William Friehofer had been building theaters for decades before taking on 69th street. This was the largest theater he would build. Built in 1927 as a movie and vaudeville showplace, the Tower Theater was reborn in the 1970's as a premier venue for concerts. The Tower Theater was opened in 1928 by John H. McClatchy as one of Upper Darby Township's first movie houses.
A high, steel tower has loomed above the landscape at 69th and Ludlow streets since 1927. Evocative of the old RKO Pictures logo, the structure initially was topped off with a swirling, illuminated ball that could be seen for miles, and gave the Upper Darby showplace beneath it, the Tower Theater, its name.
Today, virtually all the other ornate "photoplay" (movie) and stage-show palaces of the Tower's size (originally 2,616 seats, now 3,119) and elegance are gone. And, sadly, that attention-grabbing light fixture no longer functions.
"Just one year before the Great Depression, the Tower went up in record time. The 3500 seats were installed in five days, a fact the Stone Company (the seat manufacturer) was very proud of. At the time of the grand opening the builder, George Kessler Co. had been a leader in theater construction for 50 years.
In the 1930's and 40's with Vaudeville on the way out, movies slowly became the main attraction at the Tower on 69th Street, and in the 50's and 60's the Tower presented first run movies and live events with a class and style unequaled by other theaters".
The lobby, with its 25 foot marble style ceiling, had the largest Oriental rug in the area covering the marble and Caen stone floor. The foyer was lavishly furnished with couches and chaise lounges. In the basement were smoking lounges for both men and women done in an Italian style with wood beams overhead. The lighting in the foyer and lobbies was constantly changing colors. 135 miles of wire ran through the building to the largest dimmer board in the country (at the time), With a capacity of 3500 seats, the Tower Theater was, and still is, one of the largest theaters in the region.
It was then owned by the A.M. Ellis chain and showed third-run movies for a $1 admission.
The 70's ushered in a new era to Upper Darby... the Rock Concert.
In 1972 Philadelphia music fans discovered the near perfect acoustics of the stately 69th Street movie house. Dave Mason was the first to headline. The support act on opening night was Buzzy Linhart. Buzzy said it all when he stopped in the middle of his set and told the crowd this place has more class than the Fillmore ever had!
For the next three or more years, Midnight Sun's Tower concerts became the stuff of local legend. The Tower introduced America to David Bowie and The Spiders from Mars in 1972 as well as the then-unknown Genesis with Peter Gabriel that same year; Genesis played a midnight concert with a $4 admission price. In September 1974, Bruce Springsteen – who had an early, strong, and long-lived fan base in Philadelphia – introduced the world to his new E Street Band, with Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, at the Tower Theater.
|Photo courtesy of infotaupe.blogspot.com|
It was the first time in his career that Springsteen earned $5,000 for a night's work. He returned in early November for two sold-out shows; it would still be a year before his big breakthrough with Born to Run and the attendant publicity. Other regular Midnight Sun headliners at the Tower included Jackson Browne, Lou Reed, Steve Miller, and various editions of the Jerry Garcia/Merle Saunders band. David Bowie repaid his Philly fans by recording his David Live album during a long run of shows at the Tower. The Average White Band's live album, Person to Person, was recorded at the Tower with Atlantic Records' Arif Mardin in the production truck behind the theater.
In late 1975, the owners informed Midnight Sun that they were selling the theater to the promoter's much larger competitor, Electric Factory Concerts. The final Midnight Sun produced show at the Tower was 10cc, the British pop duo, in December 1975.
A well-regarded 1980 show at the theater became the source for the video Paul Simon in Concert, released in 2003 as Live at the Tower Theatre.
The Tower Theater happened to be a popular venue for Berliner's Tangerine Dream since they played here 4 times on their North American Tours. Dates include April 6, 1977; June 25, 1986; September 10, 1988; and October 10, 1992.
By the 2000s the theater continued to be active, filling much the same role in the concert hierarchy as the Beacon Theatre in New York City. The theater operates under the Live Nation/Electric Factory Concerts name.(1)
The lobby will soon have its 25 foot high dome again. A drop ceiling will be removed to reveal once again this magnificent feature of the Tower Theater.
