Delorean Time Machine: Grand Theater

The area surrounding 7th & Snyder in South Philly is largely defined by aging facades and fading colors.  But there was a time that the neighborhood flourished around this key intersection.  In the late 19th century, at least as early as 1870, the northwest corner was home to a church congregation. The image below, taken from G.W. Bromley’s 1895 Philadelphia Atlas, shows the Snyder Avenue Baptist Church.

The Snyder Avenue Baptist Church, 1895

According to Philadelphia Buildings, the location became the Calvary Baptist Church by 1901.  The congregation’s run under this name would be short-lived.  Cinema Treasures tells that the Grand Theatre would replace the church by 1911.  Hereafter, the Grand became a popular draw in a thriving neighborhood.  The photos below show the theatre in 1927, when a combination of live Vaudeville performance and silent films attracted locals.  Taken from the Irvin R. Glazer Theater Collection, these images show the interior and stage of The Grand during this time.

The Grand Theatre interior in the days of Vaudeville, 1927

The Grand Theatre stage, 1927

At 850 seats, the Grand was true to its namesake.  Like most theatres on its scale, it was soon adapted into a talkie movie house.  According to one local resident and contributor to Cinema Treasures, the theatre charged a then-hefty fee of 19 cents per movie in the late 1930s because it was among the very first venues to offer the innovation of air conditioning.  It would seem air-conditioning was not enough of a draw to keep the theatre going past the 1950s.  The image below, taken from the Philadelphia Department of Records, shows that by 1959, the Grand had become the marginally less grand John’s Bargain Stores.  Here below, we can see that the original fa├žade of the theatre had been covered by aluminum siding.

John’s Bargain Stores, 1959

John’s would become the first in a long line of otherwise indistinct retail operations marking the decline of the neighborhood.  Indeed, the photos below, taken from somebody’s Flickr account, show that the large structure had been occupied by some decidedly glamorous sounding renters like Hollywood Cleaners and the Dollar Castle. 

Hollywood Cleaners, where movie stars did their laundry in 2004

The Dollar Castle, where royals purchased goods in 2010

Today, the building’s sole occupant is Titan Industries. Though the building and surrounding neighborhood bear none of the luster evidenced by their history, the aluminum siding has been removed (or blown off in a windstorm depending on where you read it), leaving substantial proof that the Grand once stood on this spot.

Titan Industries, 2013

Ghost signs still advertise ‘Talkies Daily’ at the Grand Theatre, 2013


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