Former Jeffries Theatre, Masonic Temple Going Residential

At the corner of Conarroe Street and Manayunk Avenue sits a building that obviously has some history to it, even if we can’t find any old pictures. This edifice, located at 344 Conarroe St., was originally built in 1928 as the Jeffries Theatre. While it certainly isn’t as architecturally impressive as many other theaters built during those years, it was surely an appreciated amenity in the community and we have to think that it got plenty of use from the children attending Fairview Public School, right across the street.

The old Fairview School is now a park, of course, and like so many other small theaters in Philadelphia, the Jeffries didn’t make it. Per Cinema Treasures, the theater closed its doors in 1953. The Palestine Roxborough Masonic Lodge took over the building soon after, and occupied it for decades, selling the property to developers in 2016 and moving to the ‘burbs. We can’t be sure of how much the group changed the facade from what it originally looked like, but we’re at least pleased that they kept the marquee around, to remind us all of the building’s original purpose. Unfortunately, an old listing shows us that time has done away with all of the theater’s original interior details.

Former theatre
A look inside from an old listing

When the developers bought the property in 2016, they proposed tearing down the old theater and replacing it with six homes which would have had frontage on Manayunk Avenue. That plan ended up going nowhere, as the proposal was withdrawn from consideration, and the property ended up trading again the next year. In early 2020, the new owners got a zoning variance for a project to reuse the existing structure and convert it to a small apartment building. Those plans call for the expansion of the building’s second floor and the creation of six apartments with seven interior parking spots. This actually reminds us of a property we once rented in South Philly, except that was a converted toilet seat factory. Ah, memories.

You can see, work is already moving along at 344 Conarroe St., at least inside. We will be interested to see just how much the development ends up changing the outside of the building- certainly we expect windows will be punched in the facade and perhaps the building will pick up a new coat and a new color of stucco. More than anything, we’re hoping that the marquee sticks around, to provide a link to the property’s history and maintain a unique feature for an otherwise nondescript stucco box. And maybe, if we’re not asking too much, maybe the developers could name it something like the Jeffries Apartments?

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