Standing on the corner of Ninth & Walnut Streets in Philadelphia for over 200 years, the Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest theatre in America. The theatre opened February 2, 1809 and started as an equestrian circus where crowds would come to watch teams of horses paraded around a dirt riding ring. However, by 1812 the building was converted to a legitimate theatre and featured their first production, The Rivals.
Since then, many of America’s great actors of the 19th and 20th century have appeared on the stage of the Walnut Theatre such as Edwin Booth, the Barrymores, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Redford and William Shatner. In 1941 the theatre was purchased by the Shubert Organization where it began housing many pre-Broadway try-outs throughout the 20th century. Many of the shows moved on to become American classics such as A Street Car Named Desire starring Marlon Brando and The Diary of Anne Frank featuring Susan Strasberg.
In 1964 the Walnut Street was designated as a National Historic Landmark. Then, in 1969 the building was purchased by a local foundation where it underwent an extensive renovation, designed by architect F. Bryan Loving. The Walnut Street Theatre Company began its most recent incarnation as a self-producing, non-profit regional theatre in 1982, with a vision of once again creating theatre in a space that is so steeped in the American theatre’s traditions and history. In 1984 the Walnut Street Theatre School was created, where today over 1,200 students enroll each year.
Today, the Walnut Street Theatre is one of the few theatres in American that still a “hemp house” where backstage is operated by a grid, rope, pulley and sandbag system that was used nearly 200 years ago. The theatre also houses more than 20 productions and over 600 performances each season where over 350,000 people attend and has the largest subscription of any theatre company in the country.
The photos of the Walnut Street Theatre were taken by photographer Mark Gavin. For more information about the Walnut Street Theatre visit their website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org
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