Chinese restaurants, Victrola stores, and automobile license centers that have been replaced by campus buildings.

Another aspect of PhillyHistory’s collections that we chose to highlight in the augmented reality project is best described as “new looks at old places,” meaning photographs that show popular Philadelphia destinations and attractions in new or unexpected ways.  Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is Independence Hall and the surrounding area between Chestnut and Market Streets before many of the older buildings were cleared away for the construction of Independence Mall.  Photographs of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and prominent institutions like the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art also offer a new look at a familiar landscape, one that historically featured more open space than busy highway.  Other notable landmarks that augmented reality enables us to see in a different light include the Betsy Ross House, Market East Station, Reading Terminal Market, and City Hall, particularly before Broad Street Station was demolished in the 1950s to make way for Penn Plaza.

In the course of our selection process, the developers at Azavea, the software company assisting with the augmented reality application, created a map showing the geographic distribution of our selections to help ensure that nearly all of Philadelphia was adequately represented in the augmented reality prototype.  Many of the images were taken in Center City since PhillyHistory.org is especially rich in images of that area. While we strove to include a mix of neighborhoods beyond Center City, some areas were especially challenging in terms of selection.  Fairmount Park yielded few photographs where the location or Google Street View was precise enough for augmented reality.  In addition, Strawberry Mansion and the far Northeast proved challenging in terms of the subject of the photographs, many of which depict the minutia of street and bridge construction.  While these photos capture the development of the urban landscape, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact location of each section of road.  On the other end of the spectrum, neighborhoods such as Chestnut Hill, Overbrook, and South Philadelphia offered a plethora of historic images that captivated us and often uncannily echoed the contemporary Google Street View.  From the street signs of the Italian Market to train and trolley stops, many photographs from these neighborhoods featured the true convergence of past and present that is at the heart of augmented reality.  As the project moves forward, we are so excited to share the prototype application with you in the coming months. Hopefully, you will find our photograph selections as interesting and intriguing as we do and maybe even find something new (or old) in YOUR neighborhood.

Augmented Reality by PhillyHistory.org is funded by a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this application do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Historic Movie Theaters of Center City

Shawn Evans, Atkin Olshin Schade Architects


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Boyd Theatre, 1934.

Few recent historic preservation struggles have captured the public’s attention in Philadelphia as dramatically as the Boyd Theatre.  Since 1928, this art-deco movie palace has graced the 1900 block of Chestnut Street and entertained millions of Philadelphians in its nearly 2,500 seats.

The theater closed in 2002 and remains vacant.  The Friends of the Boyd successfully fought off a demolition permit and continue to advocate for an authentic restoration and viable business approach that will return the theater as a vibrant entertainment venue.[i]  The Boyd stands as the last movie palace (a grand theater with more than 1,000 seats) and serves as a stunning reminder of a time when it became common to erect extraordinary architecture for the entertainment of the masses.[ii]   A stroll through the history of Philadelphia’s movie theaters demonstrates the importance of saving the Boyd.


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B.F. Keith’s Bijou Theatre, seen here as the renamed New Garden
Theatre in 1938.

The first public showing of a motion picture (perhaps the first in the world) occurred in Philadelphia at B.F. Keith’s Bijou Theatre at 209 North 8th Street in 1895.[iii]   These films were brief silent experiments of the moving image.  Within a year, this new form of entertainment was regularly shown at the Bijou.  The 1,200 seat theater was built as a variety theatre in 1889 to the designs of New York theater architect John Baily McElfatrick.[iv]   The Bijou was at the heart of a long-vanished theater district along 8th Street, now home to the Gallery Mall, Police Headquarters, and the former Metropolitan Hospital.


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Fairyland Theatre, 1319 Market, seen here in 1911.

