Is It Time to Tear Down the Boyd Theater?

The Philadelphia Historical Commission holds hearings on Tuesday.

boyd-theater-philadelphia-sameric-chestnut-street-megan-madeline-welch This is the old Boyd Theater on the 1900 block of Chestnut Street. The once-glorious Art Deco movie theater has been dormant since 2002 and is, we can only begin to imagine, home to a large colony of diseased rats.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Philadelphia Historical Commission is set to hold a hearing about a new plan to convert the old Boyd into a new movie palace of sorts, a modern multi-screen affair that would show big Hollywood blockbusters and sell lots of popcorn. Naturally, the Friends of the Boyd are against this, because they are against pretty much any plan to touch the property.

Here’s a scene from the packed hearing room on Tuesday: boyd-theater-philadelphia-sameric-chesnut-street I love a good, old school movie theater, and I patronize the Colonial in Phoenixville, the Ambler Theater, and the County Theater in Doylestown whenever I can. I’m also supporting the effort to preserve and revive the Lansdowne Theater in Delaware County.

But the Boyd is a different story. It has been an eyesore for 12 years now, and it wasn’t much better in the years prior. Those rats predated the closing (saw them with my own eyes). There was a hole in the ceiling that would allow a beam of sunlight to land on the screen during daytime screenings. I witnessed one man masturbating and another man shooting up in the seats. And the floor was stickier than the floor at the late Forum porno theater, because they actually cleaned the floor at the Forum.

We’ve had 12 years of failed plans, protests, and further decay.

Here’s what iPic says it will do to the Boyd:

• An eight-screen, 744-seat luxury movie theater

• A restaurant

• Reclining leather chairs

• Pillows and blankets

• Personal servers at the push of a button

• An online reservation system and mobile app

• Hand-crafted cocktails

• 4K digital cinema technology

• Restored historic marquee

Great. I say bring it.

What do you think?

POLL Is It Time to Tear Down the Boyd?

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PHOTO: Megan Madeline Welch

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  • Stephanie Sanders

    I saw rat there in 1999. Would never go back in it’s current incarnation. Bulldoze it.

    • Andrea Hall

      I see rats in Rittenhouse Square every summer. You should NOT go there either. You should also demolish the whole square.

      • Oscar Beisert

        Yes, please, there are rats in the basement of Independence Hall, let’s have it taken down.

  • scarlet

    Repurpose it without tearing in down.. bring it up to modern day while keeping the history. there is no reason to tear things down and wipe out all of Philly’s history. Do not forget that this city is where it all started.. the birthplace of freedom as we know it in America….. you wipe that out and then what?????? REPURPOSE, REPUROSE REPURPOSE.. its the best of both worlds; the answer to gentrification without eradication!

    • Sabi

      The article says they’re wanting to repurpose it. Did you read it in its entirety?

    • Danielzinho

      That thing needs to disappear. You act like that’s a landmark that you would show people when you have visitors in town…. “you’re ruining philly history!” if you show people that disgusting building as part of philly history…. I promise you… they won’t be impressed. It’s not good for a city to have buildings like that on one of it’s most “prestigious” streets. There are more than enough independent movie theatres and playhouses in the city… it’s not like that’s the only one. If it were in any sort of okay condition, or you had something lined up to fix it imminently… then a discussion would be merited. At this point…. that building needs to be renovated, by any means necessary.

    • Danielzinho

      and you’re being a bit dramatic. It’s not like they wrote the Declaration of Independence in that theater.

    • Oscar Beisert

      Scarlet, these people are “of the now” only and the now is DEMO. Unless that is the first step of a project, its not new.

  • BG

    From what I understood, iPic is keeping the front facade of the building, but bulldozing everything else and starting fresh. I like the idea.

  • Rick McKinney

    Sounds TERRIBLE. Why not restore the “movie palace”? Who needs 8 small screens? Personal servers? Pillows? Cocktails and Restaurant? Just stay at home, then. Philly needs to keep it’s only remaining movie palace. You can still have your 4K tech and historic marquee. Please don’t make this into another mall-like multiplex. Keep the big-screen tradition.

    • RF

      So you have someone that is willing to pony up $30-40 million dollars to restore it? I don’t want my tax dollars going to a movie theater when a couple of new schools can be built. That is the problem…everyone that wants to save it does not have a way to pay for it.