Jerry performed here on
11/16/74 early and late shows Merl Saunders
(Early) That's The Touch I Like, Expressway;He Ain't Give You None;You Can Leave Your Hat On;Valdez In The Country;Going Going Gone;Second That Emotion
(Late) It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry;Favela;My Problems Got Problems Mystery Train>La-La;People Make The World Go Round;Money Honey;The Harder They Come;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Promoter Midnight Sun/Rick green
4/11/75 early and late shows Legion Of Mary
(Early) Tore Up Over You;Favela;I Feel Like Dynamite;Last Train From Poor Valley;Tough Mama;Mystery Train>Expressway;People Make The World Go Round;Second That Emotion;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
(Late) The Harder They Come;You Can Leave Your Hat On;Soul Roach;Wicked Messenger,;Money Honey;Mississippi Moon;Boogie On Reggae Woman;I'll Take A Melody;How Sweet It Is
Promoter Midnight Sun
Attendance for early show-2236
Attendance for late show-2792
10/31/75 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) Sugaree, That's What Love Will Make You Do, Sitting In Limbo, Every Word You Say, All By Myself, Tough Mama, Pig's Boogie, They Love Each Other, Mississippi Moon, Mystery Train
(Late) Let It Rock;Tore Up Over You;Russian Lullaby;Friend Of The Devil;It's Too Late, Lady Sleeps>No Time;Money Honey;Positively 4th Street;How Sweet It Is;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down;Let's Spend The Night Together>Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder
Ron Tutt on drums.
Promoter Midnight Sun.
Late show-"At the beginning of the set Nicky Hopkins came out on stage with a wizard's hat on and a broom and ran around the stage on it (Jerry seemed mildly annoyed).
Also, Jerry played slide for the last number (Edward the Madshirt Grinder). In the middle of his slide solo, he abruptly stopped and walked off the stage, ending the show."
6/21/76 Grateful Dead
I:The Music Never Stopped;Sugaree;Mama Tried;Brown Eyed Women;Cassidy;Row Jimmy;Looks Like Rain;Scarlet Begonias;Lazy Lightnin'> Supplication;Candyman;The Promised Land
II:The Wheel;Samson And Delilah;Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin's Tower;Dancing In The Street;Wharf Rat>Around And Around;It Must Have Been The Roses
Encore:Johnny B. Goode
6/22/76 Grateful Dead
I:U.S. Blues;The Music Never Stopped;Crazy Fingers>Comes A Time;Big River;Tennessee Jed;Looks Like Rain;They Love Each Other; Cassidy;Ship Of Fools;The Promised Land
II:Playing In The Band>Space Jam>Drums>The Wheel>Playing In The Band Reprise;Samson And Delilah;Eyes Of The World>Dancing In The Street;Around And Around>Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad>One More Saturday Night
6/23/76 Grateful Dead
I:The Music Never Stopped;Sugaree;Mama Tried;Row Jimmy;Big River;High Time;Looks Like Rain;Brown Eyed Women;Lazy Lightnin'>Supplication;Friend Of The Devil;The Promised Land
II:Samson And Delilah;Might As Well;Let It Grow >Drums>Let It Grow>Cosmic Charlie;Saint Stephen>Not Fade Away>Saint Stephen> Drums;Dancing In The Street>The Wheel.Johnny B. Goode
"The show actually started with a pretty long rendering of Bob Weir's nonsensical story of the Little Yellow Dog."
6/24/76 Grateful Dead
I:Cold Rain And Snow;Big River;Friend Of The Devil;Cassidy;It Must Have Been The Roses;Lazy Lightnin'> Supplication;Tennessee Jed;Looks Like Rain;Scarlet Begonias;The Promised Land
II:Help On The Way>Slipknot!>Franklin's Tower>Samson And Delilah;Wharf Rat>Jam>Dancing In The Street;Sugar Magnolia
WMMR FM broadcast
11/25/77 Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) How Sweet It Is;Catfish John;Sitting In Limbo;That's What Love Will Make You Do;Knockin' On Heaven's Door;Mystery Train;Mission In The Rain,
(Late) The Way You Do The Things You Do;They Love Each Other;Second That Emotion;Russian Lullaby;Midnight Moonlight;Gomorrah;Rubin And Cherise;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down;Lonesome And A Long Way From Home
Promoter Electric Factory.
