Last Minute Reprieve For Boyd Theater?

February 21, 2014 | by Peter Woodall


Exterior of the Boyd. It was most recently the SamEric theater | Photo: Peter Woodall

Exterior of the Boyd. It was most recently the SamEric theater | Photo: Peter Woodall

Maybe there will be a Hollywood ending for the Boyd Theater after all. An anonymous local foundation has offered to match a $4.5 million bid for the property at 1910 Chestnut Street from developers who plan to replace the theater’s lavish Art Deco interior with eight movie screens and an Italian restaurant operated by iPic Entertainment.

“It’s a game changer,” said Friends of the Boyd president Howard Haas.

Last month, property owner Live Nation Worldwide told the Historical Commission’s hardship subcommittee that restoring the auditorium and lobby is not financially viable. The full commission was expected to reach a decision on February 27th, however the new offer should render the financial viability argument moot, said Preservation Alliance advocacy director Ben Leech.

The first thing Live Nation must do to prove hardship is show there are no other buyers, which is no longer the case, said Leech. “If you can’t prove that you can’t sell it, everything else is irrelevant,” he said. “[The Historical Commission] would never ask for a business plan if someone wants to buy the building. There is going to be a lot of hard work to develop a model that restores and sustains the theater, but step one is controlling the site.”

The Boyd's Art Deco auditorium | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

The Boyd’s Art Deco auditorium | Photo: Chandra Lampreich

The anonymous local foundation first expressed an interest in the Boyd’s plight in late December, said Haas.

If LiveNation accepts the foundation’s offer, the owner in the near term would probably be Friends of the Boyd, he said. If that happens, Haas said Friends of the Boyd would improve the appearance of the building’s facade to address the concerns of neighbors who see it as having a negative effect on the rest of the block. The property has been vacant since the Sameric Theater closed in 2002.

Haas said the Friends of the Boyd envision a mixed-use entertainment venue with occasional film programming. He said the foundation did not attach to the funding any stipulations for the redevelopment of the theater.


About the Author

Peter Woodall Peter Woodall is the Project Director of Hidden City Philadelphia. He is a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, and a former newspaper reporter with the Biloxi Sun Herald and the Sacramento Bee. He worked as a producer for Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and wrote a column about neighborhood bars for


  1. Howard B Haas says:

    Thanks for the coverage of this development. We hope more people will visit our website and “like” our Facebook page so they can join in this community inspired effort to rescue a great historic landmark, Philadelphia’s last premiere movie palace so its future can be as bright as its past.

  2. Mod Betty / says:

    This is such exciting news!!

  3. Curt Mangel says:

    Thanks to Peter for covering this. Our last movie palace should be saved if we are going to call ourselves a first class city!

  4. Palestra Jon says:

    Come on….if it were real, and there were a legitimate offer from a nonprofit foundation, it wouldn’t be anonymous. Any real offer, moreover, requires the money to fix the Boyd. I don’t know who, other than Mr. Haas, would prefer the empty hulk of a great, but economically nonviable theater to continue to suppress land values in Chestnut Street West to a tax paying development. The Boyd is NOT unique—there are 3 comparable theaters in Philadelphia (Forrest, Merriam and Academy of Music) which fill less than 40% of available dates. The Boyd is not different because it was used most recently as a movie, rather than a stage theater. If you add the Walnut, Prince, Royal and Metropolitan Opera theaters, that makes 7 old theaters in Philadelphia’s core. Only one of those is in regular use. The taxpayers were fleeced on the Prince renovation, which essentially is what Mr. Haas proposes for the much bigger Boyd. I think if you would put this to a vote, the redevelopment plan currently before the Commission would win 90-10%.

    1. Jay Schwartz says:

      1) The anonymous offer is anonymous only to the public — obviously the powers that be (Historical Commission) need to know where the offer is coming from to ascertain its validity, and they do. However, for their own private reasons, the foundation wishes not to go public at this time — much as YOU choose to remain anonymous, “Palestra Jon.”

      2) Many, many people want to see the Boyd saved — locally, nationally and internationally.

      3) The Boyd was not only used “most recently” as a movie theater; it lived its entire life as a movie theater, and is the only intact example of this iconic form left in downtown Philadelphia. Of the other theaters you cite, only two are former movie theaters, and neither (the grossly-altered Prince and the gutted Royal) is even close to intact. Thus the Boyd IS quite unique. That said, a restored Boyd’s future life would likely encompass much more than movie showing.

