Continuing the Civil War at the Centennial Exhibition

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“The American Soldier” at the Centennial Exhibition, Centennial Photographic Company, 1876.

Our understanding of Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876 suffers from an ironic condition. The first American world’s fair was so thoroughly documented that the sheer amount of material keeps better understanding at bay. To come to terms with the significance of the event considered one of Philadelphia’s shining moments, researchers too often drown themselves in information. There’s just that much of it. Consider what’s online here at the Free Library of Philadelphia and here at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Offline, these and other institutions preserve even more. At the Historical Society of Pennsylvania there’s 30 vintage volumes and as many boxes listed in this 17-page finding aid (see the .pdf). Last year, added the Free Library’s collection of 1,600 images, mostly all by the Centennial Photographic Company. These document the Centennial’s hundreds of buildings and thousands of exhibits.

With such multitudes of stuff, forays into this rich corner of the past tend to leave us out of balance, thrilled by discovery but still wanting discourse. And who could blame us from enjoying the simple sledding through the archival avalanche?

But there’s more here than stuff. So how do we get at the deeper meaning? Let’s parse the narrative of 1876, looking at less to see more. After all, here’s a defining event in the life of the city and one that remade the idea of the nation after a devastating Civil War. Only a decade before, the nation and the American people were rent asunder; the war killed or wounded nearly one in thirty citizens. Since surrender at Appomattox, there hadn’t been an event of national healing. Philadelphia and the celebration of the nation’s birth in 1876 finally offered a chance. Here and now, 10 million visitors would gather to see the new, post-Civil War America.

So we have to ask: why was a colossal, granite figure of a Union soldier posted at the entrance of the Main Building? To the company that produced the monument (and others like it) this 21-foot tall, 30-ton statue titled “The American Soldier,” “The Volunteer Soldier” or sometimes “The Private Soldier Monument” was about patriotism, but it was more about business. James G. Baterson and his New England Granite Company were developing a lucrative niche in the Civil War monument market. Inside the Art Building, now known as Memorial Hall, Commissioners had forbidden references to the Civil War. In reality, that taboo had been violated several times in the American displays, especially with Peter F. Rothermel’s huge depiction of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg. But here, outdoors, stood a Union soldier for all to see. He stood at rest, but still he was armed.

After the Centennial, Baterson shipped the American Soldier Monument to Sharpsburg, Maryland, where it stands at the center of the Antietam National Cemetery. It marks the bloodiest single-day battle in American history: 4,000 dead and 19,000 wounded. Physician and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. visited Antietam in the raw days after the battle to search for his wounded son, who had left Harvard to fight. “The slain of high condition, ‘embalmed’ and iron cased, were sliding off the railways to their far homes,” wrote Holmes, “the dead of the rank and file were being gathered up and committed hastily to the earth.”

Holmes the younger, though shot through the neck, survived to return to Harvard and later served as a justice on the U. S. Supreme Court. But thousands of other families lost sons and couldn’t afford to either find or return their bodies. They had only one option: burial at Antietam. And there, on September 17, 1880–the 18th anniversary of the battle—families that could travel gathered to dedicate the “Private Soldier Monument.” But every last one of those families that showed up was from the North. Confederate causalities were banned from burial at Antietam National Cemetery.

In the sorrowful days and weeks after the battle, the Union first took care of its own, identifying and burying. Meanwhile, as Alexander Gardner’s photographs at the Library of Congress so graphically illustrate, the Sharpsburg landscape remained strewn with Confederate bodies. After quick and dirty burials where they fell, these bodies were later dug up and carted a dozen miles away to a Confederate cemetery in Hagerstown, where nearly every soldier was laid to rest without name or monument.

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Why Remember Edison High School?

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Edison High School, originally Northeast Manual Training School, October 16, 1912.

Nearly every high school in America sent graduates off to the place we nervously called “Saigon U.” In the late 1960s, we knew all too well that some would return in body bags. But no high school in America suffered as many casualties as Philadelphia’s Edison High. This school at 7th and Lehigh lost 54 young men in Vietnam.

Today, the Edison/Fareira High School occupies a much newer building at Front and Luzerne Streets. Sacrifices of the original are remembered there in a large, memorial plaque listing the names each one of the 54 casualties, Addison through Zerggen, cast in bronze above a large bas-relief of the school’s distinctive Lehigh Avenue façade.

