Places that once were

The 100 things that make South Philly South Philly

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Movie/vaudeville theaters

At one time, there were 768 theaters in Philly, 31 of which were in South Philly, recalls local historian and author Joe Sbaraglia.

Nostalgia buffs know that lavish theaters, showcasing the latest Hollywood films or vaudeville acts, were a rich part of this area's entertainment history.

One of the first theaters was the Stratford at Seventh and Dickinson streets, which was open from 1906-66.

The Grand Theater opened in 1911 and showed silent films and vaudeville before "talkies" came along. It was a bargain date on Saturdays, when it showed a double-feature matinee, Sbaraglia says. The building, at Seventh and Snyder, was converted to a discount store in the late '50s, but a 1995 windstorm blew away the facade, and there again stood the Grand's marquee.

The Broadway at Broad and Snyder closed in 1971, and the President Theatre at 23rd and Snyder hung in until 1975. The Broadway also featured vaudeville acts of the day, as did the Dante and Savoia, says Sbaraglia.

"South Philly was a very popular stop on the Broadway tour. Most of the big vaudeville stars played here," he says.

In May 1989, the lights went down at the 79-year-old Colonial at 11th and Moyamensing, which showed films for a mere $1.25.

South Philly was home to one drive-in, South City Drive-in, which opened in 1950. Touted as a Hollywood-style theater, it stood at Broad and Pattison and took up 22 acres and eight city blocks, according to a 1950 Review article. --L.G.

JFK Stadium

In the summer of 1985, Bob Geldof stood on the JFK stage, fist raised in the air in an impassioned plea to put an end to the famine holocaust sweeping Africa. The 12-hour music marathon called Live Aid was one of JFK's last great moments, and the one that put the stadium in an international spotlight.

Four years later, in July 1989, then-Mayor W. Wilson Goode ordered JFK shut down after fire inspectors found safety hazards in the 66-year-old open-air arena.

That was the beginning of the end.

JFK's fate was sealed when Spectacor, the parent company of the Spectrum and Philadelphia Flyers, announced plans in 1991 to replace it with a 21,000-seat indoor sports arena.

One year later, the legendary stadium had a heavy date with a 3-ton lead wrecking ball. Many South Philadelphians gathered at the site to watch their memories of concerts and sporting events crumble to the ground.

In 1994, CoreStates stepped up to the plate with $40 million to name the new facility the CoreStates Center. It has already changed names to the First Union Center, but JFK remains etched in South Philly stadium history. --L.G.


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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Anonymous said... on Sep 13, 2010 at 12:21AM

“And accross the street from the Broadway Theater was the Sun Ray Drugs and on the same side as Sun Ray was a rolling skating rink.. Remember when pop corn was 10 cents a bag at the Broadway in 1952.
Great memories!”

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2. Anonymous said... on Aug 24, 2012 at 09:33AM

“Any one ever go to the Broadway Theater on Saturday in the 50's?
For a dime (Ten Cents) you could stay all day and night till closing time that was after midnight somtime. You would see a double feature, cartoons, a seriel like Flash Gorden, or the Bowery Boy's, the news, and then stay and watch it all over again on the same dime. They had a great balcony when you were with your date!”

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3. Paul Callen said... on Mar 1, 2013 at 05:41PM

“Would Love to Hear Some More info About the "South City" Drive-In Theater Years of Operation? Does Anyone Have Any Pics???”

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4. Kid Zip said... on Apr 22, 2013 at 03:36PM

“I worked at the South City Drive In when I was 16 in 1952. They had kiddie rides and animals on display behind the screen, too. I took care of the monkeys on occasion, which was somewhat of a chore because they liked to throw some unmentionable items at the gawkers and caretakers. I left for the Marines in 1954 and have no other details about it, except that it was a fun place to work at the time.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jan 28, 2014 at 02:55AM

“I sold the Inquire on the corner in passyunk homes between 1959-61. Saw the refinery fire there on hartramp street? Rem the golf course and hospt. And the heart at Franklin institute.”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jun 7, 2014 at 10:34AM


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7. Anonymous said... on Jul 17, 2014 at 01:46PM

“How about the drive in threatre where Vets Stadium is or Aquram just up the steet from that?”

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8. Anonymous said... on Sep 11, 2014 at 03:05PM

“I was a paperboy for the Inquirer too in 1961. Played for the Little Admirals in the passyunk homes little league. Remember going to the Broadway, the Colonial and Aquarama. Got mugged once by some older kids while walking past the Quartermaster on the way to the 5 & 10. Great post...brings back memories.”

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9. gary said... on Jan 27, 2015 at 05:21PM

“I grew up in passyunk homes during the early to mid 60s. Our little league team was sponsored by beef and beer on penrose ave. Passyunk back then was not the drug infested ghetto it later.became


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