The Standard Theatre — Philadelphia's own Vaudeville Theatre
The Standard Theatre once located at 1124 South Street has not always been known as the Standard Theatre – the first building to occupy the 1124 location was the South Street Baptist Church. It was then in 1889 that architect Henry D. Dagit partnered with builder George M. Rowe of Rowe and Dagit to transform the South Street Baptist Church into the Standard Theatre. Additional alterations to the theater were made by architect Angus S. Wade. In 1924 the theater changed hands and was bought by John Trusty Gibson – Philadelphia’s first successful African American entrepreneurial. Because of the success of his, Gibson’s Auditorium Theatre, located at the intersection of Broad and Lombard streets, Gibson mad e the decision to rename the Standard Theatre to Gibson’s Standard Theatre.
Some of the most prosperous years for the Gibson’s Standard Theatre were during the Harlem Renaissance era, which lasted from 1918 through 1937. When African Americans began to flock to the North during the Great Migration, Gibson began to book African American vaudeville – popular black acts on the chitlin circuit. Gibson’s Standard Theatre provided quality entertainment for both white and African American patrons. Many would crowd the theatre to enjoy African American vaudeville stage shows as well as popular music of the time.
The Gibson’s Standard Theatre also helped spread the popularity of jazz music within the Philadelphia region. Singers such as Bessie Smith, Erma C. Miller’s Brown Skinned Models, and jazz orchestras led by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington all stopped for performances at Gibson’s Standard Theatre. The theatre was also a place where homegrown talents got their start. Artists – such as the Nicholas Brothers and Ethel Waters – started their careers on the Standard stage. Live music was not the only form of entertainment the Gibson Standard Theatre had to offer. Comedians, Bylow and Ashes stopped in to perform at the Standard when their national tour led them to Philadelphia.
Gibson’s Standard Theatre generated so much success, that he was able to purchase the falling Dunbar Theatre located nearby at Broad and Lombard in 1921. The ticket sales between the two theaters made Gibson one of the wealthiest African Americans in Philadelphia during this time. When the Great Depression hit in late October of 1929, Gibson lost everything, including his prized Gibson’s Standard Theatre. Throughout the city of Philadelphia, African American vaudeville had once prospered, but this era came to a close when the Gibson’s Standard Theatre was forced to close its doors.
The building that was once the South Street Baptist Church, the Standard Theatre, and Gibson’s Standard Theatre, eventually reopened as a movie house in 1935. The theater once again experienced hard times after suffering significant hurricane damage in 1954 and 1957. The structure was then permanently demolished and torn down. Today, all that remains of the widely used theater is an empty lot.