      • Rick McKinney

        All I’m saying is that the proposed small screen 8-plex solution sounds awful. We already have tons of those type of theaters. I don’t know the financing and budget details, but it would be a shame to not explore whether the same investment couldn’t restore the theater to its “movie palace” roots. Can’t compare it to building schools, but there is something to be said about investing in culture and arts, including the revenue it brings to the area. See other cities and how they have managed to keep movie palaces alive and vibrant and important.

        • M Mido

          Really? I’ve never seen anything like the proposed iPic in or near Philly. Building this cinema is not only bringing the movies back to the area in style, but also creating jobs and inciting tourism (aka money.) Why would you be against progressing and enhancing this city?

          • Danielzinho

            Who has ANY idea why somebody would be against turning a run down/abandoned property into something useful and of value? It actually sounds cool. There isn’t anywhere in Center City to watch mainstream movies anyway. There is one in South Philly, West Philly and North Philly. Some people seem incapable of living in the real world and want to argue in favor of a potential option that isn’t even on the table.

        • Danielzinho

          Wow… all I see is an abandoned, boarded up building. And apparently there is someone that wants to turn it into something cool that won’t be an eyesore and that people will ACTUALLY use…. sooooo… unless you know someone who can commit to renovating it soon…. then you really shouldn’t be complaining. 12 years it’s been closed.. 12 years.

      • Will

        I wish our tax dollars went to projects like restoring this!

        • Lucas T

          You’d need to pay exorbitant taxes to even start making any sort of changes to the Boyd. In my 35 years of living here, I’ve never wanted to see a building go faster than I do the Boyd. The place is a festering syspool of forgotten hopes – if the “Friends of the Boyd” were really friends to the city, then the exterior wouldn’t look like the slums of Harlem. Instead, they whine about wanting change but won’t pony up a dollar or a day to go into the building and do work.
          Let’s bring life back to my city!
          Let’s please see some forward movement and allow change.
          If these iPic people can come in with their own money and create something wonderful, then I am all for it. At least they’re doing SOMETHING right for this city.

  • Will

    Restore it, along with the rest of Victorian Era Chestnut Street. The last time we bulldozed a Victorian-1920’s neighborhood we ended up with Market East. It’s an impressive building, and an experience that will never be duplicated in a generic high end suburban style complex.

    • Lucas T

      Great idea, Will. Meet the me at the bank so I can personally see you take out a $40m loan to “restore” the building. Until then, let’s allow some fresh faces into our city to finally bring back the people & business that this area so desperately needs.

  • phils08

    This is a short-sighted and destructive plan. The neighborhood is booming around the Boyd with new high-income residents coming every year. At some point in the next decade or so, an operator will come along with the money and the will to preserve the inside AND the outside of the Boyd. Until then, what’s the rush? It is a comparatively tiny piece of real estate.

    12 years of vacancy is nothing in the world of abandoned theaters. The Kings Theatre in Brooklyn sat empty for 35 years (!) and is now receiving a grand $70m restoration from the Loews chain. This day will come for the Boyd. Philadelphia must move past the small-time ‘take-any-development-we-can-get’ mentality that has destroyed so much of its history (and ALL of its movie palaces, except for the Boyd).

    I also suggest that the author move beyond his prejudices from the bad old days of the 1990’s SamEric. It was a grand place once and would be again after the proper restoration.

    • Lucas T

      “At some point in the next decade or so…” and there goes your validity. You are throwing out hopes and dreams – this building is horrendous and needs to be torn down. According to that website, the iPic people are going to restore the front facade of the building… that’s splendid!
      But you know what? These people are coming into our city and offering us their own money to make this theatre come alive again. Phil, if you have the funds to restore this place inside and out as you want, then why haven’t you done it yet? Why hasn’t anyone done it yet?
      Because it’s cost is ineffective and there is no promise on return for the dollars spent.
      If you’re gonna point at other places and say, “But this place received special treatment and they saved the building,” then I hope you’ve done your research enough to know that more than 80% of these projects are done with private funding from companies with a heavy hand in the pockets of other companies. Maybe when the economy was great 20 years ago, when people had boatloads of money to “donate” in hopes of making a return on their investment, these “dreams” would have come to life.
      But no – this building has sat here in shambles for over 10+ years.

