Boyd Theatre

1908-18 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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LuisV on August 3, 2008 at 9:00 am

Thanks Howard and Theterbuff1 for your comments. Regarding Condos on the Jersey Shore, once again, it is all about zoning and landmarks laws, of which New York is strong on both. That is why we have a relative wealth of our old palaces remaining. Yes, we cry about all of the ones that we lost (as we should): The Roxy, The Center, The Capitol, The Rivoli, The State, The Paramount, The original Ziegfeld, etc…

But we still have many with us: Radio City, The Hollywood, The Paradise, Loew’s 175th Street, The Valencia, The Brooklyn Paramount, The New Amsterdam, The Elmwood, The St. George, The Metropolitan, The Paris, The Beacon, The RKO Keiths Richmond Hill, and sitting in the middle of Brooklyn waiting for its restoration…..The Kings! In addition many of the old Broasdway theater houses remain.

New York’s theater district salvation, arguably, was started by the construction of the Marriott Marquis on the site of 3 demolished old Broadway houses. They were sacrificed to bring business back to Times Square which at the time was a cesspool of crime and filth. While it was painful to lose those theaters, I choose to look at it from the standpont that it started the ball in motion of saving Times Square and by ectension, saving the remaining Broadway houses. Eventually, it led to the 42nd Street Redvelopment Corporation and the plan to build 4 huge office towers in Times Sqaure while at the same time restoring many of the old theaters on 42nd street, but not before getting rid of all of the x rated businesses, prostituion and crime that the street was long known for.

Today, 42nd Street is home to 39 screens in two huge multiplexes, a wax museum, many restaurants, a jazz club, several “Broadway” houses, dance studios, a Childrens Theater and lots of other retail.

Many years ago, Pennsylvania Station was torn down in New York which for many people was the worst architectual crime in the history of the city – worse than the Roxy’s destruction which I believe occured a little earlier. The loss of Penn Station roused the people albeit too late to save it. But because of the outcry, it led to the Landmarks Laws that prevail in New York today. It is why New York still has Grand Central Station, The TWA Terminal at Kennedy Airport, and many of the theaters that we still have today. Without landmark protection AND zoning laws, New York today would be more like Houston. (No offense meant toward Houston, but they don’t seem to have an appreciation for historic architecture and its preservtion).

Philadelphia had some of the most beutiful movie palaces in the country and lost almost all of them. They have one chance to retain a single theater – The Boyd! I mentioned this before but I’ll say it again. If there is any city that should protect, relish and promote its history, it should be Philadelphia! I am dumbfounded by the apparent indifference of not just the city govenment but the local business community and civic groups to fight for projects like the saving of The Boyd. Maybe this will be a turning point.

TheaterBuff1 on August 2, 2008 at 10:03 pm

LuisV, I am not strictly against condos and do feel they have the power to greatly improve certain areas. And you gave a very good example of how this is possible and where it has happened. What ntrmission was being critical of and that I was quick to agree with him on was condos at the Jersey Shore. For believe me, condos have not helped to turn things around there for the better in the least, not even in Atlantic City. And if offshore drilling with its inevitable occasional oil spills now comes to crown off all that totally inappropriate development that keeps going up there, and that in the past should never have been permitted to go up there, New Jersey will pretty much be done for completely.

Here in Philadelphia, meantime, we have a case of a classic movie theater building that was saved from the wrecking ball by being turned into a condo-like apartment complex highrise — the Oxford up in Northeast Philadelphia. And though the man who saved that building by converting it to this was well-intentioned, the end result was disastrous, and today it can only be described as Section 8 housing. It might not be that technically, but it has that look and feel to it, and does not help the surrounding neighborhood in any way.

In the case of the Boyd, it’s currently located in an area of the city that in many ways is seeing tremendous forward strides but that also has a severe homeless problem in the shadows that needs to be resolved in the right way, while it’s not clear yet what that right way is. And no, giving them one-way tickets and busing them all up to live in the Oxford isn’t! In the past, when the Boyd was in its glory last, all these homeless would’ve been employed and contributing to Philadelphia’s over all economy greatly — hence how the Boyd got to be so glorious in its earlier run. And I’d be curious to know how NYC took on and solved this problem if by chance it had it for a time. For in Philadelphia’s case it’s not a problem that simply can be solved by closing eyes and it will simply go away.

HowardBHaas on August 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm

LuisV, I appreciate your comments.
Philadelphia has not completed the process of landmarking the Boyd’s exterior (all it can legally protect unless a new bill is passed next month). A recommendation was made in favor by the Designation Committee. A vote is scheduled August 8 at the Phila. Historical Commission.