Public demand for motion pictures increased quickly and Center City’s commercial streets were soon home to hundreds of store-front nickelodeons.  136 of these small theaters opened in Philadelphia between 1905 and 1917, most of which were only open a few years.  Seen here in a 1911 photo is the Fairyland, a nickelodeon that operated at 1319 Market Street from 1909 to 1913.  The sign above the elaborate entrance reads, “No pictures in the city compare with films shown at Fairyland – They are the newest, cleanest, and most interesting produced.  Admission 5¢.”[v]


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The Stanton, 1620 Market Street, seen here in 1935.

The advent of full-length feature films in the 1910s brought the downfall of nickelodeons, as bigger theaters were now needed that were capable of comfortably seating larger audiences for longer periods of time.  275 movie theaters were opened in Philadelphia through 1932.  The finest of the movie palaces were located in Center City, although many were built in the outlying neighborhoods.[vi]   One of the first palaces was The Stanton, erected in 1914 at 1620 Market Street to the designs of W.H. Hoffman.  Hoffman later partnered with Paul J. Henon Jr. in the Hoffman-Henon Co., one of America’s most prodigious theater designers.  They designed over 100 theaters, including the Boyd Theatre and 46 others in Philadelphia.  The 1,457 seat Stanton was originally named The Stanley, for Stanley Mastbaum of the Stanley Corporation, who by 1920 was the largest theater operator in the country.  During the era of silent pictures, the Stanton featured a full orchestra.  The theater was renamed The Milgram in 1968 and was demolished in 1980.[vii]


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The Stanley, 19th and Market, seen here in 1935.

The second theater named the Stanley opened at the southwest corner of 19th and Market in 1921.  The 2,916 seat movie palace was designed by the Hoffman-Henon Co.  The new Stanley was also host to musical offerings and had its own renowned orchestra.  While the building’s exterior and interior were designed in pure classical traditions, a tremendously exuberant illuminated sign covered much of the Market Street façade.[viii]  The most famous event at the Stanley had nothing to do with film –Al Capone was arrested here in 1929.  The Stanley was demolished in 1973 and the Philadelphia Stock Exchange opened on this site in 1982.


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The Aldine Theatre, seen here in 1928.

One of the few movie palaces that still embellishes Center City sidewalks is the Aldine Theatre, at the southeast corner of 19th and Chestnut, although it stopped operating in 1994 and is now a CVS.  Designed by William Steele & Sons, Architects, this 1,341 theatre later cycled through a series of names such as the Viking, Cinema 19, and finally Sam’s Place in 1980 when its ornate interior was divided into two separate theatres.[ix]  This theater is the subject of another PhillyHistory Blog entry, “See and Hear the World’s Greatest Entertainer,” which focuses on the nature of blackface seen so prominently on the theater’s exterior.[x]


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The Karlton Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, seen here in 1935.

The Karlton Theatre, 1412 Chestnut Street, was another Hoffman-Henon Co. theater that opened in 1921.  Constructed behind a c.1880 second-empire style façade, the elaborate interiors were decorated in the classical style and featured extensive use of marble, murals, tapestries, and gilding. Renamed the Midtown Theatre in 1950, the historic façade was concealed behind plastic siding and its interiors stripped.  The 1,066 seat theater was eventually twinned and in 1999 was renovated as the Prince Music Theatre.[xi]


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The Fox Theatre, 16th and Market, seen here in 1959.

Several of Philadelphia’s finest movie theaters were built within larger commercial structures.  The Fox Theatre opened in 1923 next door to the Stanton at the southwest corner of 16th and Market.   Designed by the noted New York theater architect, Thomas W. Lamb, the 2,423 seat Fox was home to both film and elaborate stage shows, featuring an in-house orchestra.[xii]   Demolished in 1980, the Fox inspired an ultimately unsuccessful preservation fight as it was recognized that the Fox was the last of the grand neoclassical movie palaces.


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The Erlanger Theatre, 21st and Market, seen here in 1938.

