Friends of the Boyd

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who has owned the Boyd over time?

Alexander R. Boyd built the Boyd Theatre in 1928. The Stanley Warner company bought the theater after completion. In 1971, the Boyd was sold to the Sameric Corporation, which renamed the theater the “Sam Eric.” In the 1980’s, the Sameric Corporation added three smaller auditoriums to land west of the theater. In 1988, the Sameric Corporation sold their theaters to the United Artists Circuit. In 1998, the Goldenberg Group of Blue Bell purchased the Boyd from United Artists. In bankruptcy, United Artists broke the lease and the theater closed on May 2, 2002.

In 2005, Clear Channel, Inc. bought the Boyd Theatre from The Goldenberg Group, and announced a full restoration so the Boyd could host many events. However, in 2006, Clear Channel’s theaters become an independent company called Live Nation. In 2014, Pearl Properties purchased the Boyd from Live Nation.

Why did the Boyd close in 2002?

The Boyd was built for silent movies, and so had to be palatial to attract audiences, and needed many seats to pay for a live orchestra and shows. The theater opened with a talkie. The invention of talkies meant newer moviehouses were plainer and had fewer seats, and many were built in neighborhoods. Nevertheless, the lure of downtown showplaces like the Boyd was so strong that they thrived until television arrived in most people’s homes in the 1950’s, and then many movie palaces were demolished. The Boyd installed a giant movie screen and adapted with Cinerama and epics like Ben Hur.

By the mid 1970’s, many people resided in the suburbs, so the practice of mainstream movies being first shown downtown ended. In the 1980s multiplexes were built throughout the region, and the Boyd’s balcony closed. The three small auditoriums added in the 1980’s helped keep the movie palace open, but by 2002, it was no longer possible to justify market rent to show movies in the historic auditorium that was built for 2400 seats.

What happened to the 3 small auditoriums?

That building, next door to the main theater, was not historic. Pearl Properties purchased the building from The Goldenberg Group. The space was gutted and became a Gap Outlet store.

Is the theater protected by a preservation law?

Yes. In 1980, after the Fox Theater at 16th & Market Streets was demolished, the Boyd Theater became the last surviving movie palace in Philadelphia. In 1987, by a vote of 7 to 1, the Philadelphia Historical Commission certified the Boyd Theatre as historic. Commission member David Brownlee argued for the designation, citing the design by the prominent Philadelphia architectural firm of Hoffman & Henon, and that the theater “has the most complete art-deco interior in the city.”

The then owner, the Sameric Corp, challenged the historic preservation law, claiming legal protection of the Boyd amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property “without just compensation” In 1991, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania threw out all preservation ordinances. Upon a request for review, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found in 1993 that preservation law was constitutional, but that the City of Philadelphia had not authorized the protection of interiors.

In 2001, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia asked the Philadelphia Historical Commission to certify the Boyd, based on its exterior, but the Commission said no. In 2008, the Preservation Alliance, assisted by the Friends of the Boyd, again asked, and this time by a vote of 14 to 0, the Historical Commission added the Boyd Theatre to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, legally protecting the exterior of the movie palace.

City Councilman Bill Green introduced in 2008 a proposed change to the law to allow the Philadelphia Historic Commission to protect landmark interiors. For various reasons, an interior nomination was not filed. As of 2015, the only interiors protected are one room in City Hall and the main floor & stairways of Old Family Court on Logan Square.

In 2013, the Boyd’s owner, Live Nation, and iPic Theaters (which would have been a tenant of developer Neal Rodin) filed a “financial hardship” application to the Philadelphia Historical Commission to allow for demolition of all but the Chestnut Street facade, the outdoor vestibule, and the Ticket Lobby. In 2014, despite Friends of the Boyd securing a grant to match the purchase price of the Boyd, the Historical Commission granted the application to demolish. Before Friends of the Boyd could appeal, gutting began of the Boyd’s auditorium, resulting in a Settlement Agreement (see the Homepage).

In 2015, Boyd owner Pearl Properties applied to the Philadelphia Historical Commission regarding a combined development, for permission for refurbishment of the Boyd’s Chestnut Street facade, retention of the building housing the Grand Lobby and Foyer, construction of a residential tower and of a Target Express retail store, and refurbishment of historic 1900 Chestnut St. The Boyd’s auditorium was demolished pursuant to the prior application.  After consultation with residential neighbors and testimony from Friends of the Boyd, Pearl designs were resubmitted and approved. As a result of redesign, the Boyd’s foyer was also to be demolished. As to 1900 Chestnut St, Friends of the Boyd played an instrumental role in obtaining its legal protection, and its significance is explained in this article .

Why did we seek to preserve the Boyd?

The Boyd was the last great movie palace in Philadelphia. Most U.S. cities have saved at least one movie palace so that future generations can experience the kind of places where movies were seen from the 1920s through the 1970s with beautiful lobbies, foyers, a huge auditorium with a large screen, and a stage. As Irvin Glazer said so well in the introduction to his book, Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial Architectural History, “The movie palace was perhaps the most important new type of building introduced in the twentieth Century. Its advent marked the first time in architectural history that ornate and costly structures were conceived and executed primarily for the service of the common man.”

In addition, the Boyd is a masterpiece of Art Deco architecture, a style known popularly at the Empire State Building, Radio City Music Hall, and other landmarks from the 1920s through the 1940s.

We hoped that movie premieres, and all sorts of films would be enjoyed in the Boyd, as well as live performing arts events.

“The argument might be framed this: If movies are artifacts to be cherished and preserved, they require a grand museum or symphony-hall setting.”

-Philadelphia Inquirer movie critic Carrie Rickey, in a 1990 article, citing the Boyd

I keep reading about books and photographs collected by Irvin Glazer. Who was he?

An accountant who served as President of the Theatre Historical Society of America and wrote 3 books: Philadelphia Theatres A-Z, Philadelphia Theaters, A Pictorial Architectural History, and Philadelphia Orchestra: The Search for a Home. There is a huge Irvin R. Glazer Collection at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Glazer was an outspoken advocate of reutilizing the Boyd. He passed away in 1996 at age 74.

“The movie palace was perhaps the most important new building introduced in the Twentieth Century. Its advent marked the first time in architectural history that ornate and costly structures were conceived and executed primarily for the service of the common man”

-Irvin Glazer, in the introduction to his book, Philadelphia Theaters: A Pictorial Architectural History