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The interior of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. There multiple balconies and many rows of seats. The stage has a curtain over it. Photo by Bob Krist for Visit Philadelphia

11 of Philly’s most spectacular theaters

Come for the show, stay for the glorious architecture

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New York may have Broadway, but Philly is no stranger to theater. In fact, it’s home to America’s oldest theater, as well as the oldest opera venue in the country. And while the shows and performances that take place in these theaters are the main draw, the architecture and history are often just as stellar.

Now, as the winter sets in and the weather gets colder (buts still no snow, what gives?) we suggest taking the time to check out some of Philly’s best, most architecturally stunning theaters.

Here, we’ve mapped 10 historic and spectacular theaters in Philly—and one bonus theater in the ‘burbs—that have withstood the test of time and continue to wow with their impressive interiors. Many of them are still prominent venues, while others have plans for a big comeback in the near future. Did we miss your favorite? Let us know the comments!

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1. The Sedgwick Theater

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7137 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19119

This Mt. Airy theater is an Art Deco masterpiece that was designed and built as a movie palace in the late 1920s by William Harold Lee, a protégé of Frank Furness. It also happens to be one of the few remaining theaters designed by Lee in the region, as many of them have been demolished. Today, The Sedgwick Theatre is rented by Quintessence Theatre Group and continues to be one of Philly’s most interesting art deco masterpieces.

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2. Uptown Theater

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2227 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19132

The historic Uptown Theater on North Broad was built in 1927 and designed in the Art Deco style by the firm Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris. But it experienced its golden years in the 1950s, when it was part of the Chitlin Circuit, serving as a safe space for African-American artists to perform in its 2,000-plus seat venue. Its lavish interiors have since fallen into disrepair and the theater has been closed for years. But in recent years, the local community has rallied to restore the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Posted by Friends of the Philadelphia Uptown Theater on Wednesday, May 4, 2016

3. New Freedom Theatre

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1346 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19121

The Freedom Theatre is located next to the historic Edwin Forrest mansion on North Broad, which dates back to about 1853. Originally the home of Forrest, who was a renowned actor, it has served the African-American community as the home of the New Freedom Theatre and its 299-seat theater venue for the past 50 years. A portion of the property is currently for sale.

Posted by The New Freedom Theatre on Tuesday, March 24, 2015

4. Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House

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858 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19130

Possibly the most talked-about theater in Philly this year, the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House is making a comeback after years of sitting, unused. It was built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein I, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II. Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, it sat some 4,000 people and was the largest theater of its kind in the world at the time. But after serving many roles from a theater, to a circus venue to a church, it returns this year (actually, in just a few days) as a Live Nation venue. Check out the photos of the newly renovated space here, and stop by for its grand reopening on Monday, when developers will cut the ribbon and Bob Dylan will play.

5. The Tower Theatre

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S 69th St & Ludlow Streets
Upper Darby, PA 19082

Built in 1927 by John H. McClatchy, this Art Deco theater originally opened as a movie palace and venue for vaudeville acts. Today, its big claim to fame is that plenty of musicians have recorded their live albums while performing here, including David Bowie and Paul Simon. Located right over the edge of Philly in Upper Darby, the theater stands out for its iconic exterior signage and ornate interiors.

Posted by Tower Theater on Wednesday, March 16, 2016

6. Forrest Theatre

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1114 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Named after renowned actor Edwin Forrest (see No. 3), the Forrest Theatre dates back to 1927 and is considered the most elaborate design of architect Herbert J. Krapp. Earlier this year it underwent an extensive restoration, which included the redecoration of the auditorium and mezzanine lounge.

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7. Walnut Street Theatre

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825 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

Walnut Street Theatre holds the impressive distinctions of being the oldest theater in the nation, the official state theatre of Pennsylvania, and a National Historic Landmark. It dates back to 1809, when it opened as an equestrian circus venue. When an 80-foot-tall dome was added to the theater, it became the tallest building in Philly at the time. Numerous renowned architects have played a role in the theater’s many renovations, including William Strickland, John Haviland, and Willis Hale.

8. Academy of Music

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240 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Look familiar? The Academy of Music, known as the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street, is modeled after La Scala in Milan. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge, the opera venue opened its doors in 1857, and retains the title of being the oldest opera in the U.S. stilled use for its original purpose.

The interior of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. There multiple balconies and many rows of seats. The stage has a curtain over it. Photo by Bob Krist for Visit Philadelphia

9. Merriam Theater

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250 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

The Merriam Theater on the Avenue of the Arts was also designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp (see No. 6), in 1918, and the grand theater core is historically significant. The theater as a whole is about to embark on a massive renovation to create a better experience for theater-goers.

10. Kimmel Center

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300 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the Kimmel Center for the performing arts was built in 2001 at the height of the city’s plan to create a performing arts district along South Broad Street. The showstopper on Broad wows with its barrel-vaulted glass roof, which features a an expansive terrace beneath. There are actually two theaters within the Kimmel Center, including the Verizon Hall, which seats 2,500 and is in the shape of a cello.

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11. Bonus: Ambler Theater

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108 E Butler Ave
Ambler, PA 19002
(215) 345-7855
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Okay, so this theater is not in Philly proper—rather, it’s a short train ride away—but it’s such a staple of the town it’s named after that we wanted to include it.

Ambler Theater is an architectural masterpiece, constructed in 1928 as a movie palace, much like Sedgwick Theater (#1). Built by Phillip Harrison, who also built theaters in Bryn Mawr and Lansdowne, The Ambler Theater combines art deco signage with a terra cotta Spanish Colonial facade and a pipe organ (which is now gone).

