Sundance casts glow on 40th St.

Robert Redford

Photo by Tommy Leonardi

Eyes wide and attention focused on the sandy-haired pair at the center of the news conference, the audience of press, community and campus reps eagerly devoured every word about the latest commercial development to hit West Philadelphia.

Robert Redford - the Sundance in Sundance Cinemas - with Penn President Judith Rodin, announced Oct. 2 that an art movie house will occupy the southwest corner of 40th and Walnut streets, extending behind Hamilton Village to Locust Street.

And it won't be just any six-to-eight-screen theater , but a unique, independent venture with all the right community angles - a child-care center for theater patrons, small screening rooms for experimental films, an art gallery and cafe, a video library, community gathering rooms and maybe even a jazz club.

"The mission of the University dovetails beautifully with the mission of Sundance," Redford said, stressing his new theater chain's "sense of community" and the common ground provided by the project - "where art and commerce meet."

Sundance Cinemas is co-owned by General Cinema.

Parking, as well as a Drexeline fresh foods market, will occupy the northwest corner of 40th and Walnut streets, announced Penn Executive Vice President John Fry, who said the Hamilton Village area is "where our campus meets our community."

Paul Steinke, executive director of the University City District, said the commercial development was extremely encouraging news for the neighborhood.

"Once you have a name like Robert Redford in your court, people will listen to you," Steinke said.

White Dog Cafe owner Judy Wicks said she was excited that "the University and Robert Redford have seized upon such a great opportunity that combines the resources of the neighborhood with those of the University.

"That's what this is about, really."

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Originally published on October 15, 1998