The Erlanger Theatre occupied the northwest corner of 21st and Market Streets from 1927 to 1978.  Built primarily for legitimate theatre, it also showed film.  The 1,890 seat Erlanger was another Hoffman-Henon theater, and featured eclectic interiors in Spanish, French, and English styles.[xiii]   The photograph below documents illegal signage.  During the 1930s, the Philadelphia Art Jury, the predecessor to the Art Commission, enforced strict standards on commercial signage which resulted in the loss of many extraordinary marquees and signs, including the 30’ tall vertical blade sign on the Boyd Theatre, which was removed around 1935.


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The Boyd Theatre, 1908 Chestnut, seen here in 1934.

The Boyd Theatre was the next major movie palace to open in Center City in 1928 and the only downtown movie palace designed in the Art-Deco style.  While eclectic styles such as Spanish and North African had been used for theaters in outer neighborhoods, the previous downtown theatres had all been built in more rigid classical styles.  The Boyd represents the acceptance of more “modern” styles.   This 1934 image captures a happenstance that reinforces the modernity of the Boyd – a horse-drawn wagon selling milk and ice cream passes by the marquee advertising that the theatre is closed for the summer for the introduction of air-conditioning.  The letters B-O-Y-D have been replaced with C-O-O-L on the corners of the marquee.  While the Boyd was designed to accommodate “talkies,” it was still equipped with a small stage and orchestra pit, needed for the presentation of silent films.


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The Mastbaum Memorial Theatre, 20th and Market, seen here
in 1929.

The last and largest of Philadelphia’s downtown movie palaces was the Mastbaum Memorial Theatre, built at 20th and Market in 1929.  This 4,700+ seat (!) theater was another Hoffman-Henon design.[xiv]    It was an outrageously expensive anachronism from the moment it opened.  The end of silent films made presenting films much simpler and the audience could more easily be transported to another place or time without need for such elaborate architecture.  After only 29 years of entertainment, this palace met the wrecking ball – one of the first of these grand theaters to go.


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The Trans-Lux Theatre, 1519 Chestnut Street, seen here in 1935.

For the most part, the era of these elaborate buildings was over even before the Great Depression began.  The economy would dry up both financing for construction and the growth of expensive forms of popular entertainment like legitimate theater, but film remained a good business as ticket prices were so low.  Smaller theaters continued to be built.  Perhaps the last dramatic theater building in Center City was the Trans-Lux Theatre, erected in 1935 at 1519 Chestnut Street. [xv]  Designed by Thomas Lamb (architect of the Fox as well), this 493 seat theater was a vibrant expression of the new through its Art-Moderne style.  The Trans-Lux survived as a theatre until 1993, then operating as Eric’s Place.  Perhaps this remarkable façade lies underneath the 1970 white and black siding of the building, now occupied by the Finish Line sporting goods store.

The economics of the motion-picture business today make it unlikely that the few surviving structures will be restored solely for film, yet these buildings retain a powerful hold on the collective imagination.  We are unwilling to let them go.  Like the damsels in distress tied to the railroad tracks in so many of the movies that played inside, their future is momentarily uncertain.  We await creative rescue plans that can return these buildings to the public.

Thanks to Howard B. Haas for reviewing this and making helpful comments.

References

[i] BOYD: See the Friends of the Boyd website for more information, history, and photos: http://www.friendsoftheboyd.org/index.html Additional information on the building can be found here: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/12550 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1209/

[ii] Irvin Glazer (1922-1996) documented the history of Philadelphia theaters in two books:  Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History (Dover Publications, 1994) and Philadelphia Theatres, A-Z: A Comprehensive, Descriptive, Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724 (Greenwood Press, 1986).  His collection of photographs, clippings, and research files is housed at The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.  Most of the photographs have been scanned and are available online in a format that permits zooming.  http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/co_display.cfm/483480?CFID=60415619&CFTOKEN=31750787

[iii] Glazer, Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial History, p.xxii.

