Arch Street Theatre

The Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the 19th century, was one of the three main Philadelphia theaters for plays; the other two were the Walnut Street Theatre and the Chestnut Street Theatre. The Arch Street Theatre opened on 1 October 1828 under the management of William B. Wood. The building's architect was John Haviland.[1]


The building which housed the Arch Street Theatre was located between 6th and 7th Streets at 819 Arch Street. Famous performers, such as Fanny Davenport, Joseph Jefferson, and Charlotte Cushman, played at what was popularly called "The Arch".[2] John Wilkes Booth joined the theatre's stock company in 1857 and played for a full season. He appeared occasionally at the Arch during the 1850s and early 1860s.[3]

In the 1830s Edwin Forrest played many successful roles at the Arch, and several original plays written at his request debuted there.[4]

In 1832 the Arch Street Theatre had an entire company of American actors, which was a first for American theater companies.[5] The managers were William Forrest, William Duffy, and William Jones.[6] The company included James E. Murdoch.[5]

In 1860 the stockholders of the Arch suggested that Louisa Lane Drew should assume the management, and in 1861 the theatre was opened under the name "Mrs. John Drew's Arch Street Theatre". Louisa Lane Drew was the grandmother of Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore.[7]

For the next thirty-one years the theatre-going public was treated to one of the greatest of all American stock companies. After Drew's tenure ended in 1892 the theatre's stature went into a slow decline until the building itself was demolished in 1936.[1]

In 1875 the theatre became the venue for the first performance of a work by Gilbert and Sullivan in America when Alice Oates staged an unauthorised and approximate performance of Trial by Jury here.[8]

During the third season under Louisa Lane Drew's management, Lester Wallack, E. L. Davenport, and Edwin Booth acted at the Arch.[9]

In the summer of 1863 the theatre was pulled down and rebuilt (with red plush seats and crystal chandeliers) from the stage to the façade;[9] the seating capacity was one thousand, nine-hundred eleven.[10]

In 1898 Morris Finkel rented the Arch Street Theatre and presented Yiddish theater for several months, including one week of performances by Keni Liptzin. The prolific Yiddish theatre composer Joseph Brody, recently arrived from Russia, got his American start there as well.[11] However, Finkel soon abandoned the project and the Arch returned to vaudeville. In 1909 Mike (Mordechai) Thomashefsky took over the Arch and presented both vaudeville and Yiddish theatre until his death in 1932.[12][13]

The Arch Street Theater was rented in 1921 as a hall for Jewish High Holiday services.[14]

The Arch Street Theatre was demolished in 1936.[15]


  1. ^ a b Arch Street Theatre, Free Library of Philadelphia
  2. ^ Pawlak, Debra Ann (Summer 2014). "The Lady in Charge". Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine. XL (3).
  3. ^ Arch Street Theatre, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
  4. ^ Hornblow, Arthur (1919). A History of the Theatre in America. vol. 2. p. 309. |volume= has extra text (help)
  5. ^ a b Autobiographical sketch of Mrs. John Drew. p. 40.
  6. ^ Ludlow, Noah Miller (1880). Dramatic life as I found it. G.I. Jones and Company. pp. 314–315.
  7. ^ The House of Barrymores, Margot Peters
  8. ^ Gänzl, Kurt. The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, Schirmer Books; 2nd edition (May 2001)
  9. ^ a b Autobiographical sketch of Mrs. John Drew. p. 110.
  10. ^ Arch Street Theatre,
  11. ^ Perlmutter, Sholem (1952). Yidishe dramaṭurgn un ṭeaṭer ḳompoziṭors (in Yiddish). New York: Ikuf. p. 350.
  12. ^ The Arch Street Theatre, The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia, The Museum of Family History
  13. ^ Mike (Mordechai) Thomashefsky, Lives in the Yiddish Theatre, Museum of Family History
  14. ^ "Yom Hapiiurim, Day of Atonement, Begins at Sundown". The Evening Ledger. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. September 29, 1914. p. 3.
  15. ^ America's Longest Run: A History of the Walnut Street Theatre by Andrew Davis c.2010 ISBN 9780271035789

Coordinates: 39°57′12″N 75°09′16″W / 39.953380°N 75.154486°W / 39.953380; -75.154486

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