Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Royal Theater

The Royal Theatre by Sherrinemae
The Royal Theatre, a photo by Sherrinemae on Flickr.

This city is great for a lot of things:  history, art, people.  This project hit the spot for all of these.

A new client brought in 3 large format photographs of images he had taken of the mural on the Royal Theater, 1524 South Street.  The mural was completed in September '05 by serial muralist Eric Okdeh.  The Royal Theater has been abandoned since 1970.

As I was not familiar with the Royal and its history, my client directed me to Hidden City Philadelphia, a project that sheds light on historic abandoned structures and locations and installs temporary art or perfomances in them.  The Royal Theater was included on its 2009 location schedule.

Hidden City's historical data and timeline on the Royal are comprehensive, below a direct link in the reprinted text.  

"The Royal Theater, called "American's Finest Colored Photoplay House",  upon its 1920 opening, was the first black-run theater in the city. The theater became a beacon for the African-American entertainment sector on South Street. Patrons regularly filled the theater's 1,200 seats to see acts like Fats Waller and Bessie Smith. Patrons also loved the films at the Royal, which included films shot at local Colored Pictures Film Corporation. The first staff of the theater went on to become the nucleus of the Negro Motion Pictures Operators Union. The community was closely tied to the theater. Neighborhood residents were the Royal's most loyal patrons and participated in talent shows and radio broadcasts. Business owners received increased foot traffic after Royal shows. But by the 1960s, the threat of the construction of an expressway in the neighborhood (that never materialized) and Civil rights legislation, which allowed blacks to move freely and patronized other entertainment venues, decimated the Royal's neighborhood and attendance. The Royal closed its doors in 1970. The Royal deteriorated quickly: trees sprouted from its masonry and moisture destroyed the interior. Urban decay took hold of the neighborhood by the 1980s, with drugs and empty lots becoming staples of the neighborhood. By the early 1990s, the Royal was up for demolition. But the demolition request spurred new interest in the Royal: but for years, an owner was hard to come by. Finally, by 2000, native Philadelphian Kenny Gamble purchased the theater; Gamble hopes to rehabilitate it. Meanwhile, the resurgent neighborhood has new small businesses and homeowners. Perhaps the Royal's resurgence will follow."

Images of the interior as it appeared in 2009 courtesy of Kevin Derrick:

Right, so as my client is giving me all this wonderful food for thought, we had a project to design!  We selected a slightly patinaed bronze frame with large beads.  Gilded and very jazz.  Perfect.  That and an off-white mat is all they needed.

and here they are in situ in the client's home :)

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