Roosevelt Theatre – Marked as a Photography and Filmmaking Education Center for Teens
The façade of former Roosevelt Theater at 4739 Frankford Avenue rises up from street level with elegant distinction, caught in a perpetual face-off with the growling elevated tracks of the Market-Frankford Line. The ivory front wears a classical gown of stately columns, pilasters, and a heavy cornice complete with a dentil band. Its graceful elevation is interrupted by a metal roll-up garage door securing the main entry. Shadow lines and the wide shoulders of the building’s frontage lends a dramatic presence that stands apart from the whey-faced brickwork that fills in the rest of the block.
The theater, designed by architectural firm Hodgens and Hill, was open between 1926 and 1962, had one screen, and could seat 1,901 moviegoers. The interior was grand, with high ceilings, traditional moldings, and columns around the perimeter. The stage itself was flanked by two elegant balconies. After closing, the Roosevelt was completely gutted and renovated for retail use, a staggering architectural interior loss on par with the demolition of the Art Deco auditorium of the Boyd Theater. The façade remains the most intact remanent of the theater, however, with the exception of the main entry, the exterior fenestration is permanently bricked in. The building is currently vacant and is listed for sale by commercial real estate developer Philadelphia Suburban Development Corporation.
In homage to the history of the Roosevelt Theatre, we believe that reactivating the building for youth outreach and enrichment with a photography and filmmaking education center for teens would be a positive contribution to this section of Frankford Avenue. The center’s mission would be to nurture the creativity of local children, while providing viable job skills through technical instruction, with an end goal of providing inspiration and hands-on training for the next generation of Philadelphia’s filmmakers, photojournalists, and fashion photographers.
Inside the Roosevelt Theater. Images courtesy of Cinematreasures.org
The front half of the building is extremely narrow and then opens up considerably, filling the entire block behind the buildings facing Frankford Avenue and Foulkrod Streets. The entire footprint of the theater is a hair under 20,000 square feet.
Information detailing the height and dimensions of the theater’s ceilings was elusive. However, after digitally measuring the existing footprint and comparing with the reported square footage, it appears that the interior is still laid out as a one-story space. The existing stairs that lead to the theater’s balconies were removed for utility space. This reuse design was crafted with the assumption that there are still exceptionally high ceilings throughout the space.
Entering the media center from Frankford Avenue, the visitor encounters a reception area. After checking in, guests will be directed to their classroom, stage, or meeting room. Just past the reception desk is a private office for the director of the center and a common work area with four workstations. Employees here will be in charge of booking, class registration, and assisting with photo shoots and film recordings.
The existing restrooms are not ADA compliant so two larger restrooms adjacent to the open workspace have been added. The central floor plan features two classrooms, one with a small seating area just outside of it with a soft arch overhead to define the space. Computers in the classrooms will be fitted with editing software so students can learn the ropes of post-production. A small, multipurpose conference room will be available for staff, small classes, presentations and for those renting the silent studio space.
There are a total of four silent studios of varying sizes with a common set of amenities. Most studios have at least one dressing room, an area for hair and makeup, and one table to set up equipment. Additional tables will be kept in storage. High ceilings allow for a metal grid system to be suspended above that can provide specialized lighting for digital film recordings and photo shoots. These studios will also be utilized for class instruction on a regular basis. Some open-set recordings and photo shoots will be scheduled for students to observe and experience production firsthand.
The studio farthest away from the main entry is a suite complete with its own lounge, storage room, garage door, and ramp to move in large set pieces. This end of the building is along an alleyway where trucks can pull in off of Salem Street. Just outside of the suite is a kitchen and a communal eating area that can be used by anyone in the building.
Two separate studios along the Salem Street side of the building can be combined into one large studio after pushing back a set of stacking doors. As a flexible space, this set of studios can also be utilized as overflow for classes and a casual screening room for both professionals, students, and community events. Adjacent to the two Salem Street studios is a space for temporary equipment storage. A garage door will also be installed to accommodate large set pieces.