Wynne Theater Plans On Hold

Photo: Rachel Hildebrandt

Community Design Collaborative’s twentieth anniversary is approaching and in celebration, the organization will publish a book highlighting their work. Leverage: Strengthening Neighborhoods through Design, which will be released in October, will highlight some of CDC’s best work, including the Wynne Theater feasibility study, completed last March.

The vacant Wynne Theater, located at the northeast corner of 54th and Arlington Streets in Wynnefield, was built in 1927-1928 for the Stanley Company of America, which became Stanley Warner Theaters. From its opening until its closing in 1955, the 1,663-seat theater showed second run films and double features. Shortly after the theater closed, it was converted into a multi-purpose community hall, hosting celebrations and events for almost four decades. In 1993, the hall’s last proprietor passed away, leaving the 32,000 square foot building unused and unmaintained.

The firm that designed the yellow-brick, Renaissance Revival-style theater, Hoffman-Henon Co., is best known for designing movie theaters as well as churches throughout the city and suburbs. They are responsible for the highly-visible Boyd Theater on the 1900 block of Chestnut and the recently converted Jumbo Theater at Front and Girard.

Three years ago, the CDC selected the Wynnefield Overbrook Revitalization Corporation, which counts Mayor Michael Nutter among its board members, to receive a service grant. The grant was used to create conceptual plans for redevelopment of the Wynne Theater complex. Completed in 2010, the report presented several reuse options.

The CDC’s vision for the property. Photo courtesy of the Community Design Collaborative

According to WORC board member Wadell Ridley Jr., community stakeholders favored the community center option. That option entails replacing the unsafe theater space with a large community hall above ground level parking and rehabilitating the historic headhouse so that it can again house retailers on the ground level with residents above.

Unfortunately, the project has not yet gotten off the ground. Ridley blames the fact that there is no clear title to the property and the reality that the WORC has been unable to identify a developer willing to invest the $6.7 million estimated cost.

Despite those obstacles, the tide may be changing. For the first time in over twenty years, the neighborhood is experiencing investment. Just blocks away, at the intersection of 54th and Wynnefield, eight new townhouses are under construction.

About the author

Rachel Hildebrandt, a recent graduate of PennDesign, is a native Philadelphian who is passionate about the changing city she inhabits. Before beginning her graduate studies in historic preservation with a focus on policy, Rachel obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Chestnut Hill College and co-authored two books, The Philadelphia Area Architecture of Horace Trumbauer (2009) and Oak Lane, Olney, and Logan (2011). She currently works as a program associate at Partners for Sacred Places.



3 Comments


  1. Wayne Zimmerman, Sr.

    In my humble opinion, the Wynne “project”, is an “unlikely to succeed” venture as is the Lansdowne Theatre escapade.
    If somehow all the needed money is provided and both of these jobs get completed, what then?? Neither neighborhood will support these future “white elephants.”
    If in the years to come I’m proven wrong, I can simply state that “I was wrong”. Nothing wrong in admitting that, and there is no money lost.
    But if in the years to come I’m proven correct, who will say “We were wrong”? Most likely no one! And what about the lost money?? Too bad!!
    Any such funds would be better directed towards the restoration of the Boyd Theatre in downtown Phila. Neighborhood “money pits” are just “black holes.”

  2. Friends of the Boyd, Inc. (of which I lead as president) appreciate support for the Boyd Theatre’s restoration, but we certainly haven’t proclaimed that other projects should not be supported. Some of our leadership, including myself, have visited the closed Lansdowne Theatre and have great respect for effots there.

  3. I saw hundreds of movies at the wynne between 1938 and 1952.
    I am interested in writing about my wynne movie experiences which
    made ne the film critic I am today. I would like to contact anyone else
    with similar interests and, perhaps, the family of Mr. Wolfe, who was
    the manager of the Wynne most of those years and was regularly
    seen in the lobby greeting patrons. Among memorable films I saw
    there: Tarzan movies, Cagney gangster flicks, JihnnGarfield flixx, the Marx Bros.
    King Kong, Robin Hood, WW II War movies, dozens of postwar movies with Gary
    Cooper, et al, early Hitchcock thrillers, mostly b/w but some technicolors as well.
    But the strongest memories are of the Saturday matinees, a whole afternoon
    of selected short subjects, newsreels, cartoons, and above all, “The Chapters”
    15 minute serials just before the “Main Picture” — a whole afternoon of endless
    joy! ~~ I now live in Europe but I can be contacted at: barevfilm@gmail.com
    Herman Pevner, Mann School, class of ’46. AKA Alex Deleon, (filmfestivals.com)

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