For 60 years, its big screen flickered with everything from 15-cent silent movies to Hollywood blockbusters and $1 oldies.

Then, on July 3, 1987, a fire broke out during a showing of Beverly Hills Cop II. The Moorish-themed Lansdowne Theater closed its doors, a vanishing piece of Americana in an era of 12-screen multiplexes.

Now, like the Terminator, this gem of early-20th-century Hollywood architecture is back. Just don't expect such niceties as bathrooms and electricity.

Last month, the 1,100-seat theater reopened for a one-night-only concert, looking much the way it did after the fire.

It had all the makings of a disaster flick in which audience members barely escape with their lives.

There were no working lavatories, electricity or sprinklers - portable toilets and generators filled the gaps. Firefighters stood at entrances ready to jump into action. The plaster was peeling, the rugs were worn, and seats were missing.

Everyone loved it.

"The concert was incredible," said Matt Schultz, executive director of a nonprofit that is working to restore the Lansdowne as a concert venue, much like the Keswick in Glenside. "People were so happy to see this alive again. They kept asking, 'What's next?' "

For the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corp., established in 2007 to buy and renovate the dilapidated building in the heart of the Delaware County suburb, the answer is daunting: raise about $10 million to restore the theater to its original grandeur.

Many of the elements are still there, such as the Spanish courtyard lobby with Moroccan arches and plaster casts of griffins and egrets. In the main theater are an octagonal chandelier, an intricately painted ceiling, statues and gargoyles, all a feast for those used to sterile black boxes.

And still intact on the second floor is the ancient projection room, with its smokerlike equipment and old film reels.

Schultz realizes it was backwards to hold the concert before the building even had toilets. But group members wanted to see if they could fill the space and generate excitement for the project. The April 17 concert, featuring the a cappella group Straight No Chaser, sold out.

"People were champing at the bit to get in here and see it for themselves," he said.

For many longtime residents of the one-square-mile borough, the Lansdowne was where they saw their first movie, went on their first date, and took their own children to gawk at a flying nanny or talking car.

"For those 21/2 hours, you were in a special place," said Schultz, 49, a lifelong resident who has worked on other restoration projects, including on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts.

In addition to bringing in top-name acts, the theater would fill its calendar with film festivals and community events, such as high school graduations.

Last year, the preservation group found tenants for two retail stores - a video rental business and a coffee shop - that are part of the building, and for second-floor offices. When new awnings went up in the front, "that gave people hope," said Pat Arone, president of the Lansdowne Business Association.

"For many years, the single most frequent question that anyone asked was, 'What's happening with the Lansdowne Theater?' " she said. "This is a gem in our community. It's so wonderful to see that after so many groups have tried and failed, the Historic Lansdowne Theater Corp. is making progress."

Mayor Jayne Young said she was thrilled with the group's effort. Schultz, she said, "is a master at taking on projects like this and being successful with them."

The Lansdowne, designed by a prolific theater architect, William H. Lee, cost $250,000 and opened June 1, 1927, just before the advent of "talkies." The premiere featured the president of the Stanley Co., a predecessor of Warner Bros., and an appearance by Miss Lansdowne, who flew overhead in a biplane and scattered roses to the crowd.

Like many theaters of the day, it had an organ, which was manufactured by the W.W. Kimball Co. of Chicago at a cost of $20,000 and was said to be the last to be installed in a theater in the Philadelphia area. The new owners are trying to find it and bring it back.

The Lansdowne changed hands many times until it was purchased by the historic preservation group with a $900,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

To be a success, the theater needs to attract people from beyond Lansdowne, which is 20 minutes from the city. It is 11/2 blocks from the train station, with 200 nearby parking spaces, Schultz said.

"People in this town always wanted the theater opened again," he said. "No one could figure out the financial Rubik's Cube to make it work."

It's the same model used by other old movie houses, such as the historic Texas Theater in Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested after the shooting of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Closed in 1989, it reopened as a concert hall in 2003.

Both theaters are on the National Register of Historic Places.

To get the Lansdowne up to speed for the concert, some 500 volunteers hauled out four tons of trash, drained water from beneath the stage, cleaned and repaired seats, dusted and polished.

The big night drew fans from as far as Cleveland.

"What happened here was almost like a miracle," said Schultz, standing in the center of the theater, where every word echoes. "It was like the Jim Carrey movie The Majestic, where the town comes together. It was The Majestic."

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.