"The November 1977 Tower Theater shows, both are great, first is mind blowing...I remember watching Jerry and getting the feeling that he was thinking "so, you came to see me play guitar, watch this" and he just went off....I used to have these types of mind connections with him all the time. Even when I was way back and out of the action so to speak or up close I felt that Jerry ALWAYS knew I was there...I was pretty naive to think I had a psychic connection with someone I never met. Until after the California theater show in San Diego in 86 I knew I had been right all along when Jerry went into "Lonesome and a Long Way From Home" and was looking at ME over his glasses the way he did the whole time...My first Non east coast Dead event( I was there alone) and he played that song for me. He knew when WE were in the house, all of US. That's what kept us coming back, was that feeling they were playing for us and that we were their motivation. I know I know I am still naive to believe that, but I do…"
2/23/80 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) Catfish John;How Sweet It Is;Friend Of The Devil;That's What Love Will Make You Do;Postively 4th Street;That's Alright Mama
(Late) Sugaree;The Harder They Come;Russian Lullaby;Tore Up Over You;Midnight Moonlight
Encore:When I Paint My Masterpiece
Robert Hunter opened.
"Substituting for Rachel Sweet, who has postponed her tour, Robert Hunter offered a short but enjoyable set."
“Throughout the set, Garcia played with enthusiasm and even jumped about during a few of the peak sequences.”[
2/6/81 Jerry Garcia Band
I: Knockin' On Heaven's Door;How Sweet It Is;Mississippi Moon;Mission In The Rain; Tangled Up In Blue
II: The Harder They Come;They Love Each Other;Tore Up Over You;I'll Take A Melody; Midnight Moonlight
10/31/81 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) How Sweet It Is;Catfish John;That's What Love Will Make You Do;Simple Twist Of Fate;Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Roadrunner;Deal;Tangled Up In Blue
(Late) The Way You Do The Things You Do;They Love Each Other;Valerie;I'll Take A Melody;Russian Lullaby;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down;Dear Prudence
Peter Rowan opened.
Promoter Electric Factory/Monarch Entertainment Presents.
5,960 tickets sold.
6/27/82 early and late shows John Kahn (acoustic)
(Early) Deep Elem Blues;Dire Wolf;Friend Of The Devil;Valerie;Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie; Little Sadie;It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry;Run For The Roses
(Late) Deep Elem Blues;I've Been All Around This World;Jack-A-Roe;Bird Song;Sing Me Back Home;Gomorrah;Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie;Run For The Roses;Ripple
John Hammond opened.
Promoter Electric Factory/Monarch Entertainment.
Attendance early show-2,869
Attendance late show-2869
11/7/82 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) How Sweet It Is;They Love Each Other;Second That Emotion;Valerie;Mystery Train;Love In The Afternoon;Dear Prudence;Deal
Encore:Run For The Roses
(Late) How Sweet It Is;Catfish John;Mission In The Rain;Simple Twist Of Fate;Let It Rock; Run For The Roses;The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down;Tangled Up In Blue
John Hammond opened.
Promoter Electric Factory/Monarch Entertainment
Attendance early show-3,004 tickets sold.
Attendance late show-3004
6/5/83 early and late shows Jerry Garcia Band
(Early) Cats Under The Stars;They Love Each Other;Let It Rock;Love In The Afternoon; Second That Emotion;Simple Twist Of Fate;Run For The Roses
Encore:Rhapsody In Red
(Late) How Sweet It Is;I'll Take A Melody;Cats Under The Stars;Gomorrah;The Harder They Come;Dear Prudence;Tangled Up In Blue
Electric Factory Presents.
"I remember seeing an announcement on the Spectrum scoreboard at my first Grateful Dead show, April 25, 1983, that the Jerry Garcia Band was playing at the Tower in June. It got a round of applause and my interest. Later that Spring I grabbed a friend, my older sister (who could drive, I wasn’t old enough to drive!) and she brought a friend and we departed the hour plus to the Tower. Drank Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull on the way down, we weren't quite as enlightened about drinking local (and good) as we are now. I distinctly remember playing Workingman’s Dead from a boom box on the way down and my sister and her friend becoming a tad aggravated at the “long” jam during Easy Wind. I told her she better get used to it because that’s what this concert is going to be about. There was a noticeable silence after that like “what did we get into.”
After a few bulls in the parking lot we rolled in for the early show. I remember some women trying to get me to donate to a cause. I had no money for them but they gave me a button anyway. Our seats were about half or 3/4th back and the show was not full. There was an awful opening band… they played a sort of pop punk that was popular at the time and had female singers. One song in particular was bad where they would just shout the words “fresh fruit!” during a musical break in the song. That became a running joke for my sis and I for years afterwards. I wonder if anyone remembers that? Anyway, regarding Garcia’s band I didn’t really know any of the songs except, vaguely, Run for the Roses (at least it sounded familiar) as I was a concert neophyte but that was to change, and I already had my tickets to see the Dead at City Island later that month. Those were the days when you could see Jerry about every other month on the east coast outside of the winter! I remember thinking the backup singers were kind of cool, and added a nice dimension. I probably thought the show seemed short but I know I didn’t care much, as it was an event and a great time. I think it was still light when we left the theatre and the late show crowd was waiting outside!"