      • phils08

        The “ten years is too long” argument misses the point of preservation, which is often unpopular in the short term, but has enormous payoff to cities in the long run. Center City used to have 30 Boyd-type theaters, and now we have just one. On the street, it is about as big as a double-wide rowhouse and there are far worse blights (surface lots, larger abandoned buildings) within a one-block radius. Simply allowing the Boyd to sit there is a small price to pay for the landmark it can become.

        Further, consider the flaws in the entire iPic concept. In the age of on-demand home entertainment, they want to create a home-like experience with 8 small auditoriums, pillows, and blankets. Center City does not need an 8-screen deluxe Roxy that patrons can practically duplicate at home. And once the novelty wears off, we will have destroyed one of the grandest spaces in the city only to latch onto a fad.

        The monumental “event” experience of a huge-screen movie theater cannot be replicated at home, and would thrive under the right conditions. Isn’t this why we go to movies in the first place? This is why NYC and developers are pouring $70m into the Kings.

        Finally, on the feasibility point, cultural treasures should absolutely be on the City’s to-fund list. They’re a unique part of the urban experience. If the City can dig up $33 million in subsidies for a hotel at 15th and Chestnut, they surely could find the comparatively meager subsidy – and a serious development partner – for an irreplaceable entertainment space in the heart of the city. Maybe the political will is not there right now, but if people keep fighting for the Boyd and follow the population trendlines, it absolutely will arrive.

        • Lucas T

          Phil, I don’t believe you are reading what you are writing.
          You said that the “flaw” of the iPic is that they’re trying to create a home-like experience, yet you then go on to say that going to the movies is an experience that cannot be replicated at home… but you previously said that you might has well duplicate the experience at home and save your money.

          Which is it?
          According to recent studies, going the movies will soon be “a night out” – you don’t want to pay to go to a movie theater with up to 200 other people, sit in uncomfortable chairs, order lackluster snacks, and have to deal with all of the horrible things that come with going to the movies (get there early for the seats, get in line for snacks, hope there aren’t any noisy people…)
          When I looked at this iPic place on their website and the Youtube, it looks like it’s the top-notch, classy, 5-star experience that I would love to have in my city.
          I want to take my wife to enjoy a movie and not have to worry anymore about problems – just because YOU don’t think it’ll work, doesn’t mean it won’t. If their successes in other places hasn’t shown you anything, then you’re blind.

          I’m tired of you pointing the finger at the city and saying, “You need to do this,” because guess what – they won’t. There is no option for the Boyd to be restored “to it’s original splendor” because there is no place for the Boyd in today’s age. I’m an old man – I can say these things because I accept the fact that this is an ever-changing world.
          Get off your soapbox. Unless you can find the phantom millions you’re looking for today, then let change happen and see what comes about tomorrow.
          You’d be surprised what change can bring.
          (As my 35+ years living here, I can tell you that WE NEED CHANGE.)

          • phils08

            Lucas, apologies if I was unclear. I’m saying that the small-screen iPic experience is similar to what one can achieve at home and the epic experience of a large-screen auditorium like the Boyd cannot be replicated in one’s living room. In my opinion, a Boyd restoration would make a better “night out” because it offers a unique large-scale viewing experience from which you can then move on to the many bars and restaurants within a short walk. (This ain’t Scottsdale.)

            But that’s me. Call it different strokes for different folks. I accept that some just want to get rid of it in favor of something shiny and new. Preservationists are used to losing, but that ‘soapbox’ has saved plenty of great buildings that would have otherwise disappeared!

          • PalestraJon

            Just please tell me what is either historically or architecturally significant about the Boyd? And don’t tell me it’s the last of its kind, because there is no difference between a large theater catering to a stage audience and a movie house. We have the Forrest, Merriam and Academy—all large older theaters comparable to the Boyd. Indeed, of the 1000+ seat theaters in Philadelphia, the Boyd is the youngest. All of them are dark between them over 75% of the year. Frank Lloyd Wright didn’t design it, either. This attempt to preserve a dilapidated hulk with no economical use is a disservice to the citizens of Philadelphia and in particular, those who live in the neighborhood, who would benefit greatly from development there.

          • phils08

            The Boyd is architecturally significant. The Art Deco auditorium is one-of-a-kind in the city. It is also one of the few intact ‘movie palaces’ in the country that does not follow the usual baroque interior designs seen in the Forrest, Merriam, etc. The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as one of the top 11 endangered properties nationwide in 2008.

