Thanks to both Jerry Jerome and Judy Young for alerting me to a May 5th Inquire article on the renovation of the Lansdowne Theater. The 1,100-seat theater was damaged by a fire in 1987. It was not destroyed, but the damage was enough to close it, and it has been closed ever since. Now there is a movement to reopen it for concerts and film festivals similar to what was done with the Tower Theater on 69th Street.
The theater is much more impressive than I remember. Judy pointed out that it was always dark inside and we never appreciated how grand it was. My family’s favorite theater growing up was the Waverly in Drexel Hill, and, for a real treat, the Swarthmore Theater. As a kid growing up in East Lansdowne, I tagged along with my sister and her friends to the Saturday matinee at the Stonehurst on Long Lane, which was almost in Eddie Vetter’s back yard. I vaguely remember the lobbies, but not the dark insides. It was so dark, the ushers used flashlights. (I know, some will ask, “What’s an usher?”)
At first, the plan sounds impractical, but the Spanish decor with the Moroccan arches, intricately painted ceilings, giant chandelier and gargoyles are still intact. The two ground floor retail stores and the second floor business offices all have tenants. The location is convenient to public transportation and is easily accessible by car with parking for 200 cars.
The focus of the article was a successful, sell-out concert actually held in the theater despite no restrooms, lighting run from temporary generators, peeling paint and tattered seats. With no working sprinklers, the fire company was stationed outside. The owners since 2007, the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corp., estimate it will take $10 million to refurbish it. A photo of the inside was very impressive. Back then, we took theaters like that for granted.
You can get to the original article and read more about the project at http://www.lansdownetheater.org (Don’t skip the opening movie showing the interior. Be patient. You will be amazed.)