Walking down the block of 16th and South streets, it’s easy to see that there’s some construction happening at the site of the former Royal Theater. But it requires continuing toward the back of the building to realize that the historic building is currently being demolished—save the facade—to make way for a mixed-use residential project.
A recent visit to the site this week revealed what’s left of the Royal Theater on Kater Street, as the wrecking ball makes way for the Royal on South, a 5-story, mixed-use residential development by Robert Roskamp. Demolition began at the end of February and is expected to finish this spring, according to Hidden City Philadelphia.
But not all is lost of the Royal Theater, which opened in 1919 at 1524 South Street and was Philadelphia’s first Black-run theater. The South Street facade will be preserved, since the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia holds an easement on that portion of the property.
The Art Deco theater was designed by Frank E. Hahn, with William H. Lee leading the theater design. It’s certified historic both nationally and locally, but after shutting down in 1970 the theater sat abandoned for four decades.
Multiple developers presented plans for the theater over the years, until Roskamp bought the property in late 2016 and worked out the plan to save the facade with the Historical Commission. The project calls for 50 apartments, retail, and a series of townhouses along Kater Street.
Here some photos taken mid-demolition, revealing the last remnants of the Art Deco theater.
- A Royal Loss on South Street [Hidden City Philadelphia]
- Royal Theater site on South Street to be developed by new owner [Inquirer]