In NYC, on 42nd Street the Harris facade is the entry to Madame Tussard’s. The Empire was moved a short distance, and its former interior (auditorium) is the grand lobby of the AMC Empire multiplex.

The New Amsterdam is the crown jewel, an Art Nouveau masterpiece whose restoration & reopening kicked off the renewal of Times Square. I certainly hope that when the time comes- and we are working towards it, when the Boyd reopens, that it will greatly help Philadelphia, too, and especially Chestnut Street West.

LuisV on August 2, 2008 at 11:40 am

It seems to me that the criticism of Condos above is misdirected. One need only look at cities like Detroit, Gary, East St. Louis, Camden, Newark, (the list goes on) to show that many movie palaces were lost in cities that had no development at all. That was the problem! No one wanted to build Condos because many people had left and no one else wanted to move in. So the palaces rotted.

In New York, new condo development has primarily ocurred because the city has been turned into a very desirable place to live. By lowering crime, cleaning the streets and restoring and creating new infrastructure, people have been flocking back to the city. As a result, developers built new housing. That doesn’t mean that you lose all of your landmarks. That’s what Landmark laws are for. That is what Zoning laws are for. All of these new Condos and Office buildings increase property values over all.

In New York, one need look only at what happened on 42nd Street. New Office buildings were built and the entire street was redeveloped. Some theaters were gloriously restored (The New Amsterdam, The New Victory, The American Airlines and the Hilton Theaters). One theater shell was preserved as an entrance to a new multiplex (The Harris). Another theater, The Times Square, is being turned into a retail store for Marc Ecko. Another theater, The Liberty is still awaiting its new use (rumour has it that it will soon be restored into an actual operating theater).

My point is that, overall, development SAVED these theaters. It is not enough to say that all old movie palaces need to be restored. Someone has to pay for them and they generally have to have a way to support themselves afterward. A vibrant successful residential/office district is much more likely to allow that to happen.

Philadelphia finally landmarked the Boyd! It’s about time! Now, they have to find a way to assist in restoring it; whether through tax breaks, grants or other incentives. The city needs to understand that a restored Boyd will lift the entire district up and enhace Philadelphia’s reptation. The sooner they truly figure that out, the sooner you will see progress.

TheaterBuff1 on July 31, 2008 at 11:24 pm

Last I recall, F.W. Woolworth became Woolco, but maybe that’s now gone the way of nostalgia, too. But I’ll tell you, while so many of us today pine for the past, those in the past just went ahead and brought about the things they wanted for themselves, the things you listed, and with nothing to stop them. It was called — and this might sound like a very alien, foreign word to many people reading this today — “freedom.” Put your time machine hat on and imagine right now is 1927 or so. Your name is Alexander Boyd, and you have this idea that you want to build a theater…no, make that a movie palace. You want to build a movie palace. Now with that said, what’s standing in your way? You have the location picked out and purchased, and the architectural firm of Hoffman & Henon has just come through with a really great design for this theater you seek to build and exactly as you picture it. So with that, you hire the contractors, work gets underway full swing, and by Christmas day 1928, wa la! You offer to the world the newly opened Boyd! And what was missing from what I just laid out the steps of? Only one thing: Obstacles. There were no obstacles. Try doing that same exact thing today and you realize how different now is from then. It’s like back then obstacles — or perhaps shackles I should say — hadn’t been invented yet or something. That is, between 1927 and now, who is this idiot who invented obstacles? And who is the nutcase lawyer who granted this idiot the patent for it so he could begin mass-marketing it?!

It’s one way of looking at this matter anyway.

finkysteet on July 31, 2008 at 9:28 pm

So let’s recap: we’ve lost an absurd number of theaters. Wanamaker’s is Macy’s. The Macy’s Light Show ain’t the same without John Facenda narrating it. Strawbridge & Clothier are history. Horn & Hardart gave way to fast food (fine, if you’re a kid). F.W. Woolworth became what? John’s Bargain Stores are gone. Anyone remember Linton’s? PTC begat SEPTA . Where’s Sun Ray Drug Store and its outlandishly delicious milkshakes? Where’s my Gimbels at 9th & Market with the sales marquee and digital clock inside the big, neon “G”? Anyone seen my H.L. Green? Can’t find Kresge, either. Corvette’s? Two Guys?

