Boyd Theatre

1908-18 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Boyd Theatre

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Opened on Christmas Day, 1928, the Boyd Theatre, recently known as the Sameric Theatre, was the last operating movie palace in downtown Philadelphia until it closed in 2002.

The Boyd Theatre was built for Alexander R. Boyd and designed by Philadelphia theatre architects Hoffman-Henon. Since acclaimed as an ‘Art Deco masterpiece’, the Boyd Theatre had a towering vertical sign that advertised the theatre a mile away, an outdoor retail promenade, an ornate ticket booth, and a huge colorful window with Art Deco style motifs. The grand lobby is lined with huge etched glass mirrors and had a floor area carpeted, which was imported from Czechoslovakia. The three level foyer has dazzling colorful mirrors two stories high. Equipped with an orchestra pit, a pipe organ, and a stage house, the auditorium had 2,450 seats (including one balcony) and perfect sightlines. The Opening Day program dedicated the Boyd Theatre to the theme of ‘The Triumph of the modern woman’ which was depicted in the proscenium mural by famed artist Alfred Tulk of the Rambusch Company.

Shortly after opening, Boyd sold the theatre to Warner Bros., which also purchased the Stanley Co. Most of downtown Philadelphia’s movie theatres were then operated under the Stanley Warner banner.

Although the theatre has clearly seen better days, the Art Deco style movie palace stands as a reminder of what once was. Warner Brothers musicals shown included in 1929, “On With the Show” and “Show of Shows” and in 1931, “Hold Everything”. Many classic films had their exclusive first runs here, including in 1937, “The Life of Emile Zola” and “The Good Earth”, in 1939 “The Wizard of Oz” and in 1940 “Gone with the Wind”. The world premiere of “Kitty Foyle” was hosted on December 27, 1940. “The Philadelphia Story” was shown in 1941 at the same time that the stage play, also starring Katherine Hepburn, was at the Forrest Theatre, less than a mile away. “Mildred Pierce” was presented in 1945. With his co-star Kathryn Grayson, Philadelphia opera singer Mario Lanza appeared on stage at the world premiere of his first movie, “That Midnight Kiss” on August 29, 1949. “The Great Caruso”, “Alice in Wonderland”, “A Place in the Sun” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” were among the movies shown in 1951. “The Greatest Show on Earth” and “High Noon” (with Grace Kelly appearing in person on opening night) were featured in 1952. “Walt Disney’s "Peter Pan” was on the big screen in early-1953.

In 1953, due to antitrust laws, Stanley Warner Theatres were relinquished by the Hollywood studio and became RKO Stanley Warner Theatres, and that year local architect William Howard Lee oversaw renovations at the Boyd Theatre that included a new curved marquee, new ticket booth, and a huge movie screen. The Boyd Theatre had hugely successful sold out in advance runs as Philadelphia’s only venue for all the 3-strip Cinerama movies, starting October 6, 1953 with “This is Cinerama” (which was shown for more than one year, to an estimated three quarters of a million people) and concluding with a 39 week run of “How the West Was Won” in 1963. The Boyd Theatre hosted many of Philadelphia’s first run 70mm Roadshows including “Ben Hur” (with Charlton Heston appearing in person to promote the film, 1959), “Judgment at Nuremburg”(1961), “Becket”(1964) and “Doctor Zhivago”(1965). With stars Fred MacMurray, John Davidson, Hermione Baddeley, and Joyce Bulifant appearing in person, the Philadelphia premiere of “The Happiest Millionaire” was held on October 20, 1967 at the Boyd Theatre.

In 1971, the Boyd Theatre was sold to the Sameric Corporation, which renamed the theatre the Sam Eric Theatre, refurbished and reopened with “Fiddler on the Roof”. ‘Sam Eric’ became combined as SamEric. At midnight on May 23, 1973, the SamEric Theatre hosted the world premiere of “Battle For the Planet of the Apes”, the fifth movie of the franchise. In the 1980’s, the Sameric Corporation added three smaller auditoriums to land west of the theatre (as of 2007, those auditoriums were converted to retail space) and the theatre became known as the Sameric 4. The world premiere of “Rocky III” was held at the Sameric on May 24, 1982. In 1988, the Sameric Corporation sold the Boyd Theatre along with their other theaters to the United Artists Circuit. In 1998, local developers, the Goldenberg Group, purchased the Boyd Theatre from United Artists.

The world premiere of the Academy Award winning movie “Philadelphia” was hosted at the movie palace in 1993 with Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and director Jonathan Demme appearing in person.

