Cladding Comes Off the Old Leader Theatre on Lancaster Avenue

Roughly three years ago, we drew your attention to the building at 4102 Lancaster Ave., noting the discount store on the first floor and the metal cladding covering the windows on the upper floors. Nothing about the building’s appearance was especially notable, though the metal cladding’s red white and blue color scheme did give us some patriotic feels.

In the past

Love of country notwithstanding, we didn’t show you the building because of its modern appearance- we were instead interested in its history. In case you don’t recall, this place was originally built as the Leader Theatre. According to Cinema Treasures, it was constructed in 1912 as a stage theater, eventually becoming a movie house as cinema overtook live theater as a draw. It underwent multiple renovations over the years, with the theater closing in 1968. Since then, it was used for a time by the Philadelphia Police Athletic League, and has been a discount store in more recent years.

Historic image from Cinematreasures

Last week, it came to our attention that the metal cladding was removed from the upper floors of the building, revealing the old theatre’s hidden facade. We checked it out in person and indeed, we can confirm that the remains of the Leader Theatre are now seeing the sun for the first time in decades. Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but they sure don’t make ’em like they used to.

Current view
Closer look

Developers purchased the building about two years ago, paying $450K. Lest you think that this amount was paid for a single storefront on Lancaster Ave., we should point out that the old auditorium extends all the way around the corner to 41st & Warren and the parcel covers almost 9,000 sqft. With CMX-2 zoning and a sizable property, we could see a world where the old theatre gets torn down and replaced with a new mixed-use building with commercial downstairs and a couple dozen apartments upstairs- certainly that would seem like the most straightforward approach here. Alternately, the developers could preserve some or all of the existing building, though it feels like old theatre auditoriums have been notoriously difficult to repurpose in Philadelphia. We don’t see any permits for the property in public record at this time, so we couldn’t tell you what will actually happen here moving forward. But for now at least, we suggest moseying over to 41st & Lancaster to check out this long hidden architectural gem.

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