When I first moved to Philadelphia, the Goldman Theatre, on 15th and Market Streets, was already in bad shape. The white facade was sooty and most of the tubes that had illuminated the theater’s surname – GOLDMAN, spelled out vertically — had fizzled and burned out. I walked past it every day on my way to Suburban Station, noting the titles advertised on the marquee — nothing I’d ever heard of or would ever want to see. There was a red velveteen display case next to the ticket window, featuring curled and yellowed news clippings of the Goldman’s glory days. Peering in through the greasy windows, I learned that the Goldman was one of the city’s oldest first-run movie theaters, a place where film stars had shown up in limousines for glamorous premieres. But by 1984, that was ancient history. The most exciting thing happening at the Goldman was that it was about to be torn down.
It’s funny how you can walk past a building every day and not really see it, how one minor change in its appearance can make you understand what you’re seeing entirely differently. To me, the Goldman was merely an eyesore. I was unmoved by editorials that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, complaining that first television and then multiplex theaters had ruined the experience of cinema and that people had lowered their expectations so considerably that film, too, was a dying art. It was sad, I thought, but that’s progress. Where I grew up, in Phoenix, new gas stations and grocery stores and houses were born every day. There was an atmosphere of plenty, a weird consensus among the citizenry (mostly transplanted Easterners) that it was impossible for anything to die or be depleted.
Such were my sentiments when I visited the corner of 15th and Market one dreary, rainy evening, the evening the wrecking crew was to begin the blasting and hammering that would bring the Goldman down. I arrived just in time to see the “G” plucked from the tower’s shoulders by the talons of a squealing crane. The “G” hovered in the black sky a moment, gleaming in the floodlights the crew had set up. Then finally it was lowered; I remember how it twisted and swung, as if it were resisting, in the gentle wind.