Lansdowne Theater in Philadelphia / PA


The Lansdowne Theater opened on June 1, 1927, featuring the silent film “Knockout Riley” starring Richard Dix. The opening event was overseen by John J. McGuirk, president of the Stanley Company, the predecessor of Warner Brothers. Mr. McGuirk described The Lansdowne as “the best example of suburban theatre construction around Philadelphia”. Adding to the excitement of the day was an appearance by Miss Lansdowne, who flew over the theater in a biplane, dropping roses to the audience below. (That year Miss Lansdowne happened to be an exchange student from Sweden.)
While the theater was primarily a movie house, it did host live performances on its stage.


Sara Gail, who managed the theater on behalf of the Harrison family previously, purchased the theater in 1979 and operated it until 1986. In 1986, it was sold to the Lansdowne Theatre Associates, Inc. which was led by Philadelphia attorney and Lansdowne resident Jerry Raff, who closed the theater for much of 1986 to complete largely cosmetic renovations. On July 3, 1987, during a showing of Beverly Hill Cops II, an electrical fire broke out in the basement of one of the building’s retail stores. The 100 patrons were safely evacuated from the theater, but significant damage had been done to the electrical system that serviced the auditorium. Raff and his partners continued to make repairs, but the project was never able to regain a financial footing. Ownership was assumed by Bell Savings and Loan in 1989 which had extended financing for the project. Bell Savings and Loan was taken over by the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1991. The building was purchased at auction by 29-37 North Lansdowne, Inc. The corporation made repairs to the retail and office spaces and hoped to restore and reopen the theater.


There have been a number of individuals and organizations that have sought to purchase and restore the theater over the past 20 years. One organization, the Lansdowne Center for the Performing Arts offered performing arts education programming in the second floor screening room. The HLTC is grateful to all of these people and organizations who have kept the theater in the foreground.


Recognizing the theater’s historical and architectural significance and its potential to serve as a major catalyst for the reinvigoration of Lansdowne’s Central Business District, the Greater Lansdowne Civic Association and the Lansdowne Economic Development Corporation established the non-profit Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation to purchase, stabilize, and restore the theater in pursuit of the dream of reopening The Lansdowne. Using a grant secured from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development through the leadership of State Representative Nicholas Micozzie, the HLTC purchased the building in 2007. Thus far, much-needed repairs to the roof have been made, a fire detection system has been installed throughout, obsolete and unused mechanical systems have been removed, second floor offices have been renovated, and retail stores have been brought into compliance with building codes.


In recognition of the historical and architectural significance of the building, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.


Source: Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation

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