The Lansdowne Theatre opened on June 7, 1927, in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania (a suburb of Philadelphia). The 1,381 seat theater was designed by William H. Lee, a Philadelphia-based architect known for the recently renovated Queen Theatre in Wilmington, Delaware.
The Lansdowne was operated by Herbert Effinger of the Stanley-Warner (later Warner Brothers) circuit. Opening as a silent film theater, the Lansdowne’s first film showing was “Knockout Reilly,” starring Richard Dix. Besides its use as a silent film theater, the Lansdowne was also used as a venue to live events, such as charity benefits or live music. At the height of the silent film era, a Kimball 3 Manual/8 Rank organ was installed in the Lansdowne and was first played by the renowned organist Leonard “Melody Mac” MacLean. Although the organ was once regularly used, it sat unplayed for 25 years after the silent film era. It was restored in 1963 and eventually sold in the late 70s to help pay for air conditioning repairs.
The theater was sold in 1986 to the Lansdowne Theatre Associates, Inc, who closed it for renovations for most of the year. It reopened and was quickly closed again after an electrical fire broke out in the basement of one of the building’s retail storefronts. No one was injured, but the electrical system was destroyed. The Lansdowne Theatre Associates could never raise the money to repair the damage, and the building was seized by the Bell Savings and Loan Bank in 1989.
The building was purchased in 2007 by the Historic Lansdowne Theatre Corporation (HLTC), a non-profit organization dedicated to reopening the theater. HLTC intends to use the Lansdowne as a performing arts venue to host concerts, theater and dance performances. Over the years, HLTC has made many of the much needed repairs to the building including, removing the old seats, restoring the outdoor lobby, the stucco on the facade, the ticket booth, the marquee, and installing replica poster cases. Asbestos removal began in late 2021 and finished in January 2022.
HLTC estimates that the total restoration would cost around $16.5 million, and are close to raising that amount. In 2022, they received a $2 million grant from the Delaware County Council, and $1.5 in Community Project Funding from the Federal Government. HLTC expects the groundbreaking to begin in the fall of 2022, and if all goes to plan, the theater would reopen around a year later.
Matt Lambros PA Lansdowne Sep 13, 2022 Architecture History Movies