It was built in 1928 and designed by architect William Harold Lee. It is one of the remaining 20 Philadelphia theaters as of 2006[update] which he designed; nine have been demolished. Only two in Philadelphia are open- The Ace Theater (Holiday Art Theater) and The Sedgwick Theater. Just outside Philadelphia, two more of Lee's theaters are seeing restorations: the Bryn Mawr and the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown.
The Sedgwick Theater, located at 7137 Germantown Ave in Philadelphia, is designed in the 1920s style of an Art Deco Movie Palace. It was built during a movie revolution with the advent of sync sound and would have seen silent films as well as talkies.
This perhaps explains the theater's design including a stage for live performance, as well as its large single screen.
The Sedgwick was designed to include a balcony but shortly before construction the balcony was removed from the plans (a balcony would likely have increased seating to 2000). This accounts for its amazing vaulted ceilings.
When entering the theater, you would get your ticket at the ticket booth, into a rectangular lobby space. This led to a larger oval lobby where you could check your coats. the men's room and women's room were on opposing ends of the lobby. The Oval lobby was a pivot point of the design, and the actual theater's footprint traveled back and to the left of the lot from that point. Entering the theater through five large archways, the rake of the seats dropped about 15 feet to the screen.
The Sedgwick Theater opened in 1928 and remained in operation until 1966. When it closed in 1966, it was purchased for use as a warehouse. The theater building was split in two. A cinderblock wall was constructed closing off the theater space from the lobbies. The theater was stripped of its seats and the rake, leaving a gutted box in the back. The ceiling of the theater was left somewhat intact, and a beautiful Art Deco ceiling medalion still exists. Part of the proscenium arch is also still intact. However, it is little more than a garage there for the moment.
When the building was purchased by David and Betty Ann Fellner, there had already been significant damage done to the building. They set up the Sedgwick Cultural Center, a not-for-profit organization, in 1995. The Sedgwick Cultural Center's mission was to build community through the arts. A stage was constructed in the Oval Lobby, and performance has been in that space ever since.
However, by 2006, despite having brought the Philadelphia community wonderful programming for ten years, little had changed to repair the Sedgwick Theater, and the Sedgwick Cultural Center separated from the Sedgwick Theater. At the time of writing this article, the website for the Sedgwick Cultural Center no longer exists.
The pricetag for a complete building restoration has been suggested to be 10 to 12 million dollars, which does not include the cost to create a business in the space which could truly make the Sedgwick self-sustaining.
Today, the Sedgwick Theater is a community art space, with a gallery where the ticket booth was once located. The inner lobbies are on occasion home to "Films at the Sedgwick."
To alleviate the risks of renting films to screen at the Sedgwick Theater, Films at the Sedgwick screened known public domain films and created an interactive website for the community to take control of the programming to show. Film Q Public was a list of films up for the community to consider screening. Each film had a plot summary and a streaming movie trailer (when available). Users voted for the films they wanted to see. Those votes were tallied and once the film received enough votes, that film is scheduled.