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 theatres 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 theatre 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 Theatre, but before he could do so, he died in 2010. For many years The Friends of the Boyd was 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 Theatre 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 auditorium, an action preservationists perceived as a ‘scorched earth tactic’ to make less likely an appeal of the Historical Commission’s ruling.

As of November 2014, Pearl Properties purchased the Boyd Theatre from Live Nation for four and a half million Dollars. In 2015, Pearl Properties, without announcing reuse plans yet, obtained a demolition permit from the City for demolition of the auditorium, but the plan filed would keep not only the Chestnut Street façade as had been planned by iPic Theatres, but also keep the grand lobby and the foyer at the auditorium’s rear. Demolition of the auditorium began Saturday March 14, 2015.

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

Recent comments (view all 483 comments)

amcbayplaza13 on December 19, 2014 at 8:06 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 20, 2015 at 4:35 am

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 3:38 pm

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 6:24 pm

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 9:47 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!!

rasLXR on March 11, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Demolition has begun.

hdtv267 on March 15, 2015 at 1:27 pm

“ An irreplacable icon reduced to dust….”

alps on March 15, 2015 at 9:02 pm

It was distressing news about the Boyd / Sam Eric being demolished. But I knew that this was going to happen anyway, when I saw the chain link fence on Samson Street, it became real. Center City Philadelphia is on the move, my mind is frozen on the Summer of 1981, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 70mm, was playing on the then single Sam Eric screen, after a quick rain shower, when the cool summer air has a sweet smell to it, stopping on Chestnut Street at Hillary’s ice cream parlor for a chocolate chip in a sugar cone. Philadelphia is a political town; why else do all the touring Broadway shows always are performed at the Academy of Music, which is not a theater for plays.

The Boyd was too far from the Avenue of the Arts, Center City, doesn’t want a concert hall on 19th and Chestnut, or a movie theater for that matter. Now there is only one downtown movie house left over from the movie palace era, the CVS drugstore. The Price Theater, the former Kalton/Midtown, was retail before being converted into a theater. To be honest it iPic’s dinner idea went into effect, I properly would not have patronized anyway, people in movie theaters today are annoying enough without ordering a meal when I’m trying to watch a film. Maybe the movie theater era is over; the experience is not worth the aggravation factor at times. Philadelphia still has Hoffman and Henon designed theater left on Broad Street, the Uptown is one, and the neighborhood the Met is in is now being gentrified, there is hope.

LorinWeigard on March 16, 2015 at 8:01 pm

Alps comment on the Boyd posted 3/15/15 is certainly a valid one: “Maybe the movie theater era is over.” I would concur that is true, at least in the showmanship department. The days of the Boyd and her kind ended with the multiplexes, which are no different than any of the big box retailers which replaced Wannamakers, Gimbels, and the other flagship prestige retailers. Case in point was Saturday going to my local multiplex here in the Harrisburg area to see the Met Opera; there are too many instances of this “big box” theatre operation screwing up these presentations to go into here, but this particular presentation was fine up until the last 5 minutes, when the previews for the next show was overlaid with the triumphant finale of Rossini’s opera; a very Warholesque ending but not really what we bargained for! The reason from the manager, the popcorn girl didn’t shut off the one projector! To Alps comment, it’s not the audiences that get to me; its the shoddy amateur “don’t give a damn” presentations that keep at home for the most part. Alas, when the Boyd is reduced to rubble, it only underscores the loss of what one once a glorious movie experience.

Mike Richardson
Mike Richardson on March 16, 2015 at 10:23 pm

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