Editor’s Note: We’d like to think that we’ve sussed out all of Philly’s former movie theaters, even the ones that have gone incognito as churches, mosques, warehouses, supermarkets and drug stores. We’ve featured the Circle in Frankford, its auditorium tucked away behind a sneaker store, and the Empress in Manayunk, with its balcony, proscenium arch and asbestos curtain still intact in the back of a building supply warehouse. Yet until recently we somehow managed to miss what may be the city’s best preserved theater, the Logan, hiding in plain sight behind a relatively austere facade on North Broad Street at Wyoming.
We’ll have more on efforts to revive the Logan in the coming months. To whet your appetite in the meantime, here’s a thumbnail history from our intern extraordinaire John Vidumsky, and photos of the building from contributor Chandra Lampreich, who’s started a Friends of the Logan page on Facebook.
The Logan Theatre was built in 1924 for nearly one million dollars by the Stanley Company of America, a movie theater chain that evolved into the Time Warner Company we know today. Working with the architectural firm Hoffman and Henon, the Stanley Company built some of the most opulent theaters Philadelphia has ever seen, including the Mastbaum, the Boyd and the Commodore. The decoration inside the Logan was relatively restrained by comparison, with mythological figures adorning the auditorium ceiling, and the lobby once featured a fresco of an old sailing ship at sea. As it was first built, the theater could hold 1,894 people. The silent films of the early years were accompanied by music from an elaborate pipe organ, and a small orchestra called “The Loganians.”
The Logan started out showing highbrow films like The Common Law, but soon replaced these with more popular fare like Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman. Afternoon matinees cost fifteen cents, evening shows a quarter or thirty cents. The theater also featured live dance shows until the 1940s. A huge ballroom filled the front of the building, where flappers, sheiks and other 1920s characters would dance the night away. At that time, Logan was an up-and-coming Jewish neighborhood, one of Philadelphia’s first suburbs.
The Logan Theatre continued showing movies until the 1960s. In 1973, the theater was bought by the Deliverance Evangelistic Church, then one of the largest and fastest-growing congregations in Philadelphia. Where silent film starlets and dancing girls once ruled the stage, the reverend Benjamin Smith Sr. now preached the gospel to cries of “Hallelujah!” Services were three hours long, with much singing, dancing and clapping. Closed circuit television allowed the overflow crowd to watch the service from the next room. The stage was also used for baptisms, and a large tank with steps leading down into it was wheeled onto the stage.
In 1992, the Deliverance Church moved into a new building and the Logan was left to rot for over a decade. Scrappers broke in, and a leaking roof caused extensive water damage. In 2005, the Logan was bought by a local man named Dr. Owen Williamson, who wants to bring the theater back to life as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda Williamson. He envisions the building reborn as a live music venue and restaurant called “Claretildaville.” Over the last seven years, Dr. Williamson has stabilized the building, repainted the interior to its original colors, fixed the roof and put in new drywall, wiring and plumbing.