No problem though – I’ll just tune in to WKBS-48 and watch “Roller Game Of The Week” with Elmer Anderson doing play-by-play.

We’ve lost so much in this city over the years that I really couldn’t stomach losing our last treasure. What else is left? I’ve shown my kids photos of the Boyd/Sameric interior from the Irwin Glazer book. Sad to think they may never step foot inside what we all have come to know and love. I really wish we all could have a week just to look around and snap pictures inside the Boyd, no matter what else happens afterward.

You hit it dead-on, Theaterbuff1. I realize it isn’t my dislike of condos as much as their location, so I apologize to anyone residing in such places who may have been offended by my remarks.

Hey, Santa? Here’s my early wish list: Save the Boyd and all the other precious theaters that mean so much to us all. Not just for our pleasure, but also for future generations.

TheaterBuff1 on July 30, 2008 at 10:45 pm

Brucec, my mindset on the Boyd is that at this point I’d be happy to see it reopen as a theater in any capacity! But I do think it has to be flexible to adjust for whatever the greatest demand is. Meantime, there was the rumor, I don’t know if it was ever true, that the Kimmel Center was holding the Boyd’s restoration back when it was heard that the Boyd would try to compete with it. And if that rumor was true, what can you do? That’s just the way of cutthroat competition. And I don’t know about anybody else, but I think it would be suicidal to try to go against the Kimmel Center.

Which is why I stressed that the Boyd should concentrate on becoming a movie theater once more, particularly for Cinerama, if possible, and also to become Philadelphia’s first Digital Cinema theater, neither of for which there’s any competition now.

What we really need in this city right now, and which really hit home recently with all the excitement in other theaters throughout the country over THE DARK KNIGHT, is that special movie palace we need to be able to flock to in droves when such attention drawing movies come along. It’s like build it and they will come. But if anyone thinks they can make a go of the Boyd being a live performance venue, taking into account the competition and so on, I’m not going to argue with that. I just don’t want to see anybody lose their shirt is all, hence my emphasis on flexibility. And if it could somehow be adopted from the Uptown’s restoration plan, I love the fact that they have time lines set and would love to see that applied to the Boyd as well, as it didn’t seem to be on the last run.

And to Ntrmission, I know exactly what you mean. That said, however, there is such a thing where in some cases there’s free enterprise, and how do you fight it? Such as when they took down the Fox being a good example. It’s being razed was not meant as an act of hostility or a cultural attack, but was just simply the way of progress. As beautiful as an old theater it was, it no longer worked for that location.

As for what’s happening at the Jersey Shore, I threw in the towel on that a long time ago. And that was not a case of progress by any means. At the point I threw in the towel there should’ve been a moratorium on all new construction there plain and simple. The Shore when you’re at the Shore should feel like it’s at the Shore, and anything that goes against the grain of that should be said no to. But in that case money was the only thing allowed to rule and all else be damned. And to me that was crossing the line from free enterprise to outright senseless greed at the expense of all else. There are a lot of ways money can be made, but it doesn’t mean that all of them are right. As for what rose up in the DuPage’s place I don’t know if anything has yet or not. For in that case it’s kind of like what do you build in the place of where the World Trade Center stood? For I’m not absolutely against condos per se. I had no complaints whatsover when Symphony House rose up. It’s just a matter of where they rise up, and on what emotional level they do. I absolutely can’t stand any of the condos at the Jersey Shore, because I know of the outright hostility that was behind them, the hate of fellow man and nature, the love of money.

finkysteet on July 30, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Those were some disturbing photos, and my condolences go out to those who fought so diligently to save the DuPage. I have very vivid memories of when our Fox, Milgram, Randolph, Duke, Duchess, Regency, Nixon and Goldman theaters went down, and believe it or not I was on the verge of tears each time. It’s like someone ripping down your house w/o your permission and stripping away some childhood memories along with it.

