The Dante Theatre, Hiding in Plain Sight on South Broad

We’ve made no secret about out fondness for old movie theaters. More specifically, we have a deep and unabiding love for buildings that once housed movie theaters but have been repurposed for other uses. It’s usually pretty easy to spot an old movie house, with an old marquee as a pretty reliable dead giveaway. The Five Below building on Chestnut Street is a great example of such a building. Kennedy Printing in West Philly was once the Ambassador Theater and lost its marquee, but it retains numerous original details and still maintains the air of a building that once had a grander purpose. The JNA Institute of Culinary Arts building at 1212 S. Broad St.? Uh, it was originally the Dante Theatre, and the marquee is pretty much all the evidence that’s left of that history.

Current view

According to Cinema Treasures, the Dante opened in 1937, but Thalheimer & Weitz remodeled the facade within a year. Below is an image of the renovated facade, pulled from an advertisement in a 1938 issue of Box Office Magazine. The ad boasts that a Pittco Storefront “creates a first impression that brings more people into your theatre… that makes patrons out of passers-by.” We think it looks like a Johnny Rockets, but that might just be an indication that Johnny Rockets has done a nice job imitating the style with their storefronts.

View from 1938

The Dante closed its doors in 1962, and we don’t know what went on inside the building for the next few decades. We think it might have been an event hall, maybe someone that lives in the neighborhood can confirm. We believe that JNA took over the building in the late 1980s, by which time we’re pretty sure the Art Moderne facade was stripped off the building and it took on its current blah appearance. At least the building retained its marquee, inspiring us to research its history and leading us to the photo from a year after it opened. It’s a shame the building has lost most of its old facade. But at least JNA is a fine culinary school that has turned out countless chefs over the years who are doing their thing in restaurants all over town and across the world.