      4) If a popular vote was the method by which we determined what can survive in our shared landscape, we would have lost many important landmarks. At the earliest rallies in support of the theater, there were many well-wishers who walked by, but also angry young naysayers who shouted “I LIKE parking garages and want more of them!” I am glad that our society does not entrust our history to mob rule. There are many valid reasons why the Boyd has historically certified status, and I am hopeful that the Historical Commission members will do their duties as our designated advocates for history…and SAVE THE BOYD!

      1. Palestra Jon says:

        Kudos for your disingenuous comparison of my posting anonymously (because I do not care to be harassed as a result of my personal opinion on this issue) and an 11th hour surprise “offer” to save the Boyd proffered by Mr. Haas, for whom this is a Mission from God. It is a common tactic in situations where there is to be a foreclosure or bankruptcy sale of a property, to which this IS closely analogous. The Boyd has not been used in its original form for 40 years. It has not been economically viable for more than that. Saving the Boyd is akin to saving a classic old TV set—there is absolutely no market for a 2000 seat movie theater. The ONLY possible use of the Boyd is as a stage theater, but there are 4 other 1000+ seat stage theaters in Philadelphia (5 if you include Verizon Hall), none of which are utilized more than a fraction of the time. The exterior is not only nothing special, it is run down and unattractive. The only thing that even warrants consideration is the interior. The Art Deco touches can be preserved in the museum that Mr. Haas purchases with his own money, rather than forcing the rest of the taxpayers of this City to support his hobby. Sorry, but while I may not be the arbiter of what is historically important, neither are you. Hard as it may be for you to admit, there are many people out there who are just as educated as you and your arrogant reference to opponents as a “mob” demonstrates your self-important hubris. You simply are wrong that this is anything that should be preserved at the cost of millions of dollars of tax revenue to a City that desperately needs the revenue.

        1. nobody says:

          I love how opinionated, entitled people like you feel such a need to throw water on any news that the Boyd could potentially be restored. Didn’t you all do that enough on philadelphiaspeaks and planphilly already?

          The only people I see being disingenuous are you self-appointed “experts”. What’s hilarious is you don’t seem to be able to see that the only thing you display with your pronouncements as an expert and absolute statements is your own entitlement and ability to shout down and insult anybody who dares to disagree with you.

          You do nothing but make claim after claim without being an expert, with no knowledge of how an urban neighborhood or even a city actually functions, and without ever actually backing it up with anything other than more claims, insults, and condescension.

          Sorry, but you don’t have a clue whether or not the offer is for real because you’re not actually involved. You aren’t an expert on the aubject so stop speaking and more importantly shouting down others as if you are one.

          1. Palestra Jon says:

            All that matters is that I am a taxpayer and I have friends who live in that neighborhood and are furious with the Quixotic attempt to keep a major property vacant and dangerous. And if you have any education in what makes an urban neighborhood work, read up on your Jane Jacobs and remember that people on the street is what makes it work. Even were the Boyd renovated, it is out of place in that neighborhood and will be empty and quiet the vast majority of the time. The proposed movie/restaurant complex is far better for the neighborhood and would pay millions into the City treasury in real estate, sales and wage taxes. Get real.

          2. nobody says:

            Design matters, for one. If you build an ugly, suburban box then you’re going to attract exactly the kind of people that people like you look down on and are afraid of. You’re pushing for them to build the Gallery version of big box multiplexes, and if you expect people like that to respect the “rules” of that ugly looking box then you’re beyond delusional. The Boyd however, people have to respect. You have to respect history and legitimate refinement. It’s demanded of you.

            Also I’d love to hear how the most palatial theatre in the entire city is out of place for the “neighborhood” -which is in reality the central business district- yet a squat box of a multiplex somehow isn’t.

        2. George Lippard says:

          Two responses to libertarian naysayer & “Palestra Jon”

          1. Palestra Jon says:

            I am by no means a libertarian nor a naysayer. I’ve been to the Fox and its beautiful. But neither of those cities has 4 other theaters which are comparable or underutilized. You could never make the Boyd successful with theater and music as those two do, because the existing theaters already handle that. Given the admission that public theater renovations in Philadelphia are a fiasco (see Prince and Devon), why bark up this tree? A Boyd renovation will never happen, so you are simply condemning a community that overwhelmingly opposes you to a property attracting vagrants and which pays no taxes.

  5. Once again, we have to ask that the comments on this story and others stick to the subject. We don’t need to shout down each other to be convincing. Moreover, we can demonstrate mutual respect and understanding. Hidden City aims to be a different kind of forum. As far as I can tell, most Hidden City readers love their city…. –ed.

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