Pardon my being off-topic, but the demolition of these palaces is akin to the so-called condo boom at the Jersey Shore. The delightful and distinctive doo-wop-themed motels from yesteryear have given way to pricey, unattractive condominiums. Is that what they’re going to put in the DuPage’s vacancy? Is that what’s in store for the Boyd should — God forbid — the unthinkable happen? If we cheered a condo demolition, we’d be chastised for being insensitive (if not a little nutty), but I’d happily risk the chance!

bruceanthony on July 30, 2008 at 9:59 am

The City of Chicago put conditions on the purchase of the Uptown. Jam Productions is to give the City 5 Million within 30 days of receiving title to the Uptown. Jam also is required within 90 days have a detailed plan of repair of the Uptown to be open within three years and after the theatre is open will get back there 5 Million. The Uptown is far more difficut project than the Boyd. Chicago has many restored movie palaces where Philidelphia has none. Most large cities in the United States has restored one or two movie palaces in there downtown districts. The Boyd is the perfect size theatre for touring Broadway shows with its 2400 seats where the Forrest and Merrium theatres are to small for shows like “Wicked” and “The Lion King”. The Academy of Music and the Kimmel Center are not proper venues for Broadway shows. The Boyd could be used for concerts,dance,classic film as well as for Broadway shows. Live Nation clause that the theatre couldn’t be used for music concerts can be challenged due to the fact they never opened the theatre after they bought it. There is a need for the Boyd and its restoration would be a great asset to the City in the long term.brucec

TheaterBuff1 on July 30, 2008 at 12:53 am

The tension in the Chicago Uptown’s case is very much linked to what befell the DuPage Theater which was in a suburb of Chicago. You can read what happened to the DuPage at the following link, but please be forewarned of the very disturbing photo they show:

View link

To me what happened regarding the DuPage was a bona fide crime and I don’t know how that could’ve happened in America. But it did. And not only was it an attack on a building, but a whole culture of people for whom the realm of the theater is valued as much as anything that others place a high value on. Think how far theater goes back in our whole entire human history, how whole generations have grown up in reverence to it spanning back thousands of years, of the very vital role that theater has played throughout humanity’s advance. Like the Chicago Uptown Theatre, ranked as one of the largest in the U.S., the DuPage was also designed by the architectural firm of Rapp & Rapp which today stand as legendary. Though the DuPage wasn’t anywhere near as large as the Uptown, it was one of the rare few atmospheric theaters that the Rapp & Rapp firm had turned out, and most certainly right up there with John Eberson, who specialized in this. Yet there was no one there to stop when they came for it. No one. And it wasn’t like we were at war or anything. This was just an innocent theater that some well-meaning people were trying to restore, that’s all. No crime whatsoever was being committed there. But the way those who wanted it down went after it, well, read Cinema Treasure’s DuPage page if you can stomach it. It got so bad CT finally had to shut it down, of course. And while certainly people have their rights to their own opinions and tastes, this story went way over that line. Here were a people who wanted to do away with somebody else’s opinions and tastes, and they did so in the most physical manner. And with nothing to stop them, as though it was all very “right and proper.” So naturally there’s some concern with Chicago’s Uptown being next to get hit in that same fashion. But I certainly hope not. And could the same thing happen here in Philadelphia regarding the Boyd? Fortunately, the Boyd is in a good part of the city where I don’t think it could. But, given the times we’re living in, as signified by what happened to the DuPage and what could happen next to Chicago’s Uptown, well, you see the current times as well as I do.

finkysteet on July 29, 2008 at 11:29 pm

And I say bring it on, TheaterBuff1. Speaking of theaters named “Uptown,” one can only hope that our own Uptown can someday rise up from near-oblivion. I imagine that Chicago’s Uptown holds as many precious memories for its patrons as much as our venues and I’m glad they’re making some progress there. But at the risk of sounding judgmental here, “Jam Productions” sounds kinda fly-by-night to me, every bit as “Live Nation” did, and we see what happened there! Think I’d feel slightly cozier if a Trump came along and sank a few million into preserving/rehabbing/reopening these places.

BTW, I’m new to this: Who the heck is/was Live Nation anyway?

TheaterBuff1 on July 29, 2008 at 8:46 pm

While we’re focusing on what happens next with the Boyd we should also be keeping an eye on what’s going on with the Uptown in Chicago as well. Recently put up for auction, it was just bought by Jam Productions. But, that’s no guarantee that the Uptown will be restored and reopened as a theater, even though it already has historic protection designation status. As usual, this is a very difficult time for movie palaces, whether here in Philadelphia or there in Chicago, and just about everywhere else in the U.S. as well. I would hope that we’ll eventually get to the other side of this trend, but who knows what’s still going to be standing when we do? Which is why I feel your idea is a very good one, ntrmission. I remember years ago when I was visiting Hamburg, Germany being taken by what I mistook for very historic old buildings, in that case Medieval structures, only to be told that they were simply newly built from the ground level up replicas of what had stood before the bombing of Hamburg during WWII. But they looked so old and genuine they sure fooled me! But based on that, I say yeah, if they could do that, when the right time comes we could build accurate replicas of whatever gets lost in this current period we’re in — IF we ever get to the other side of it. And replicating 1920s Art Deco? No sweat.

