By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Prince Music Theater, on Chestnut Street near Broad in center city, has a new lease on life, thanks in part to the Philadelphia Film Society. That group, which runs the annual Philadelphia Film Festival, has purchased the struggling theater.
Years of financial turmoil at the Prince Theater culminated last fall when the operators — the American Music Theater Festival — pulled out, the house was shuttered, and the building owners struggled to find a new operator.
Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, says the city’s film and theater communities had been worried. “There were a lot of concerns about what was the future of the Prince Music Theater,” she recalls.
Among those concerned was Andrew Greenblatt, executive director of the Philadelphia Film Society, which stages the city’s film festival each October.
“(The Prince) is the centerpiece of our festival for our biggest films,” he tells KYW Newsradio. “All of our centerpiece films are there, and all of our biggest special presentations. So I don’t know how we would do the festival without it.”
But together, Pinkenson and Greenblatt have rescued the Prince from a potential wrecking ball. Pinkenson convinced the Wyncote Foundation, a local philanthropy, to donate $8 million to allow the Film Society to purchase the Prince.
Pinkenson says the Film Society was the ideal choice:
“They’ve already done a terrific job pulling together the Roxy (theater at 2023 Sanson Street), and I thought they were the ones who had experience and foresight and vision, and I thought they would be able to pull this off.”
Now that the Film Society owns the building, Greenblatt says, programming at the Prince won’t miss a beat.
“The plans are to be both a film house, where we’re going to show a good deal of film, especially in the summer and winter. And then we will also be renting the place, so we have other partners coming in,” he notes.
Among those other partners are the Curtis Opera, which will return in May. Pinkenson hopes the new ownership of the Prince will allow other companies to make it their home.
“I’m also completely thrilled that all of the tenants who were at the Prince historically for years, and others that wish they could be, will now find a happy situation at the Prince, where they’ll be able to find a new permanent home,” she said today.
Beyond programming, Greenblatt says, a next step for the Film Society is fundraising — in order to ensure that the society has the resources to maintain the Prince Theater.
“That is our next immediate goal: to build up this endowment and a cash reserve so that we can both make improvements and make fixes as they come up,” he said.
The site has been an operating theatre since 1921, under several different names. It was christened the Prince in 1999, named for producer and director Harold Prince.