You certainly wouldn’t know it by looking today, but the stretch of Chestnut Street between 11th and 12th was once quite the happening nightspot. Today, even the buildings that aren’t vacant are most certainly not open at night. In its time though, 1116 Chestnut St. clamored with celebrities and revelers. But let’s go back just a little further. According to the image taken from G.M. Hopkins’ 1875 Philadelphia Atlas, the site of 1116 Chestnut Street was, at one time, the estate of one M. Baldwin.
Baldwin would be gone before the turn of the century however. In his place, according to Cinema Treasures, Benjamin F. Keith opened Keith’s New Theatre in 1902. The photo here below, taken from the Library of Congress and dated somewhere between the opening and 1910, shows Keith’s New Theatre when it was, well, new.
According to Cinema Treasures, the theatre was equipped with both a stage for Vaudeville performances and a screen for “photoplay,” which Wiktionary defines as the filming of a play for presentation as a film. The stage drew many national acts, including Fred Astaire, Al Jolson, Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, and the Marx Brothers. These high times were, like the Roaring 20s themselves, short-lived. By the latter part of the decade, the theatre was considered out of date. It moved through a series of sales, closings and re-openings, emerging in the late ‘30s as a movie-house only. Its screen is shown here below in a 1938 photo taken from Philadelphia Buildings.
Keith’s run would be over shortly thereafter but the site's use as a theatre continued. An article at Box Office reports on the 1950 reopening of Keith’s as the Randolph Theatre, now under the direction of William Goldman Co. Clips from the article are shown below.
Over the next two decades, the Randolph would run blockbuster films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “The Ten Commandments,” and “Bridge on the River Kwai” on its single screen. You can see in the photo below, taken from Cinema Treasures and dated to some time in the ‘60s, the Randolph once showed Ice Station Zebra.
By 1971, however, Cinema Treasures reports, most of Philly’s movie theatres were concentrated west of Broad Street. The Randolph had outlived many of its contemporaries, but was torn down in 1971. It is presumably in the interim between then and now that the street descended into a less-than-stellar collection of retail storefronts. Up until recently, 1116 Chestnut St. had been occupied by Samsun Athletic Footwear, shown in an image below, taken from Yelp.
As you can see, the building’s architects pay tribute to the old Keith’s New Theatre with a front entrance archway but…it’s just a little less elaborate. Either way, Samsun is also recently departed with a handwritten note advising you to visit their other locations in the city. The image below shows 1116 as it currently stands, in the shadow of construction from the project next door.