The days for the building that was once home to Edison (and Northeast High School previous to 1957) are numbered. Last week, fire roared through its crenellated towers and we saw spectacular images, including this one of smoke seeping eerily through mortar joints. The fire on August 3rd, 2011 quickly grew to four alarms and makes for a dramatic final chapter in a century-long story. While the cause of the fire remains under investigation, there is much we know for certain about the place.

“Collegiate Gothic Revival,” best known from examples throughout the Ivy League, “reached its full flower in Philadelphia public schools in the Thomas A. Edison School (1903-1905),” according to its National Register nomination. (See a .pdf of the 57-page document here.) Outside, architect Lloyd Titus reached back in time with his use of gargoyles and towers; inside he designed for the present and projected the future. No earlier school extant in Philadelphia had an auditorium and Titus’s innovative plan mixed classrooms and shops that were designed for very specific purposes. The goal: a school aimed not only to educate but to train a large workforce. The building’s first iteration as the Northeast Manual Training School assured graduates be not scholars or soldiers, but workers ready for an industrial city packed with job opportunities.

It was about training, but it was also about location. A century ago, 7th and Lehigh had grown into the nexus of Philadelphia’s industrial production. Within a mile, fresh graduates would and did find employment in scores of foundries, factories and mills. Among the largest and most famous was the nearby Quaker Lace, which opened in 1880 at 4th and Lehigh as the Horner Brother Carpet Company. As the new school’s doors opened, sounds from all manner of factories, but especially the clatter of more than 100 Nottingham lace curtain looms filled nearby streets. This sound is something like what can be heard today at the Boote Mill Museum in Lowell, Massachusetts—only more so. (See and listen here.)

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Miniature Breech-Loaded Cannon fabricated at Northeast Manual Training School,
later Edison High School, October 22, 1907.

That Philadelphia is long gone, and so are the mills. And if last week’s fire on Lehigh Avenue sounded a bit familiar, it’s for good reason. On September 19, 1994, local drug dealers hired school-age children to set fire to the Quaker Lace building. Mill operations had ceased seven years earlier and the police found a corner in the empty, block-long building a convenient outpost to observe drug traffic. An eight-alarm fire (twice the alarms of the recent fire at Edison) destroyed the police outpost, but also the entire factory, 20 nearby properties and 11 cars. A special report on trends in teen arson for Homeland Security documented the incident. (See the .pdf.)

Philadelphia’s hulking, empty buildings are poignant evidence of the city’s deindustrialization. Places like Quaker Lace and Edison High School had become popular destinations for vandals and, more interestingly, for urban explorers such as photographers Tom Bejgrowicz and Urban Atrophy.

As these authentic sites disappear, one by one, what do we have left? We have memory, of course, and we have the photographic record, which documents layers of time and good intent, including the ideas of educators who taught young people how to make everything from the finest lace to miniature weapons of war.

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“The Boulevard”

Roosevelt Boulevard, officially named the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Boulevard, is one of Philadelphia’s most important traffic arteries. It carries millions of drivers every day and is arguably the backbone of Northeast Philadelphia. Roosevelt Boulevard has become such a part of Philadelphia that when one speaks of “the Boulevard” anyone who’s lived in Philadelphia for any significant length of time, whether they reside in the Northeast or not, knows immediately which road is being referenced.

The origins of the Boulevard date back to 1902 when Mayor Samuel H. Ashbridge proposed the construction of a road to connect central Philadelphia to the communities in the northeastern reaches of the city. At this time, most of the Northeast was rural farmland communities connected by a loose network of dirt roads. Ashbridge had to convince a reluctant Common Council (the predecessor of City Council) that the Boulevard was worth the cost of construction, arguing that it would open the Northeast to greater expansion and development which would be beneficial to the whole city.

When first built, the boulevard ran from Broad Street into the city’s Torresdale neighborhood. In the initial planning stages, the boulevard was to be called the Torresdale Boulevard. At its completion, however, it was renamed the Northeast Boulevard. It wasn’t until it was expanded to reach Pennypack Creek in 1918 that the boulevard was given its present moniker in honor of former president Theodore Roosevelt. In 1926, the Boulevard became a part of the first Federal interstate highway system, designated as US Route 1. The extension of the Boulevard continued over the next decades into the Far Northeast until it reached its current end point just across the border of Bucks County in the late 1950s.