It fell out of popularity in the late 1900s, but made a roaring comeback when it was purchased by Ambler Theater Company, a non-profit that took on a $2 million renovation to the space, bringing it back to its historic, ornate beginnings. Ask anyone from Ambler about the theater and you’re likely to get a very passionate response.

Posted by The Ambler Theater on Monday, November 15, 2010

1. The Sedgwick Theater

7137 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19119

This Mt. Airy theater is an Art Deco masterpiece that was designed and built as a movie palace in the late 1920s by William Harold Lee, a protégé of Frank Furness. It also happens to be one of the few remaining theaters designed by Lee in the region, as many of them have been demolished. Today, The Sedgwick Theatre is rented by Quintessence Theatre Group and continues to be one of Philly’s most interesting art deco masterpieces.

7137 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19119

2. Uptown Theater

2227 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19132

The historic Uptown Theater on North Broad was built in 1927 and designed in the Art Deco style by the firm Magaziner, Eberhard & Harris. But it experienced its golden years in the 1950s, when it was part of the Chitlin Circuit, serving as a safe space for African-American artists to perform in its 2,000-plus seat venue. Its lavish interiors have since fallen into disrepair and the theater has been closed for years. But in recent years, the local community has rallied to restore the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

2227 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19132

3. New Freedom Theatre

1346 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19121

The Freedom Theatre is located next to the historic Edwin Forrest mansion on North Broad, which dates back to about 1853. Originally the home of Forrest, who was a renowned actor, it has served the African-American community as the home of the New Freedom Theatre and its 299-seat theater venue for the past 50 years. A portion of the property is currently for sale.

1346 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19121

4. Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House

858 N Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19130

Possibly the most talked-about theater in Philly this year, the Philadelphia Metropolitan Opera House is making a comeback after years of sitting, unused. It was built in 1908 by Oscar Hammerstein I, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II. Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, it sat some 4,000 people and was the largest theater of its kind in the world at the time. But after serving many roles from a theater, to a circus venue to a church, it returns this year (actually, in just a few days) as a Live Nation venue. Check out the photos of the newly renovated space here, and stop by for its grand reopening on Monday, when developers will cut the ribbon and Bob Dylan will play.

858 N Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19130

5. The Tower Theatre

S 69th St & Ludlow Streets, Upper Darby, PA 19082

Built in 1927 by John H. McClatchy, this Art Deco theater originally opened as a movie palace and venue for vaudeville acts. Today, its big claim to fame is that plenty of musicians have recorded their live albums while performing here, including David Bowie and Paul Simon. Located right over the edge of Philly in Upper Darby, the theater stands out for its iconic exterior signage and ornate interiors.

S 69th St & Ludlow Streets
Upper Darby, PA 19082

6. Forrest Theatre

1114 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Named after renowned actor Edwin Forrest (see No. 3), the Forrest Theatre dates back to 1927 and is considered the most elaborate design of architect Herbert J. Krapp. Earlier this year it underwent an extensive restoration, which included the redecoration of the auditorium and mezzanine lounge.

1114 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

7. Walnut Street Theatre

825 Walnut St, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Walnut Street Theatre holds the impressive distinctions of being the oldest theater in the nation, the official state theatre of Pennsylvania, and a National Historic Landmark. It dates back to 1809, when it opened as an equestrian circus venue. When an 80-foot-tall dome was added to the theater, it became the tallest building in Philly at the time. Numerous renowned architects have played a role in the theater’s many renovations, including William Strickland, John Haviland, and Willis Hale.

825 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19107

8. Academy of Music

240 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102
The interior of the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. There multiple balconies and many rows of seats. The stage has a curtain over it. Photo by Bob Krist for Visit Philadelphia

Look familiar? The Academy of Music, known as the Grand Old Lady of Locust Street, is modeled after La Scala in Milan. Designed by Napoleon LeBrun and Gustavus Runge, the opera venue opened its doors in 1857, and retains the title of being the oldest opera in the U.S. stilled use for its original purpose.

240 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

9. Merriam Theater

250 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

The Merriam Theater on the Avenue of the Arts was also designed by architect Herbert J. Krapp (see No. 6), in 1918, and the grand theater core is historically significant. The theater as a whole is about to embark on a massive renovation to create a better experience for theater-goers.

250 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

10. Kimmel Center

300 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA 19102

Designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects, the Kimmel Center for the performing arts was built in 2001 at the height of the city’s plan to create a performing arts district along South Broad Street. The showstopper on Broad wows with its barrel-vaulted glass roof, which features a an expansive terrace beneath. There are actually two theaters within the Kimmel Center, including the Verizon Hall, which seats 2,500 and is in the shape of a cello.

300 S Broad St
Philadelphia, PA 19102

11. Bonus: Ambler Theater

108 E Butler Ave, Ambler, PA 19002

Okay, so this theater is not in Philly proper—rather, it’s a short train ride away—but it’s such a staple of the town it’s named after that we wanted to include it.

Ambler Theater is an architectural masterpiece, constructed in 1928 as a movie palace, much like Sedgwick Theater (#1). Built by Phillip Harrison, who also built theaters in Bryn Mawr and Lansdowne, The Ambler Theater combines art deco signage with a terra cotta Spanish Colonial facade and a pipe organ (which is now gone).

It fell out of popularity in the late 1900s, but made a roaring comeback when it was purchased by Ambler Theater Company, a non-profit that took on a $2 million renovation to the space, bringing it back to its historic, ornate beginnings. Ask anyone from Ambler about the theater and you’re likely to get a very passionate response.

108 E Butler Ave
Ambler, PA 19002