[iv] BIJOU: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/8126

[v] FANTASYLAND: A similar zoom-able image can also be found at http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm?RecordId=AFA0B8B0-5A85-4AE6-8880AC8D08FDE994

[vi] The neighborhood theatres are different in character and just as interesting, but this blog entry focuses on the theaters in Center City.

[vii] STANTON: Glazer, p.17. See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5907 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/3393/

[viii] STANLEY: Glazer, pp.26-27.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/19220 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/4526/

[ix] ALDINE: Glazer, p.27.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/8622 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/3358/

[x] http://phillyhistory.org/blog/index.php/2006/06/see-and-hear-the-worlds-greatest-entertainer/

[xi] KARLTON: Glazer, pp.28-29.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/6878 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1803/

[xii] FOX: Glazer, pp.31-33.  See also:  http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/5520 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1177

[xiii] ERLANGER: Glazer, pp.42-45.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/12547 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/22732/

[xiv] MASTBAUM: Glazer, pp.70-78.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/6244 and http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1207/

[xv] TRANS-LUX: This photo shows the site just three months earlier: http://www.phillyhistory.org/PhotoArchive/Detail.aspx?assetId=14907.  See also: http://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/pj_display.cfm/7212

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Public Education in Philadelphia: Philadelphia High School for Girls

The history of the Philadelphia High School for Girls, known by most Philadelphians as simply Girls’ High, can be traced back to 1848 when the city built what was called the Girls’ Normal School at the intersection of Chester Street and Maple Street, an intersection long since paved over and now covered by a parking lot at 8th and Arch Streets. It was a strange name for a school indeed and may cause one to wonder if there was also a Girls Abnormal School, but the name was somewhat misleading. “Normal” schools were schools that educated future teachers to work in primary and secondary education. When the Girls’ Normal School was established, it was not only the first secondary public school for women in the state of Pennsylvania but also the first municipally supported teacher’s school in the United States. Opened in February 1848, there were 149 students enrolled by June, a rather large number of students for any one school to have at the time. The continuing enrollment over the next few years meant that by 1854 the Girls’ Normal School needed a bigger building. In 1854 a new building was erected on Sergeant Street, now called Spring Street, between Ninth and Tenth Streets.

In 1859, the name of the school was changed to the more familiar sounding Girls’ High School of Philadelphia. However, this name change did not last long as the name was changed again one year later to The Girls’ High and Normal School in order to better emphasize that the school trained teachers but also offered classes in purely academic subjects.

As one of the few public educational institutions for women, enrollment continued to grow until the school once again needed a bigger building. In 1876, a new building located at 17th and Spring Garden Streets was erected. This building was designed to be a showcase of all the major comforts and conveniences of the day. The new building had forty classrooms, terraced lecture halls, and an auditorium capable of seating 1200 people, almost double the school’s student body of 640 at the time. The new building was so large that when it was completed, only Girard College and the University of Pennsylvania surpassed it in terms of land area used in Philadelphia.

In 1893, the High School and Normal School were separated into two distinct institutions with the Normal School moving to a building at 13th and Spring Garden Streets. It was also at this time that the building at 17th and Spring Garden was officially renamed the Philadelphia High School for Girls. In addition to the standard 3-4 year curricula, Girls’ High also instituted a three year curriculum that focused on business classes. This was unusual for the time as “business” was still very much a male-dominated sphere. In 1898, the school made another unusual choice when it started offering courses in Latin and science which were designed to prepare its female graduates for college and university-level education.