First run films continued until United Artists' departed from the theater on May 2, 2002, which was followed by the owner Goldenberg obtaining a demolition permit. In June, 2002, concerned citizens organised the Committee to Save the Sameric, and later that year, incorporated the nonprofit organization, Friends of the Boyd, Inc.

In 2005, Clear Channel, Inc. purchased the Boyd Theatre and began preliminary work towards restoration for use as a legit theatre with a film program. Clear Channel’s theatre’s became an independent company called Live Nation, and in 2006, work ceased. In 2008, Philadelphia developer Hall Wheeler announced plans to acquire, restore and reopen the Boyd, but before he could do so, he died in 2010. The Friends of the Boyd is currently trying to raise money and public awareness to save the last remaining movie palace in downtown Philadelphia.

The Boyd Theatre is pictured in books including ‘Philadelphia Theaters, A Pictorial Architectural History’ (author Irvin R. Glazer, publisher Dover, 1994), ‘Popcorn Palaces, the Art Deco Movie Theatre Paintings of Davis Cone’ (authors Dennis D. Kinerk & Dennis W. Wilhelm, publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2001), ‘The History of Japanese Photography’ (publisher The Museum of Fine Arts 2003, with 1978 black and white photo by Sugimoto Hiroshi of the auditorium), ‘Philadelphia Architecture’ (author Tom Nickels, publisher Arcadia, 2005, with a photo of the 1952 Boyd exterior), ‘Silent Movies: The Birth of Film and the Triumph of Movie Culture’ (author Peter Kobel, publisher, The Library of Congress, 2007, with a pre-construction watercolor rendering of the Boyd auditorium), ‘Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square’ (authors Robert Morris Skaler and Thomas Keels, publisher Arcadia, 2008, with a photo of the 1928 Boyd exterior) and “Movie Roadshows, A History and Filmography of Reserved-Seat Limited Showings 1911-1973” (author Kim R. Holston, publisher McFarland & Company, Inc. 2013, with the book’s front cover being a photograph of 1959 Boyd exterior).

In July 2002, a statewide organization, Preservation Pennsylvania designated the Boyd Theatre as one of Pennsylvania’s ten most endangered historic properties. In March, 2008, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia listed the Boyd Theatre in its Fifth Annual Endangered Properties List.

In May, 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Boyd Theatre to its 2008 List of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. In August 2008, the Boyd Theatre was included on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places.

In October 2013, it was announced that Live Nation would sell the Boyd Theatre to developer Neal Rodin who would lease it to iPIC Theatres, if permission was obtained from the Philadelphia Historical Commission to demolish all but the Boyd’s façade. In February 2014, to save the Boyd Theatre, Friends of the Boyd offered Live Nation four and a half million Dollars, matching the sale price, as an anonymous foundation had committed those funds. On Friday, March 14, 2014, the Philadelphia Historical Commission approved the demolition permit via the economic hardship application, despite the purchase offer by Friends of the Boyd. On Monday, March 17, 2014, Boyd Theatre owner Live Nation began gutting the interior, an action preservationists perceived as a ‘scorched earth tactic’ to make less likely an appeal of the Historical Commission’s ruling.

Contributed by Mike Geater, George Quirk, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 473 comments)

LuisV
LuisV on March 18, 2014 at 8:56 am

WoW! A new low for Philadelphia. A city that prides itself on history architecture and art has let its last remaining movie palace slip away. For shame! Most major cities have at least two palaces remaining while others, like New York and Los Angeles have scores of them which are used in many different capacities, but they are still around. Now, Philadelphia will take its shameful place as the only? major city without a historic movie palace.

telliott
telliott on March 20, 2014 at 10:57 am

Like we’ve said before, once it’s gone, it’s gone. What a shame.