HowardBHaas on July 29, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Movie theaters today are multiplexes. Friends of the Boyd do include in our mission to have a film series at the Boyd, but it will need to primarily rely upon live events.

finkysteet on July 29, 2008 at 3:14 pm

No argument from me there! It’s just sad that it closed at all. And we have to be the only major city without a movie theater in its downtown district, aren’t we? Forget those places down by Penns Landing — a tourist wishing to take in a film while staying in Center City would go where? Yes, please save, restore and reopen the Boyd.

HowardBHaas on July 29, 2008 at 2:30 pm

Nobody is going to replicate original 1920s Art Deco, which is one reason why it is so important to save, restore and reopen the Boyd!

finkysteet on July 29, 2008 at 2:26 pm

Does anyone know of any movement underfoot anywhere in the country to possibly create a new theater that mimics the look and feel of those like the Boyd and its predecessors? Ornate plaster designs, elaborate drawings, curtains, a stage, etc. Financially it would be quite an undertaking, and finding people talented and skilled enough to carry it out would be another task, but I’d love to see that happen versus another cineplex/multiplex.

HowardBHaas on July 16, 2008 at 5:37 pm

The Boyd is structurally sound! Architects, engineers, etc have verified that repeatedly including this year. Now, I have to take a break from answering questions as it has been tremendous (volunteer) work to obtain today’s giant step towards legal protection,and all the rest we are doing.

finkysteet on July 16, 2008 at 5:34 pm

But with all the hoopla surrounding the Boyd’s future, if the building has been dormant for so long — and given its age — is it still structurally sound? From the photos I’ve seen, it still looks great for the most part, but then I’m no engineer.

HowardBHaas on July 16, 2008 at 5:01 pm

We have materials that name them and at some point, I can look for the names. Interesting is the purpose of them. That decor exists because the auditorium and proscenium arch are wonderfully wide- one reason the Boyd was selected in 1953 to host Cinerama. That decoration helps to visually make the auditorium seem not too wide.

The side chandeliers are indeed very nice. All the original light fixtures are currently off site in storage, waiting for restoration to get back on track.

finkysteet on July 16, 2008 at 4:26 pm

Heck, there wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the Boyd, lights and all! Even the smaller chandeliers that hung from the main ceiling on either sides of the screen added a touch of class. Another question: what were those 14 circular plaster designs called that hung directly above the stage? Always intruigued me.

HowardBHaas on July 16, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Since you like the Boyd lights so much, I will tell you they had a model name: “Aura”, given to them by their maker, the famed Rambusch Company. Rambusch, then of NYC (now NJ)also were among the Boyd decorators in 1928 and refurbished post WW2.

HowardBHaas on July 16, 2008 at 3:49 pm

Sadly, when the IRS takesover the Post Office building at 30th Street, that ornate Art Deco space will be totally off limits to the public, for security reasons! Another nearby post office will service the public. Looking at my own photos, I see ceiling domes at the entries of the post office, which I recall.

The Boyd’s balcony underside has plaster medallions. Well, the plaster & paint experts might have a more technical name, but that’s what they appear to be. They are quite elaborate at the Boyd.

finkysteet on July 16, 2008 at 3:38 pm

We all would hate to see the demise of the Boyd (like the Spectrum!) but what I would give to own one of those fixtures if they began selling off the interiors. Before the Milgram was demolished, people were buying its wall fixtures. They weren’t ornate, but very ‘70s chic. I’m surprised nobody bought the old Goldman vertical bow-tie-looking wall fixtures (too big, I guess) but they were my faves.

And what is the proper name of the circular motif centered above your head on the balcony underside? 30th st. Post Office has one of them at each entrance, as did the Boyd, Nixon, Fox, and a few other theatres. In some places it was encased in class, others not.

HowardBHaas on July 16, 2008 at 3:16 pm

We’ve heard Sensurround caused problems at the Boyd with “Earthquake”

The light fixtures are currently off site with a light fixture restoration company. Those you refer to are a famous 1939 model, installed in the Boyd during the 1953 remodel for Cinerama, as replacement for original 1928 lights. I saw the same exact ceiling light fixture on display in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, as an example of then cutting age 20th Century lighting.

veyoung52 on July 16, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Sorry, the above falling-of-the-plaster took place during the “Earthquake” engagement. And, btw, Sensurround was not used for “Towering Inferno.”