In 1961, the Boulevard grew again when it was connected to Interstate 76 via an extension called the Roosevelt Expressway. The Roosevelt Expressway runs from its connection with I-76 at the Schuylkill River through North Philadelphia to connect with Roosevelt Boulevard near Hunting Park Avenue. While this provided an important link to I-76, it only increased traffic on the already congested Boulevard. Adding lanes did not solve the problem, and many other solutions have been proposed over the decades. One idea was to extend the Broad Street Subway line out to the Northeast. This idea came so close to fruition that Sears built a subway station underneath their famed Merchandise Center located along the Boulevard. Other people suggested building another road entirely. Called the Northeast Expressway, this new road would roughly follow the path of the Boulevard. Needless to say, the Northeast Expressway was never built, and Roosevelt Boulevard remains one of the most congested roads in the country.

Mayor Ashbridge was right; with each extension of the Boulevard, development of the surrounding area soon followed. Today, it would be difficult to imagine the Northeast without Roosevelt Boulevard. Because it played such a vital role in the growth and development of the neighborhoods in the Northeast, one has to wonder how much of “the Northeast” would exist as an urban area had the Boulevard not been built.


“Roosevelt Expressway Historic Overview” –

“US 1; John H. Ware III Memorial Highway; Roosevelt Expressway; Roosevelt Boulevard; Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway” –

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Travels In The Unpretentious City

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View From Temple University, “Progress – Permanent Paving – Broad Street East Side of Berks Street. August 17, 1926.”

Philadelphia is my city. That’s for better and for worse, which can make living here inspiring or infuriating. But if I had to pick a single word to describe the real Philadelphia, it would be “unpretentious.” The real city challenges the notion of pretense and embraces ideas of community and comfort. So, yes, Philadelphia is more than my city, Philadelphia is our city: an unpretentious, shared place.

You know what I mean? Christopher Morley did. Morley captured the spirit of this shared place in his newspaper column, Travels in Philadelphia, collected and published in book form as he went off to New York in 1920. Before going, Morley absolutely nailed the character of the city. More than sixty years later, Nathaniel Burt and Wallace E. Davies explored the idea in Philadelphia: a 300 Year History: “Nowhere were the rich richer or the poor poorer.” Yet, that Philadelphia didn’t define itself by the “great empty gap that yawned between rich and poor.” Rather, folks here built something more interesting and more dynamic: a “vast, spongey, interwoven social medium of infinite gradations.” According to Burt and Davies, whether you lived in a house of “three or thirty rooms,” Philadelphia had something to offer.

Philadelphia can be anyone’s, but it is everyone’s. This notion of a shared city is even built into the name. The meaning of Philadelphia may be cloaked in ancient Greek, but we’re the “City of Brotherly Love.” Community is in our very DNA. That seems to keep us humble; it’s meant to keep us honest.

Question is: in our new century, will the shared city survive? That’s one of the things I consider in my position on the American Studies faculty at Temple University. It’s what I wondered about in earlier stages of my career (all in Philadelphia) which began in the late 1970s at the Library Company of Philadelphia. There, as curator of Prints and Photographs, I had the challenge (and the responsibility) to collect, care for and make sense of the city through its images: maps, lithographs, engravings, and photographs, especially the photographs.

Now, I’ve found my way to this space to continue the quest. This time, I’m fortunate to have at my fingertips (as do you) a vast pool of what is now known as “content.” My plan is to travel the unpretentious city and, on a weekly basis, share it with you in words and images. Let’s hope for an interesting, informative and occasionally enlightening ride.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments closed Featured on NBC Philadelphia!

Last week, we had the chance to give NBC Philadelphia a tour of the photo collection at the City Archives and a peek into the research we completed this past spring on augmented reality. Check out the embedded video below to learn more or watch the segment over on the NBC10 site!

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PhillyHistory Now on Twitter!

We’re excited to announce that the PhillyHistory team is now on Twitter! A microblogging site, Twitter lets users post messages that are 140 characters or less. Many libraries, archives, and museums have Twitter accounts and use them as a way to share information about their institutions and respond to questions from the public.