By the 1930s, the school had once again outgrown its facilities and in 1933 work began on a new building at the same location at 17th and Spring Garden Streets. This building was even larger than the last, but it was only twenty-five years later that the school had once again outgrown its facilities. Girls’ High moved to its current location at Broad Street and Olney Avenue in 1958, with the old building on Spring Garden Street becoming the Julia R. Masterman School. The Spring Garden Street building was also added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Today, Girls’ High remains one of Philadelphia’s preeminent educational institutions. As one of the city’s magnet schools, the school attracts academically gifted young ladies from all over the city. The school’s competitive admissions process and rigorous academic curriculum are not only meant to prepare its students for further college education (98% of Girls’ High graduates go on to college or university) but also to “equip students with the academic, social, emotional, and cultural foundations for success in an ever changing society.” This is evidenced by both the Code of Honor and the school’s motto “Vincit qui se vincit” – He (or in this case, she) conquers who conquers himself. The code and the motto were both adopted by the school in the early 20th century and remain a large influence on the school’s philosophy to this day. It is without a doubt that the Philadelphia High School for Girls will continue to play a major role in public education in Philadelphia for many, many years to come.

Sources:

Alumni Association of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.  http://www.ghsalumnae.com/index.html. (11 January 2011).

Greater Philadelphia Geohistory Network (1858-1860 Philadelphia Atlas). http://www.philageohistory.org/geohistory/. (18 January 2011).

M’Elroy, A. Philadelphia Directory1839: Containing the Names of the Inhabitants, Their Occupations, Places of Business, and Dwelling Houses; also A List of Streets, Lanes, Alleys, etc.; and The City Officers, Institutions, and Banks, and Other Useful Information. Philadelphia: Isaac Ashmead & Co., 1839.

The Philadelphia School District – Philadelphia High School for Girls. http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/schools/g/girlshigh/about-us. (11 January 2011).

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Philadelphia at the Movies

As the film industry’s annual awards season gets underway, Philadelphia’s connections to Hollywood and the movies is a fascinating topic to explore through the various entertainment-related photographs available on PhillyHistory.org.

For Philadelphians and film buffs alike, Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film Rocky exemplifies the intersection of Hollywood storytelling and the spirit of the city more than any other.   The story of a small-time boxer from Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood who rises to fight for the world heavyweight championship, Rocky won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director and spawned five sequels over the next thirty years.  In that time, the film’s connection to Philadelphia became undeniable, epitomized by the famed scene in which Rocky triumphantly runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and looks out over the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Among the most enduring and referenced moments in entertainment, the scene has made the Art Museum a prime pop culture destination and inspired passionate debate about Rocky’s place in Philadelphia’s cultural heritage.  For the filming of Rocky III in 1982, Mr. Stallone commissioned a bronze, 8-foot statue of the character to sit atop the celebrated steps and, once filming was complete, left the statue as a gift to the city.  Viewed by the Philadelphia Art Commission as more of a movie prop than a piece of art, the statue was moved to the Spectrum at the South Philadelphia Sports Complex, leaving only a pair of footprints at the top of the stairs to mark the scene of Rocky’s illustrious climb.  Nonetheless, the association between Rocky and the Art Museum endured and, over the next twenty years, the statue was re-installed on the steps for the filming of Rocky V, Philadelphia, and other films before permanently returning to the Museum in 2006.  By a 6-2 margin, the Art Commission voted to install the statue on a granite pedestal just off Kelly Drive, about thirty yards north of the Museum steps.  A public dedication ceremony was held on September 8, 2006 and featured a screening of the first Rocky, a film and character that, as Mr. Stallone told the crowd of approximately 3,000 spectators, “could only come from the City of Brotherly Love.”