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on March 22, 2014 at 11:22 pm

I cannot believe the city of Philadelphia. They will do anything for a sports team – new baseball and football stadiums – but the last remaining motion picture palace gets nothing. I cannot believe there is not emough “movers and shakers” in the city of brotherly love to save this gem. Even the city government will not budge – I guess money talks!!!! What a shame. I was so hoping that some day I would be able to walk into the Boyd and go up to the balcony to view a movie, stage show, or concert. Thank God I still have my memories. To this day 2pm on a Sunday reminds me of all the times we traveled to Philadelphia to attend the 2pm Sunday matinee of such films as"Ben Hur,“ "How The West Was Won,” “Brothers Grimm,” “Doctor Zhivago”, the list can go on and on. The Boyd could have been another destination in a tour or trip to the city. Now we will walk past and see an 8 screen complex and remember what used to be there and say “oh ‘heck’. When you think how many movie palaces have disappeared in Center City, it sure would have been nice to keep one of them. How can the much smaller city of York, Pa preserve two of their palaces – the Strand and Capitolcomplex – and Philly cannot manage to keep one operating? Right now I am embarrassed for Philly.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on March 24, 2014 at 6:21 pm

It really is dumb. Having a showplace civic auditorium is a big plus for city image. Here in Chicago we have several beautiful auditoriums, including the Chicago Theater which is pretty much a full-fledged symbol of the city. They are seen on TV, in movies, by tourists, theater-goers, private parties, etc. If they had a bunch left in Philly I wouldn’t have much to say. But this is their last shot and apparently they blew it. Even Detroit, where God knows errors have been made, got this one right. You know it is pretty bad when you finish behind the Motor City.

RobertR
RobertR on March 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Beyond pathetic

nobodym
nobodym on April 4, 2014 at 10:23 am

Don’t blame the city of Philadelphia for this. Philadelphia is a great city. Blame the entitled suburbanites who hold the most influence in the city and metro, the Historical Commission who is probably in the pockets of developers, the suburbanite-run media throughout the city and metro, and the cowardly developer who can’t be honest and real about what he’s doing.

This whole process has entirely been shaped by entitled suburbanites who either moved to the city or don’t even live there yet feel they have every right to determine what happens there. A lot of them are delusional enough to think that they or the suburban nowhere they come from is somehow as important or more important than Philadelphia. This situation is sadly not unique these days as the only people who ever actually get a voice anymore are those with the most money or the most entitlement. If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out our local media or even our local messageboards and other sites.

nobodym
nobodym on April 18, 2014 at 5:51 pm

This is the last time I comment on this disgrace. First of all, the status of the theatre should be changed to “destroyed” so people know what really happened. It’s not merely closed. It’s soon to be gone completely for a suburban crap box.

I came across this when searching for info on the Benn Theatre at 63rd & Woodland Ave in SW Philly. Scroll through it if you’re looking for people to blame, email, or stores to boycott who lobbied for the demolition.

http://www.phila.gov/historical/Documents/Boyd%20Interested%20Parties%20Set%201.pdf

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on April 18, 2014 at 6:57 pm

Status hasn’t changed because the building remains for the moment. Without suggesting “blame” or “boycot” but simply listing those for the “destruction” as you characterize it, the following testified or wrote in support of the application of Live Nation & iPiC (for which developer Rodin Group will purchase & lease the property): Center City District. Rittenhouse Row. Boyd’s store. Sharon Pinkenson of the Film Office. City Councilperson Clarke, State Senator Farnese, State Rep. Sims. Leaders of William Penn House & 1920 Chestnut Street, both residential buildings nearby. Of course, nobody is more upset than I am. Friends of the Boyd will continue to document & publicize the long & wonderful history of the Boyd. Thanks to those above who expressed their support.

Michael R. Rambo Jr.
Michael R. Rambo Jr. on June 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm

August 25 marks the 75th anniversary of the world premiere of “The Wizard Of Oz”,which played at the Boyd Theatre.

LorinWeigard
LorinWeigard on September 1, 2014 at 1:32 pm

When I read this weekend that the interior demolition of the historic Boyd for a multiplex renovation was well underway since March, it was like being kicked in the gut. In the days when our family made the trip to the Boyd to see Cinerama or “Around the World In 80 Days”, we were escorted to our RESERVED seats in that magnificent theatre like VIPs. I particulary remember the huge curved curtain and chandlier of that art deco movie palace. I remember as much of the Boyd as I do any of the movies I saw there. With the passing of Cinerama and reserved seat road shows, the grand Boyd was still THE place to see the big shows, like “Close Enounters” in 70m.m. With the money boys having come out on top in the Boyd’s story, it seems in exchange for the demolition of an art deco architectural masterpiece, we get a cookie-cutter multiplex no different than any other, with all the ambience of being herded into a Wal-Mart. On the plus side, there will be cup holders in the new seats. Long gone— Cinerama—70m.m. and grand movie palaces with curtains in which to see them Having followed the Boyd preservation story over the years, I must thank the Friends of the Boyd in their valiant effort to preserve this landmark theatre. This desecration is all our loss.

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