12/2/83 Jerry Garcia Band
I: How Sweet It Is;I'll Take A Melody;Someday Baby;When I Paint My Masterpiece; Mississippi Moon;Deal
II: The Harder They Come;Gomorrah;Cats Under The Stars;Run For The Roses;Tangled Up In Blue
Promoter Electric Factory-Allan Spivak
"I had a friend who had gotten in with Jerry by hanging with some people who use to go to the Navarro in NYC and party with the band. He had always said that he would take me up to meet Jerry at some point and this was the night. We actually didn't see him until the next morning, after the show my friend would call him at the hotel and Jerry would say call back in a while and it finally got so late that we went home and drove back up in the morning to see him. Spent about 90 minutes with him in his room, hotel off Rittenhouse Square (can't remember the name). I had met him briefly before a Garcia Band show in Davis CA in '76 so I wasn't a pure virgin but it was still pretty cool, even though we were tired from partying too much the night before.
One of the things my friend made a point of saying was "Don't talk about the Dead", which I kind of already knew and of course makes sense, last thing he wants to talk about. Jerry was into UFO's and so was my friend so that's what we spent most of the time talking about. He claimed that he and Laird Grant saw a car with no wheels floating down the street one day and had a few other funny stories. I had noticed that the second set the night before was a little low energy and he said that he had had a stomach ache. Also, Dylan's "Infidels" album had just come out and I had made a cassette copy for him that I gave him for the bus. I commented that he should do Sweetheart Like You (he could have killed that song) and he said that he was actually considering it but of course it never happened so maybe he was just being polite.
The one thing that really stood out to me was how friendly he was and comfortable he made me feel. He didn't know me from Adam but he went out of his way to put me at ease. Also, he looked you straight in the eye when he talked to you and in an incredibly friendly way. I remember thinking that if I was in a room with Mick Jagger or David Bowie that there was no way I would feel this comfortable. He also looked shorter in person then I expected, but he was big, it was '83 after all and he wasn't in the best shape."
11/21/84 Jerry Garcia Band
I: Deep Elem Blues;Friend Of The Devil;I've Been All Around This World;Simple Twist Of Fate
II: Run For The Roses;Jack-A-Roe;Gomorrah;Bird Song;Goodnight Irene
Robert Hunter opened.
Promoter Electric Factory Presents.
1/25/86 John Kahn (acoustic)
I: It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry;Little Sadie;Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie; Deep Elem Blues;Simple Twist Of Fate;Run For The Roses
II: Dire Wolf;Spike Driver Blues;Jack-A-Roe;Dire Wolf;Ripple
Jerry plays a Takamine guitar.
3,020 tickets sold.
Tower Theatre, Upper Darby, PA
1.)^TOWER THEATER, http://www.philadelphia-theater.com/theaters/tower-theater/history.php
2.)^monster trout (Catchabigone)Bushinsky, Dave, Other Stuff comments, 2012-10-23, http://www.philzone.org/
3.)^Alan Sheckter,2011-06-22, http://www.dead.net/show/june-23-1976
4.)^Bednar, Jeff, comments, http://www.thejerrysite.com/shows/show/1708
5.)^Melvin, Tom, comments, http://www.thejerrysite.com/shows/show/1671
6.)^Keating, Terry, comments, http://www.thejerrysite.com/shows/show/1109
11.)^Lloyd, Rick, Legendary Garcia Performs at the Tower, The Villanovan, 1975-11-05, pg. 8, Joseph Jupille Archives.
12.)^Gutman, Barry, review, 1980-02-23, unknown publication, Joseph Jupille Archives.
13.)^Billboard, 1981-11-21, unknown page, Joseph Jupille Archives.
14.)^Billboard, 1982-07-17, unknown page, Joseph Jupille Archives.
15.)^Billboard, 1982-12-04, unknown page, Joseph Jupille Archives.
16.)^Gutman, Barry, Jerry Garcia Band, Review, Unknown publication, Joseph Jupille Archives.
17.)^Box Office, Billboard, 1982-12-04, pg. 36, Joseph Jupille Archives.