Boyd Theatre

1908-18 Chestnut Street,
Philadelphia, PA 19103

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Boyd Theatre

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Opened on December 25, 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 architectural firm Hoffman-Henon Co. 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 was lined with huge etched glass mirrors and had an area carpeted, which was imported from Czechoslovakia. The three level foyer had dazzling colorful mirrors two stories high. Equipped with an orchestra pit, a pipe organ (opened by organist Otto Beck), 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. The opening movie was “Interference” starring Evelyn Brent, Doris Kenyon, Clive Brook & William Powell supported by short subjects starring Eddy Cantor and Ruth Etting, a Walt Disney’s cartoon “Steamboat Willie”, the cartoon “The Toy Shop” and “Movietone News”.

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 had clearly seen better days, the Art Deco style movie palace stood 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. On July 16, 1982, new auditoriums Sameric 2 & 3 opened with about 450 seats each on Chestnut Street, on adjoining land west of the theatre. On June 12, 1985, the Sameric 4 opened with about 225 seats on adjoining land to the west of the two new auditoriums. 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.

In November 2014, Pearl Properties purchased the Boyd Theatre from Live Nation for four and a half million Dollars. Demolition of the auditorium began Saturday March 14, 2015. Plans are to glass in the outdoor vestibule and use it and the grand lobby for a restaurant, and to build a residential tower where the auditorium was.

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

Recent comments (view all 499 comments)

alps on October 27, 2015 at 6:40 pm

The iconic Sam Eric 4 marquee came down this week. The week of the 24th Philadelphia Film Festival, future generations will ask, why would we tear down the last Philadelphia movie palace? When in the suburbs their classic theaters have survived and are seeing new life. It isn’t enough that the exterior to the Boyd will be restored, because it will always be a reminder of what could have been, mocking us for our indifference. I visited many places in the Boyd / Sam Eric in my lifetime, from the Garden of Eden, from the Bible: In the Beginning (1966), the first movie I saw there in June of 1967, to Hogwarts from Harry Potter and the Sorcer’s Stone (2001), the last movie I saw in the big auditorium. People lined up on Chestnut Street, a little while ago for the opening of Five Below, a discount store in the vain of Spencer’s Gifts, not knowing that 100 years ago, the opening of the Arcadia Theater was in the same place, all that’s left is a portion of the beautiful plaster work on the ceiling, which mocked me while I was looking at the 5.00 DVD’s they had on sale. Then it hit me, I was born in Philadelphia, a place that makes Gotham City look like a utopia. At the film festival, I viewed a wonderful documentary called King Georges, about Chef Georges Perrier and his restaurant Le Bec-Fin, it was changing times and the way people approached eating that did his restaurant in, because people still like good food, but felt his restaurant was too stuffy and old fashioned. I like to think that’s what did the Boyd in, today people watch movies everywhere but in a theater given what today’s box office looks like, only springing the big bucks for a Star Wars or Hunger Games. Philadelphia is a very political town; this theater could have saved, if it wasn’t for the fact that touring Broadway shows are mounted at the Academy of Music, a concert hall, not a theater. Indiana Jones said it best in Raiders of the Lost Ark, which sneaked previewed at the Sam Eric on June 5th 1981, “Fools, bureaucratic fools! They don’t know what they got there.”

The Strand McAdoo
The Strand McAdoo on April 7, 2016 at 11:56 am

Shame on Philly for letting them tear down this gem!!

Coate on June 1, 2016 at 10:29 am

“In the 1980’s, the Sameric Corporation added three smaller auditoriums to land west of the theatre and the theatre became known as the Sameric 4.”

When, specifically, in the 1980s did these additional screens open?

Michael R. Rambo Jr.
Michael R. Rambo Jr. on June 1, 2016 at 11:46 pm

Coate, as mentined in the overview, the theatre became the Sameric 3 on July 16, 1982 when Screens # 2 & 3 opened. It was previously parking area from when the theatre was Stanley Warner’s Boyd/Sam Eric

HowardBHaas on June 2, 2016 at 3:34 am

Added yesterday the month & day of the additional auditoriums in 1982 & 1985 to the Intro. Would add more info such as opening films if anyone researches that.

rivest266 on October 6, 2016 at 4:22 pm

December 25th, 1928 grand opening ad in photo section.

Coate on March 10, 2017 at 9:02 am

Here’s a new article detailing the many large format engagements at the Boyd (and other Philadelphia area theaters).

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on March 24, 2017 at 7:44 am

The Boyd is one of the 24 theaters in my new book, “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater,” which is available on Amazon or your local bookstore

spectrum on April 4, 2017 at 4:51 pm

According to the Google Aerial views (April 2017), the auditorium is now completely demolished; only the lobby portion remains.

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