Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Fall 2017 issue of Extant, a publication of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia.
Unlisted Philadelphia highlights interesting and significant Philadelphia buildings not yet listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. To learn more about the local designation process and how you can participate in nominating a building to the Philadelphia Register, visit the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia’s website for more information.
BUILDING: Locust Theatre/Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts
LOCATION: 228-36 South 52nd Street
ARCHITECT: Stuckert & Sloan
Philadelphia once boasted more than 400 movie theaters. Only 135 or so still stand. Of those, few can match the show-stopping charm of the former Locust Theatre at 52nd and Locust Streets. Draped in terracotta and studded with incandescent light bulbs (look closely and you’ll see many still screwed in place), the Locust opened as a vaudeville and silent movie house in 1914. Since 1977, it has been home to the Bushfire Theatre of Performing Arts.
Astonishingly few historic theaters are listed on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, and in recent years several that were listed (significantly, the Royal and the Boyd) ended up demolished. Adding theaters like the Locust to the Register, while not a guarantee against demolition, could draw more attention to this sadly fading side of Philadelphia’s once tinselled past.