Follow the PhillyHistory Team on Twitter at @phillyhistory

We’re hoping to use our Twitter account as a way to give you a glimpse of the behind the scenes work of the PhillyHistory team. We’ll be posting news about PhillyHistory projects as well as letting you know about interesting history related events, news, and exhibitions happening in the area. Around lunchtime each day, we will also be posting our PhillyHistory Photo of the Day” – an image that caught our eyes or that we thought deserved a little bit more attention.

If you are a Twitter user, you can follow or message us at @phillyhistory. Not on Twitter? You can still read our posts at!/phillyhistory

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Food Will Win the War

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Supply trucks gathered at City Hall.

World War I is often referred to as the first “modern war.” Weapons such as airplanes, tanks, machine guns, and chemicals were used for the first time with deadly consequences. However, one of the oldest weapons in human history was also employed during the War – food. Starving a city or fortress to surrender is a tactic that dates back to ancient times. History has shown that in matters of war the victor is not always the one with the largest army or most advanced weapons. Often, it is the one who can continue to feed its army and citizens. World War I was no different. As Europe sent its most able-bodied young men into the trenches, food production began to decrease. The United States, being a neutral country at this point and possessing a surplus of food, became critical in supplying food to its (unofficial at the time) allies in Europe.

By the time America entered the war in April 1917, however, European demand had depleted food reserves and driven up prices. Since farmers could not increase production until the following year’s harvest, it became clear that America would have to conserve food if it was to continue to feed itself, its growing and mobilizing army, and its allies. Federal legislation was introduced to control food supplies, but a frustrated President Woodrow Wilson felt that something needed to be done faster. Wilson urged the passing of the Lever Food and Fuel Control Act in 1917 as an emergency wartime measure. With its passing, the Lever Act created the United States Food Administration to control the growing supply problem. President Wilson appointed as head of the administration a man who would later become president himself – Herbert Hoover. Hoover had previously been in London organizing, sometimes surreptitiously, relief efforts for the people of Europe, especially in Belgium.

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City Hall illuminated at night with Hoover’s famous slogan.

Hoover believed that “food will win the war” but did not want to embark upon a rigid and mandatory rationing program. He believed that in “the spirit of self-denial and self-sacrifice” Americans would voluntarily modify their eating habits. A national campaign, mostly aimed at women, was introduced to encourage conservation of food and the elimination of waste. Special recipes and cookbooks were disseminated. Victory Bread, bread made with a flour substitute called (appropriately) Victory Flour, became a staple in many homes. Nation-wide weekly events such as “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays” were promoted. Children were told to east less sweets in order to “save sugar for a soldier.” Supply-truck motorcades were organized to bring food directly from rural areas into major cities and ports, with Philadelphia being a major hub of this kind of activity. In public spaces throughout the country, cities prominently displayed signs and posters bearing Hoover’s famous statement “Food Will Win the War.” Americans began to informally refer to their modified eating habits as “Hooverizing.”

During the first year of the U.S. Food Administration’s existence, Americans reduced their food consumption by 15 percent. That number may not sound like much, but it doubtless fed many a starving ally or American doughboys across the Atlantic. After the war, Hoover continued the humanitarian efforts of the U.S. Food Administration, which had been reorganized and renamed the American Relief Organization. Hoover expanded relief to include not just America’s allies but also it’s recently defeated former enemies, declaring “Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!”

“Hooverizing” recipes are widely available. For the recipes and to see the finished products, please visit


“Wilson Orders Hoover to Start.” The New York Times, June 16, 1917. Accessed June 16, 2011.

Goudiss, Alberta Moorhouse and Charles Houston Goudiss. Foreward to Foods That Will Win the War: And How To Cook Them. New York: The Forecast Publishing Company, 1918. Accessed June 16, 2011.

Hammond, R.J. “Review of The History of the United States Food Administration, 1917-1919 by William C. Mullendore.” The English Historical Review, vol. 58, no. 230 (April 1943). Accessed June 16, 2011.

“Food Will Win the War” is part of “Snapshots of History,” a new series of blog entries that will provide background info on select images from the database.

