1600 Market Street,
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News About This Theater
- May 6, 2009 — Historic downtown Philadelphia cinemas added or revised
- Feb 13, 2009 — Remembering Cinerama (Part 20: Philadelphia)
The first Fox Theatre to open in Philadelphia, opened on November 26, 1923 with Edmund Lowe in “The Silent Command”. It was equipped with a Moller theatre pipe organ which had 3 manuals and 25 ranks. The organ console was positioned in the center of the orchestra pit on a lift, and was the first theatre in the east of the country to have an organ lift installed. The organ was opened by organist Dr. C.A.J. Parmentier. The orchestra pit held 55 musicians who were conducted on opening night by Erno Rapee, who was also the Managing Director of the theatre. The auditorium contained 2,423 seats.
The Fox Theatre was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb for William Fox. The hexagonal box office was made of a marble base supporting hand-made bronze pillars with a heavy brass dome. The lobbies and office structure were built on the same design as Loew’s State Theatre in Times Square, New York. It was also compared to the Capitol Theatre, Times Square, New York. Beside movies, the Fox Theatre had a Grand Orchestra whose stage shows were produced by staff, and in-house radio broadcasting facilities aired the shows twice weekly. The huge stage had a sixty foot wide proscenium and a ninety foot wide backstage. The projection booth was accessed via the fourth floor of the Fox Building, rather the inside the theatre.
Warner Bros. first sound picture, “The Jazz Singer” was shown here and also at the Locust Street Fox Theatre. A 1931 proposal to sell the Fox chain to Paramount did not succeed as other Fox theatres were in the red, though Philadelphia’s Fox Theatre was profitable. In July 1932, Alexander Boyd (who no longer operated the Boyd Theatre) began operating the Fox Theatre as well as the Locust Street Fox Theatre. From August 1, 1936 until October 5, 1945, Stanley Warner took-over operations. After 1939, stage shows were discontinued and only movies presented. “The Grapes of Wrath” was shown in 1940. Philadelphia’s Fox Theatre and South Bend hosted the simultaneous world premiere of “Knute Rockne All American” on October 4, 1940. The Fox Theatre was the last movie theatre in Philadelphia to use its organ, when in 1941 Philadelphia born organist Leonard MacClain closed the instrument.
On October 5, 1945, 20th Century-Fox resumed operation of the Fox Theatre. The theatre was renovated with drapes covering much of the ornamental plasterwork. In 1946, the Fox Theatre hosted the world premiere of Jerome Kern’s “Centennial Summer”. To coincide with Philidelphia’s hosting of the political convention, in June 1948, Fox held the world premiere of the film noir “The Street with No Name”. Films showcased included “All About Eve” in 1950, “The Robe” (the first CinemaScope film), and “Three Coins in a Fountain” in 1954. On September 27, 1952, National Theatres Inc. took over the theatres of 20th Century Fox. According to somebody who asked staff, when CinemaScope films arrived, the organ console was removed to the alley and burnt.
The Milgram chain, which had 80 screens outside of Philadelphia, leased the Fox Theatre starting in 1959, and purchased it in 1961, making it their flagship. They renamed the neighboring Stanton Theatre as the Milgrim Theatre. Recollections of a projectionist who worked at the Fox Theatre in 1976 were that a supervisor was sent with a white glove to make sure the projection lens were totally clean, and that the basement housed changing rooms for ushers and a well organised collection of film posters. The stagehouse was converted on September 1, 1971 into the Stage Door Cinema (it has its own page on Cinema Treasures) with a transfer from the adjacent Milgram Theatre auditorium of Jack Nicholson in “Carnel Knowledge”.
As one of the most elegant theatres, the Fox Theatre was a favorite of Main Line ladies. The theatre always had top notch projection and sound. Housing local offices of all the major movie chains and a 17th floor screening room, the Fox Building became movie exhibition headquarters for Philadelphia.
The Fox Theatre closed March 1980 after a run that began in Christmas of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”. The screen size upon closing was 54 feet wide and 23 feet tall. The owner asserted it would cost over a million dollars to repair the plaster in the auditorium, much of which had been draped over. The Committee to Save the Fox did not. There was discussion that an office tower would be built over the Fox Theatre, but the entire Fox Building, including the theatre was demolished instead. The Milgram company stated they might build a 2,500 seat triplex within the new office tower, but no movie theatre was included. To see the theatre’s former footprint, realize that the black glass office skyscraper that rose in its place is the only building in the square block bounded by 16th Street and 17th Street, and Market Street and Chestnut Street, that is not part of the Liberty Place complex.
When the Fox Theatre was demolished in May 1980 some of the 87,000 tons of marble used for the auditorium (in 15 varieties, imported from Italy) were sold for various things. The marble balcony railing is now used as the communion railing at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Springfield, PA. The ticket booth was shipped to Los Angeles and the chandeliers to Columbus, Ohio for a theatre restoration project.
The Fox Theatre is now just one of many of the cities' memories.
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