Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lost Building of the Week-- December 28th

The Empire Theatre

Southeast corner of Broad and Locust Streets

Holy fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Willis G. Hale ain't nuthin' to fuck with!
                    SEVEN FUCKING YEARS. That's how long this building stood. Seven. The fact that there's more than one picture of it just tells you how awesome this building was for the extremely brief period of time it stood. This was probably one of Willis G. Hale's best buildings, and anyone who reads this shit knows that THAT MEANS SOMETHING.
                   The Empire Theatre is an obscure-ass building to know anything about. Even the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Project has nothing on it. In the late 1800's, there was a brief period of time when the area surrounding Broad and Locust Streets was one of the richest, cleanest, and most valuable parts of this city. The 1300 and 1400 blocks of Locust were off the fucking chain. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania (still there), Episcopal Academy (moved), Library Company of Philadelphia (moved and moved back), College of Physicians (moved), the Rugby Academy (still standing but different), and the Academy of Music were all in the same row.
                 In the early 1890's, it seemed logical that Broad Street could use some more theaters to take advantage of the situation. Info is spotty about how it all began but some sources imply that William M. Singerly, press tycoon and Willis G. Hale fan, had something to do with it. That makes sense. He owned the previous incarnation of the Empire Theatre that burned down in 1886 and Singerly and Hale worked together often. Hale had even designed his office. Like this:

Singerly's office implied that he was also not something with which to fuck.
                   The Empire Theatre was built in 1891, right across the street from the Academy of Music. The place was source says 546,000 square feet, which seems impossible. Of course, this is a Hale building, so anything is possible. 

This map of the ventilation system should be enough info to re-build it!
                  Large extravagant shows went on in this 1500-seater for almost the entire 1890s. Then, the development came. Once it was understood that the new city hall was going to be built nearby, the commercial core of the city started moving west, taking over the briefly rich-ass neighborhood. This corner of Broad and Locust became too damn valuable for a theater and the kick-ass Hotel Walton was built in this spot in by 1898, only seven years after the Empire was built.
                  What a building! If thing managed to survive into the 21st Century, people wouldn't even know that the Academy of Music exists. Good job, Willis. Good job.

The Empire sometime before 1896.

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