Towne Playhouse in Roxborough faces demolition

 Formerly known as the Wissahickon Theatre, the Towne Playhouse dates back to the 1930s.(Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Formerly known as the Wissahickon Theatre, the Towne Playhouse dates back to the 1930s.(Neema Roshania/WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Department of Licenses and Inspections plans to demolish the Towne Playhouse on Ridge Avenue, one of the last theater buildings in Roxborough.

Issued on Feb. 23, the permit approves consolidation of the properties at 5261, 5263 and 5265 Ridge Ave. — the address of the theater. The permit also allows the demolition of any existing structures and non-loadbearing structures inside the current buildings.

The future of the location remains a mystery to the Wissahickon Interested Citizens Association. Because the developer is working by-right, he does not have to gain support from the Registered Community Organization. The zoning of the neighborhood is marked as small commercial/residential mixed use.

WICA President Jon Miller said there was a brief discussion regarding the demolition at the group’s general member meeting.

“The general feeling was that we are losing some of the architectural history of the community,” Miller said.

“If the building has to be torn down, having some retail that’s going to draw foot traffic and hopefully revitalize and continue our stretch of Ridge as a business corridor would be the best option.”

Don Simon, President of the Central Roxborough Civic Association, attended the meeting and heard that Hollywood royalty and actual Princess of Monaco, Philly native Grace Kelly, performed at the theater as a child.

“I cast a wary eye on any plan to demolish buildings in Roxborough and Wissahickon,” Simon said.

“Apparently, they want to build an apartment house there,” Simon added. “But we could really use a movie theater in the area, and not like the one on Main Street. Something more like the Ritz.”

Miller said the WICA will reach out to the new owners and invite them to upcoming meetings for open discussion.

Formerly known as the Wissahickon Theatre, the Towne Playhouse dates back to the 1930s. The 400-seat theater was converted into a dance studio before its closing.

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