Friday, February 26, 2016

Stepping Back in Time on an Old Stage

Finally on Saturday the temperatures rose to a wonderfully summery 60 degrees. It felt positively balmy and definitely the kind of weather that you didn't need a jacket. But as we stepped out from the car in the warm sunshine in Philadelphia I zipped my coat up tight and activated my hand warmers.
We had all paid $55 each to photograph the old Lansdowne Theater, had been forewarned that there would be no heating and that it would be cold inside.
The Lansdowne Theater opened in 1927 showing a silent movie, Knockout Riley, It seated 1300 and featured a Moorish style architecture with bright colored paint and brocades. With its painted ceiling, chandeliers and the most impressive center light, it is still a magnificent spectacle when you first walk through the lobby into the auditorium. The colors have faded with paint curls scrolling down the walls, plaster dropping and leaving empty colorless crevices, but for the most part it's easy to imagine how this looked in its hey day. It has stood the test of time well.
This is the center ceiling light which when lit is incredibly beautiful and actually caused me to gape open-mouthed for a few seconds. There is so much detail in this theater that at first I just took a few snapshots while I took it all in. Intricately carved plaster work is everywhere, scrolls undulating across corners and arches while theatrical masked figures peer down from ledges.
I brought my grandmother's opera glasses with me to use as a prop but really no extras were needed to enhance the photos, there was already so much for the eyes to feast on.
And then the curator turned on the main light. What an amazing piece.
The theater held live performances on its stage as well as showing films, and even had a Kimball organ, purchased for $20.000, that was played during the silent movies by the local "Melody Mac" MacLean. It even produced sound effects such as bird song, car horns and alarms. But unfortunately the organ wasn't here as it was sold in the 70's to help pay for air conditioning repairs.
The theater was closed in 1987 for cosmetic repairs but when a fire broke out in the basement of some of the retail stores that were part of the building, the electrical system was badly damaged. Due to lack of finances the building languished until 2007 when the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation purchased it and continued with repairs with the help of grants. Their website is here, and they have repaired the roof and added a fire detection system.
We were also allowed upstairs into the projection room where two old projectors stood silently pointing towards the stage.
Old film reels were stacked on shelves in a dark cupboard that we had to light with a flashlight. We all formed an orderly queue as we patiently waited for our turn to squeezre into the cupboard for a few photos.
Sides of seats stacked in a back room, waiting I hope, for a time when funds will return them repaired to the seats in the auditorium. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done but it's obvious much restoration has already been done. Of course though, we were happy to see the peeling paint and battered plaster, it worked well with our abandoned preferences.
The theater continues to host events to help raise money for further restoration, something the local community is eager to help with. They have restored the outdoor ticket booth and started work in the lobby. They have even found the original organ in Arizona waiting to be repaired so it can be played again. I hope it finds its way home.
The theater also has a Facebook page here.
We left the theater and walked outside to a lovely warm day where we blinked hard in the sunlight. Lunch was had at a local diner and then we drove to the quay to look at the U.S. United States, an old liner that's waiting for its own restoration work to begin.
A huge and magnificent vessel that loomed above the buildings on the dock. I had hoped that we would be able to get closer but it wasn't to be, despite checking out all the fencing and side streets. So we poked lenses up against the fence and hoped for the best. Maybe one day we'll get the opportunity to get photos a little closer up.
It was dark as we headed home so no real urbexing was done apart from a quick stroll around the grounds of an old rayon factory that we'd been to a few years ago. Another place that we have on our list to revisit.

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