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Oh Where Can This Be?: Photos Without a Location

When we enter new photographs into the database, we include as much information as possible about an image from the date and photographer’s name to the location. Without a doubt, location is one of the most important parts of our photo collections as many of the historic images depict street scenes and the exterior of buildings. Whenever possible, we try to geocode (assign latitude and longitude coordinates) to an image. We can geocode a photo by identifying an address, street intersection, or place name (such as City Hall) or by selecting a point on a map. The software behind will take this information and calculate the latitude and longitude coordinates associated with that spot. Once a photo has been geocoded, users can search for and find the image based on its geographic criteria. The geographic location of a photo is crucial as users search for images by address or neighborhood more than keyword or any other search criteria. If a photo has an identified location, users also can download it to Google Earth or compare the historical images with the present-day Google Street View.

However, what we know about a photo depends upon what information the photographer left behind. Sometimes, we unfortunately have little or no knowledge of where a photo was taken. Photographs of bridges, railroads, and creeks are among the most challenging to locate since the photographer’s terminology is frequently too broad or too narrow for our purposes. In some instances, photographers used surveying markers to describe their location, but unfortunately “North from Station 109+70” can’t tell us exactly where a photo is located along the Frankford Creek. Alternately, some locations were recorded in very basic terms. In these cases, tracking down an address often requires some ingenuity and super sleuthing, along with a little help from our friends.

So how do we do it? Here’s an example using a image taken on March 27, 1898.

The title, “Broad Street Bridge,” places the photo at any number of locations along Broad Street. When the title and the description provided by the photographer prove vague or indefinite, we turn to the photo for more details. Fortunately, the photo itself provides a few clues; we can see that this was a railroad bridge and there is a sign on the right-hand side building that reads “Gas And…” Following these leads, I turned to the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network (, a pilot project of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries and now led by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Among other resources, the GeoHistory Network provides digitized copies of historical maps and atlases from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with an awesome interactive maps viewer that allows users to zoom in on a location and compare the historic map with the current street grid. To find a location for this photo, I used the 1910 Philadelphia Atlas by G.W. Bromley. Following North Broad Street from City Hall, I found the old Philadelphia and Reading Railroad freight yard at North Broad and Callowhill Streets, which seemed like a good candidate for this photo’s location. To confirm my suspicions, I scanned the map area, which lists business names on the building outlines, and found the Horn and Brannen Gas and Electric Fixtures Factory at the next intersection – North Broad and Noble Streets. This matched the “Gas And…” sign visible on the right-hand side of the photo and, to make my final determination, I zoomed in on a high resolution copy of the image. Not only was the full factory name visible, but the building on the left-hand side turned out to be the Baldwin Locomotive Works, which was also visible on the map. Satisfied with my findings, I geocoded this photo to North Broad and Callowhill Streets and set the Street View to look north toward the intersection of Broad and Noble Streets.

Often, the maps from the GeoHistory Network are an invaluable resource in our efforts to locate photos; additionally, we also rely on the knowledge of our users who can submit comments and error reports for any photo on As the story of this one photo shows, sometimes all it takes is a keen eye, a bit of research, and a little luck to solve the mystery of photos without a location.

“Oh Where Can This Be?” is the first article in “Behind the Scenes at,” a new series of blog entries that will provide insights into the activities that go into creating

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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]


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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.


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]


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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.

[ii] NIXON: Glazer 1986, p.176; Glazer 1994, p.11; and

[iii] Images of the façade can be found here:

[iv] EUREKA: Glazer 1986, p.108; Glazer 1994, p.22;; and

[v] COMMODORE: Glazer 1986, p.90; Glazer 1994, p.55; ; and

[vi] As seen in the photographs in this Daily Pennsylvanian article:

[vii] STRATFORD: Glazer 1986, p.220-221;; and

[viii] BROADWAY: Glazer 1986, p.74; Glazer 1994, p.16-17;; and

[ix] GREAT NORTHERN: Glazer 1986, p.132; and

[x] JUMBO: Glazer 1987, p.141;; and


[xii] OGONTZ: Glazer 1986, p.178; Glazer 1994, p.48;; and

[xiii] UPTOWN: Glazer 1986, pp.230-231; Glazer 1994, pp.60-65;;; and

[xiv] MIDWAY: Glazer 1986, p.170; Glazer 1994, pp.79-80;; and

[xv] Glazer, 1994, p.79.

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