            I also live in Center City, and I would love to see a real movie theater anywhere west of Broad Street. But that is the key: a real movie theater – not a boutique arrangement of small screening rooms. Yes, the Forrest sits dark most of the time, but Philadelphia is already saturated with touring Broadway shows, and Shubert is apparently not interested in using the building for anything else.

            At the Boyd, a grand theater and performing arts center with aggressive promotion and competent management would be a great success for the Rittenhouse neighborhood.

          • PalestraJon

            Thanks, but as I thought, there is no designation of any kind marking the Boyd as architecturally significant. The National Trust for Historic Preservation list is, in effect, a popularity contest of voters to the site that included buildings such as the Astrodome and Joe Frazier’s Gym. It is not a expert body, in any sense. Moreover, even in the 2008 survey, it was only the decorations that were held to have historical signficance. Nothing is preventing the removal and reuse of the stained glass and Art Deco touches. But the building is certainly not historical and not the product of any unique architecture that is an irreplaceable loss. Moreover, I think you really have no idea just how popular the type of theater/bar that is proposed can be. It will be spectacularly successful at that location, drawing from the neighborhood as well as Penn and Drexel. It is so much better than leaving the rotting hulk of the Boyd that I cannot understand how anyone would prefer that it sit and await the Fairy Godmother. It isn’t going to happen.

          • Oscar Beisert

            Mr. Palestra,
            Philadelphia is an old city with some of the best streetscapes of old architecture in the United States. I realize that you and your lot don’t care. You want the architectural context of Houston in Philadelphia and I am sure, in time, you will have it. I realize that you can only understand preservation in terms of maybe City Hall or Independence Hall, maybe 30th Street Station-or let me guess those cost too much to maintain and should be taken down. Row houses, I’m sure are old fashioned and unusable unless they have a garage as the primary facade (in a city). You don’t realize that it is the entire context of these buildings that make Philadelphia unique. I am sorry that you are so close minded and that your only idea of progress is demolition, but most of all I am sorry that you were cheated out of the opportunity of living in Houston or some other modern, soulless town–where you can live in absolute suburban bliss, aloof to the importance of something as epic as the astrodome.
            Please leave.

          • PalestraJon

            Oscar, this is completely uncalled-for. Unlike you, I live in this town. I own a house in this town (not Washington DC) and intimately understand the importance of viable streetscapes. As some who writes regularly on the issue, it is shocking that you consider the Boyd an asset, when it KILLS the streetscape of that neighborhood. It takes people off the street, and makes that block dangerous. Neighborhoods need businesses like the proposed multiplex far more than a grandiose homage to time gone by. People who actually live there will use this theater if redeveloped. They will never use the Boyd, even if a miracle occurred and $50 million materialized to renovate the theater. But it won’t materialize, since Philadelphia already has too many underutilized theaters. I don’t want to get into personal attacks (not that you shied away from it–without knowing anything about me), but I just think that the Friends of the Boyd are just that–a group of Friends who support each other even though the preservation IN THIS CASE makes no sense at all. The Boyd is not historical as are the streetscapes about which you write so poignantly on Hidden City. It is an early 1900s Art Deco interior movie house, which is not distinctive on the outside, and which has failed to find a use in 30 years. Don’t compare it to 19th Century rows or older buildings that have both architectural significance and economic use. It simply attracts criminality, as does any vacant structure. And please don’t be so arrogant as to try and put thoughts in my mouth that are not mine. I hate garage front facades—they should be illegal. I hate Houston (you’re from Texas, not me). And I have written about and believe in walkable neighborhoods with good mass transit —not car suburbs. So go back to your friends and tell them that the vast majority of people in Philadelphia and in particular, that neighborhood, are not intimidated by arrogant blowhards like yourself. Hard as it may be to believe, you’re not the smartest kid in the room.

  • PalestraJon

    I think the polling results (87% in favor of plan) say it all. This is a festering eyesore that never should have received historical preservation in the first place. It’s not historical and it isn’t architecturally significant. It is one of thousands of movie palaces built in the 1920s and 1930s that were outmoded as soon as television became widely available. We have 4 1000+ seat theaters in Center City that are dark for most of the year. There is no market whatsoever for any sort of theater use for the Boyd, especially out on Chestnut St, away from the theater district. It is a hangout for vagrants and has driven down property values in its immediate area. The proposed theater complex (which is wildly popular where they have it—look at the ones they have in Toronto, if you want a reference) would generate millions in taxes and spur development in that neighborhood. All the “Friends” are are rich people who want the rest of us to support their hobby. It is selfish and terrible policy.

