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 478 comments)

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 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.

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 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.

amcbayplaza13 on December 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Due to the fact this old theater was lease to ipic theater in 2013 but they didn’t mention that the Boyd theater is gonna convert into a ipic theater or other movie theater chain. For example Loews American theater in the Bronx was convert into a 7 multiplex screen theater then bow tie cinemas brought the building in 6 years and they closed the theater down .What if AMC Entertainment buy this abandoned theater to play movie and installing two digital 4k projection on each booth at the sane time. I wish the Boyd theater to reopen so that they could play movie every year instead of destorying it .

Coate on January 19, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Seventy-five years ago today the Boyd opened “Gone With the Wind.“ The opening was preceded by a premiere the day before, and the engagement was concurrent with a booking at the Earle.

LorinWeigard on January 20, 2015 at 7:38 am

So now that the Ipic plan to multiplex the Boyd has gone the way of the dodo bird, is restoration of the Boyd still a viable option, or has the demolition of the interior thus far rendered that impossible? Any information from followers is appreciated

LuisV on January 21, 2015 at 10:24 am

Wait, What? The iPic plan is dead? So what now? How much demolition has occurred? What the heck happened?

Bill H
Bill H on January 24, 2015 at 1:47 pm

There is a wonderful article published when this was a brand new theater. Look up Motion Picture News (Jan – Mar 1929). Its dated on February 2, 1929 issue pages 302-305 with photographs!!

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