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A significant artifact of American culture – The Lansdowne Theatre is the grandest of all the theatres that are closed, yet intact, in the Philadelphia suburbs

David Goran

Lansdowne Theatre is a historic theatre building located at Lansdowne, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It was built in 1927 and consists of a two-story front section with street-level shops and offices above, and a 1,400 seat auditorium.

It is one of a number of grand neighborhood theaters in and around Philadelphia built in the 1920’s.

Marquee letters in the lobby of the theater.

Marquee letters in the lobby of the theater.

 

The Lansdowne Theatre opened on June 7, 1927 in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania

The Lansdowne Theatre opened on June 7, 1927, in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania.

The theatre was designed in a Spanish Revival style by Philadelphia-based architect William Harold Lee (1884-1971),  the architect of over 200 theaters throughout the eastern United States.

Opened in June 1927 to a dedication ceremony presided over by John J. McGuirk, president of the Stanley Company of America (the predecessor of Warner Brothers), the Lansdowne was acclaimed as “the best example of suburban theatre construction around Philadelphia”.

In addition to its use as a silent film theater, the Lansdowne was also used as a venue to live events, such as charity benefits or live music.

The interior of the theater was decorated in a Spanish revival style.

The interior of the theater was decorated in a Spanish revival style.

 

The projectors remain in the projector room.

The projectors remain in the projector room.

 

The patterns on the auditorium ceiling were based on the Roman emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea palace.

The patterns on the auditorium ceiling were based on the Roman emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea palace.

The Lansdowne Theatre’s 3 manual/8 rank organ was to be the last installed in a suburban Philadelphia Theater. After a “dedication by one of the best-known organists of the time, Leonard ‘Melody Mac’ MacLean in 1927”, the organ was played daily, complementing silent and later, talking movies for a decade.

For 25 years it sat silent until a 1962 restoration enabled it to become “the only theater organ that still is played everyday in the state of Pennsylvania”.

James Paulin, Jr., the first black organist for New York’s Radio City Music Hall provided the last publicized concert program on November 18, 1975, before the organ was removed by a private collector. Photos: Jon Seidman/Flickr

A Kimball 3Manual8Rank organ was installed in the Lansdowne and was first played by the renowned organist Leonard “Melody Mac” MacLean.

A Kimball 3Manual8Rank organ was installed in the Lansdowne and was first played by the renowned organist Leonard “Melody Mac” MacLean.

 

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

 

The Lansdowne was closed in 1987

The Lansdowne was closed in 1987.

 

In 2007, a group called the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation purchased the theater

In 2007, a group called the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation purchased the theater.

The theatre closed July 8, 1987, due to the result of a fire in the electrical system under one of the retail spaces.

It was purchased in late-2007 by the Historic Lansdowne Theatre Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to reopening the theater.