  • RichHeimlich

    The idea of a cutting-edge theater in the heart of the city is tantalizingly wonderful. The people supporting the Boyd make NO sense. We have other venerable theaters in the area and they all struggle to survive because they’re simply outdated. You want to impress people about Philly? Leave everything in Olde City as is. Keep everything west of there as new as possible. Our skyline is now fantastic compared to those who wanted it stuck forever in that horrible 1970’s era.

    And don’t get me started on Mr. Haas and his so-called Friends of the Boyd. I’m not buying his line of BS for a moment. His site claims a heritage of having saved other venues. Such as? I see ZERO examples of his efforts saving anything else. What I do see is his group continually begging people to donate, donate, donate and donate supposedly for the good of the Boyd. It’s time someone ask this guy to produce his books to show where all these donations are going. He mentions security. Has anyone ever seen any security at the facility???? Certainly he doesn’t mean inside the building as he shouldn’t have any access to a building he doesn’t own, so what’s he talking about?

    And I’ve not seen any printed materials, ads in publications or anything else that would be indicative of an active project to save this building. As this piece finally, and honestly, reports, TFoB seems against ANYTHING that will put a stop to their ability to continue to beg wealthy benefactors for more cash.

    If you’re against the iPic plan then you’ve got to come up with a better argument than the Boyd being a Philly landmark. It might have been in 1930. It ceased being that well over 40 years ago and restoring it will turn it into an underused, overpriced embarrassment.

    • Oscar Beisert

      Please dont touch Pine Street, please.

  • bill k

    The Boyd is a disaster but I think the new super duper theaters sound ridiculous and won’t attract a long term loyal clientele.

    • Bainbridgita

      Okay. Why do people come to flock to Philadelphia from all over the world in July, the hottest month of the year? History. They see the liberty bell and independence hall. Sadly, a huge percentage of them just aren’t all that into the fine arts and or science. (Although we have world class museums.) They wait around until nightfall for the fireworks. They are hot. They are tired. We don’t have beaches. They go back to their hotels and order room service. (I *KNOW* this because my husband works in tourism.) What better place than an ice cold air conditioned 1928 restored movie palace showing retro Hitchcock films or some other fun theme like Philadelphia-themed movies. Rocky, or Will Smith in Independence Day? Walking down Chestnut or Walnut where we have a lot of interesting stores and restaurants. Keeping them from going back to their hotels. Let’s look long term here. This is a generation that watches movies on handheld devices or on IMAX. Either really big or really small. Or in the comfort of their own rooms.

      Do we really see 20 years out an octoplex lasting for this generation? Why tear down something irreplaceable and unique that will only become more and more rare and special as time goes on? Duh.

      • Bainbridgita

        Oh and I didn’t mean to just reply to Bill K. I meant this to go to the whole discussion. Sorry Bill K. We are in agreement.

        • Bainbridgita

          …And, there are various other plans in the works (although funding and donors are needed) to keep the historical beauty and integrity of the priceless and historically irreplaceable interior but, for example, install an IMAX screen and two smaller screens as well as restore the outside. That is just one of several options being considered for saving the Boyd without gutting it and making it –ironically — into a generic 8-screen movie theater. (Just like an ugly one that you can find at any mall.) Anyone interested may want to join the “Friends of the Boyd” facebook page.

  • Oscar Beisert

    Sadly, despite all of my comments and the fact I’d like them to save as much of the interior as possible, I must also be grateful that the developer is at least willing to save the facade (tick tock). However, that being said, can’t we get rid of all of the flat bed parking lots in the city before we continue to demolish landmarked buildings? Its like the LITS project, how many parking lots are adjacent? yet they have to add a tower to redeveope a beautiful building?

  • Jimmy “THE SAINT” ToZ

    Yikes!, personal ‘ushers’ at the push of a button!? Pillows and blankets!? This sounds just like a
    arrogant Yuppies view of how he should be treated while experiencing the Cinema of today. I’m quite sure that the 1% would definitely prefer this type of Movie viewing. Very sickening to the Blue Collar like myself, who clearly prefer visiting the Cinema in hopes of, (watch this now!) actually enjoying a simple flick, sans all that over-the-top, purely selfish nonsense! God Bless!!!