Beyond Rocky, countless movies have been filmed in Philadelphia, including The Sixth Sense, In Her Shoes, Invincible, The Lovely Bones, and Marley and Me. A Philadelphia-native and graduate of Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, legendary filmmaker Brian De Palma has filmed a number of movies in the city, including Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981).  While filming Dressed to Kill in 1979, Mr. De Palma and actress Angie Dickinson were honored at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which serves as the setting for a scene in which Ms. Dickinson’s character encounters a mysterious stranger at a museum.  Likewise, key scenes from Blow Out, which starred John Travolta and Nancy Allen, were filmed in and around such Philadelphia landmarks as Independence Mall, 30th Street Station, and City Hall.  Perhaps most notable is the climatic chase scene in which John Travolta’s character drives a Jeep through the City Hall courtyard before crashing into a display window at Wanamaker’s Department Store.  After filming was complete, Blow Out premiered at the Budco Regency Theater at 16th and Chestnut Streets on July 23, 1981.  Welcomed back to Philadelphia by a crowd of enthusiastic fans, Mr. Travolta received an Independence Hall replica from City Representative Richard A. Doran, while Ms. Allen received a replica of City Hall.

If Rocky is the quintessential Philadelphia film, Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, is perhaps the most illustrious native among the many actors and actresses who hail from the City of Brotherly Love.  The Kelly family resided in Philadelphia’s East Falls neighborhood and Grace’s father, John Brendan “Jack” Kelly, was a prominent Democrat who ran for Mayor in 1935 and later served on the Fairmount Park Commission. The future Princess Grace graduated from Stevens School in Germantown in 1947 and went on to become an Academy-Award winning actress best known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. She left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956 and visited Philadelphia several times in the years following her marriage.  In April 1963, the royal couple was on-hand to inaugurate the Monaco pavilion at a travel and vacation exposition in the city and was welcomed by both Mayor James H.J. Tate and Miss Philadelphia, as seen in the photographs from their visit.  During that same trip, Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were also the guests of honor at a ball at the Philadelphia Museum of Art sponsored by the Philadelphia Fashion Group, which honored the Princess for her “leadership in fashion.”

Incidentally, Princess Grace was not the only Kelly family member to become the stuff of Philadelphia legend; her brother, John B. Kelly, Jr., was an Olympic rower who won a bronze medal at the 1956 games and subsequently became the namesake of Kelly Drive.  This bit of trivia is just another instance of how entertainment and celebrity have been woven into the fabric of the city throughout its history and allowed Philadelphia to continually captivate audiences and filmmakers alike.

References

“IMDb: Most Popular Titles With Locations Matching ‘Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.’”  The Internet Movie Database. <http://www.imdb.com/search/title?endings=on&&locations=Philadelphia,%20Pennsylvania,%20USA> (Accessed 14 January 2011).

“Princess Grace is honored at Philadelphia Fashion Ball.”  The New York Times, April 23, 1963.

“Rainiers Coming to United States.”  The New York Times, February 27, 1963.

Ronberg, Gary.  “They Came, They Saw, and Travolta Conquered.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 24, 1981.

Vitez, Michael.  “‘Rocky and I thank you:’ Statue unveiled; Stallone unbridled.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 9, 2006.

Vitez, Michael.  “Rocky statue ready to hit the steps: With a win, the fictional pugilist is back at his old haunt- The Art Museum.”  The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 7, 2006.

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Augmented Reality Coming Soon to PhillyHistory.org

North Broad Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in 1916 and 2010.

Have you ever wanted to time travel? Discover what Philadelphia looked like in the past and compare it to the present landscape? At PhillyHistory.org, we’re working on a way to do just that. In 2010, the Department of Records received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities to investigate the possibility of developing a prototype augmented reality application for PhillyHistory.org. Augmented reality refers to the ability to view digital data on a view of the current world. Utilizing a combination of the GPS and camera technologies available on contemporary smart phones, this mobile phone application will enable users to view historic photographs from PhillyHistory.org as overlays on the current urban landscape.

The above photo is a mock-up of how those overlays might work. We’re still in the development stage so the final results may differ dramatically, but we wanted to give you a sneak peek of what’s in the works. For more information on the project, read our announcement at http://www.phila.gov/Records/Archives/pdfs/Grants_NEH_Augmented_Reality_April_2010.pdf.

You don’t need to wait months though for mobile access to PhillyHistory.org. The images are always available on your smartphone at http://phillyhistory.org/i/.

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