Royal Theater (Philadelphia)

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Royal Theater
Royal Theater (Philadelphia) is located in Philadelphia
Royal Theater (Philadelphia)
Royal Theater (Philadelphia) is located in Pennsylvania
Royal Theater (Philadelphia)
Royal Theater (Philadelphia) is located in the US
Royal Theater (Philadelphia)
Location 1524–1534 South St., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Coordinates 39°56′37″N 75°10′6″W / 39.94361°N 75.16833°W / 39.94361; -75.16833Coordinates: 39°56′37″N 75°10′6″W / 39.94361°N 75.16833°W / 39.94361; -75.16833
Area 0.3 acres (0.12 ha)
Built 1919
Architect Hahn,Frank E.
Architectural style Regency Revival
NRHP Reference # 80003619[1]
Added to NRHP February 08, 1980

The Royal Theater was a center of African American culture in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[2] Built in 1919, by the 1930s the theater had earned the reputation as "America's Finest Colored Photoplayhouse".[3] The theater closed in 1970, after attendance dwindled and the threat of the Crosstown Expressway had decimated the neighborhood. (The proposed highway was never built.)

In 2000, Kenny Gamble’s Universal Companies purchased the Royal, 1522 and 1536 South, buildings on either side of the theater, as well as 1523, 1537 and 1539 Kater St. (the narrow street just south of South) and 1521–1523 South St. (across the street), from the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia for $250,000.[4]

Conservancy Lawsuit[edit]

In April 2013 Universal Companies applied for a demolition permit claiming the renovation was "economically unfeasible." Universal's proposal would preserve only the facade and a small portion of the front for culture use while the remaining property would be developed for commercial use.[5] On May 20, 2013 local Philadelphia resident Juan Levy filed in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas a petition seeking to appoint local real estate developer Ori Feibush as conservator over the property to save it from further deterioration.[6]

Redevelopment Study[edit]

In April 2015 an independent architectural surveyor presented a financial feasibility analysis for various reuse scenarios for the Royal. The surveyor concluded that the building was reduced to a shell and "...there is no use to which the Royal Theater may be reasonably adapted given the cost of renovations and the revenues that can be expected by those uses..."[7] In July 2015 the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the owners plan to demolish the auditorium and preserve the Royal's facade which would be incorporated into a new retail and residential building. The redevelopment plan would also need the approval of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission because the owners had obtained a grant in 2008 to stabilize the building.[8]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Hill, Chanel (June 27, 2015). "Last act for Royal Theater appears near". The Philadelphia Tribune. Retrieved 5 June 2016. 
  3. ^ Facts the Colored People of Philadelphia Should Know! (Signage from the Royal Theater, Irvin R. Glazer Theater Collection, Holding #43-P-164-009). Philadelphia, PA: Athenaeum of Philadelphia. 1935. 
  4. ^ "Kenny Gamble's stewardship of Royal Theater dragged area down, neighbors say". Philadelphia Daily News. 2013-07-09. Retrieved 2013-07-17. 
  5. ^ Kerkstra, Patricia (May 30, 2013). "Universal seeks OK to demolish most of Royal Theater". PlanPhilly. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Royally Huge Act 135 Case Launched Against Owner of Royal Theater". 2013-05-28. Retrieved 2013-05-28. 
  7. ^ Econsult Solutions (April 17, 2015). Royal Feasibility Report with Appendices (PDF) (Report). Philadelphia, PA. p. 37. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
  8. ^ Hahn, Ashley. "Historical Commission approves facadectomy for Royal Theater". PlanPhilly (July 10, 2015). Retrieved 6 June 2016.