Verdi Hall

713-715 Christian Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19147

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Additional Info

Architects: J. Elvin Jackson

Styles: Italian Renaissance

Previous Names: Verdi Hall Theatre

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Verdi Hall

Of the many neighborhood entertainment venues in Philadelphia’s history, it’s hard to imagine a more ambitious project than that of the Verdi Hall in Little Italy. The South Philadelphia area was home to Italian immigrants and Ferruccio J. Giannini thought that a 500-seat performance space called the Verdi Hall was the ticket. Unlike opera houses that were found everywhere in small, medium and large communities across the United States, Giannini believed that Italian opera could be a viable programming strategy and the Verdi Hall Theatre pre-dated the Philadelphia Met by three years. He had standing in the operatic field not only having a career on the stage but for additionally having his recordings for Emile Berliner on March 4th, 1896 that are considered to be the first operatic records ever made associated with a singer’s name.

The roots of Giannini’s Verdi Hall Theatre concept, however, appears to be much more modest in temporary bandstand to help raise funds for a tribute to Giuseppe Verdi who had died in 1901. When the concept gained traction, the more permanent Verdi Hall could be the tribute, itself, for years if not decades to come. The grander project came to fruition launching in 1905. Daughter Dusolina Giannini appeared on the Verdi Hall stage at age 9 on her way to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House from 1935 to 1942. The project was targeted at $25,800 though arising to about $50,000 to actually complete.

  1. Elvin Jackson drew the plans for the Italian Renaissance style building that included a stage and gallery on its main floor. The builders were Doyle & Doak along with Joseph Giuseppe Perna at 713-715 Christian Street. The location was once home to Diccione’s Wheelright Shop which specialized in repairing wooden carriage wheels. In Verdi Hall, bowling alleys were found in its basement and Italian portraits of famous artists were found in the gallery area. The theatre served an important role after Europe’s most powerful earthquake decimated southern Italy on December 28, 1908. The Verdi Hall filled two dozen times in short order providing information and requesting relief for the suffering overseas. The Verdi Hall had also staged similar relief shows in 1906 to aid San Francisco earthquake victims.

Verdi Hall was joined on the same block by Cariola Hall / Cariola Theatre on February 17, 1914 (and, possibly, that date was 1911 depending on who you ask). The theatre was renamed as D’Annunzio Theatre in 1921 and Italia Theatre / Teatro Italia. Giannini had a financial interest when that venue was the D’Annunzio. The Cariola/D’Annunzio venue was much more steeped, programmatically-speaking, to the mass audience with vaudeville and movies. And, certainly, the two venues of the Verdi Hall and the Cariola/D'Annunzio/Italia - though often conflated as one and the same - are different and co-existed in operation for around 15 years.

Giannini took over the La Tosca Hotel hosting many events at his Verdi Hall and the Hotel. The family also operated a boarding house for Italian immigrants at Fitzwater Street and 7th Street. Authentic Italian cuisine was served at the Verdi Hall location for events serving as an important function, along with the boarding house, that helped immigrants assimilate – especially those uprooted during World War I. But Giannini’s live programming began to falter at about that time. Much as opera houses across the country turned away from live programming by and during World War I, the Verdi Hall changed its programming to feature films by November 1914.

Film programming at the Verdi Hall Theatre actually lasted longer than the more-remembered live opera programming. The theatre used old school promotional techniques including a donkey-led advertising cart that promoted shows saving on newspaper advertising costs. Giannini kept admission cheap at two for a nickel and programming was third/fourth run films that were bicycled over from the Electric Theatre just five blocks away on S. 8th Street and Washington Avenue.

The Verdi Hall venue did not make the commitment to install sound and closed in 1929. The building was unceremoniously sold off in a Sheriff’s Auction in 1930. The Verdi Hall was definitely torn down either in the 1930’s or in the 1940’s. Giannini spent time at the Italia Theatre still promoting opera and Italian films to the end of his life in 1948. The two venues have one thing in common in the 2020’s. After each was razed, their former footprints are now associated with the same municipal parking lot.

Contributed by dallasmovietheaters
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