The Royal Theater's fall from grace

* 1919: Developers and brothers Abraham and Morris Wax hire architect Frank Hahn, who later designed the Gershman Y and the Warwick Hotel, to design the 9,600-square foot, 1,125-seat theater.

* May 1920: The Royal Theater opens as a first-run movie theater for African-Americans. The all-black staff subsequently begins the Colored Motion Picture Operators' Union.

* 1920s-'40s: The Royal becomes a live-entertainment venue, featuring such stars as Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey, Fats Waller and Billy Paul. Live daytime children's talent shows and Saturday movie matinees were added in the 1950s.

* 1970: The Royal closes because of dwindling audience and neighborhood decline. Also, with changes in civil-rights laws, blacks could attend other theaters. Developer Michael Singer buys the Royal five years later.

* 1980: The Royal is named to the National Register of Historic Places.

* October 1997: The city Law Department advises Singer that the city is suing him for code violations for allowing the building to deteriorate, with water leaking through its roof and pooling inside the building.

* 1998: The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia buys the Royal from Singer for $350,000 as he heads to court to seek a permit to demolish it.

* 2000: Universal Companies, founded by Kenny Gamble, buys the Royal for $300,000 from Preservation Alliance. It remains vacant.

- Valerie Russ

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