There’s not much left of the Boyd Theatre, so if you’ve never seen its art deco interior, better get yourself to the 1900 block of Sansom posthaste. Its demolition is creeping along, and an articulated vision of what will replace it is at last available. In advance of next Tuesday’s monthly meeting of the Architectural Committee of the Philadelphia Historical Commission (at 9AM in room 578 at City Hall), Pearl Properties’ Chestnut Square Associates has submitted the plan for redevelopment of 1900 through 1910 Chestnut Street. It’s available on the Historical Commission’s web site.
The Boyd Theatre was Center City’s last remaining art deco movie palace. It opened in 1928 as a 2,300-seat movie theater, designed by the Hoffman-Henon architecture firm. (Their Bala Theatre was in operation until December 2014; the Bristol Riverside Theatre and West Philadelphia’s Bushfire Theatre have each been retrofitted for the stage.) The Boyd was last open as the Sam Eric Theatre in 2002, when it was owned by Goldenberg Development. Goldenberg leased the cinema to United Artists, who filed for bankruptcy in 2000, and sold the building in 2005 to Clear Channel, whose live events division became Live Nation.
Since then, a series of proposals to save, restore, convert, and/or add on to it have come and gone—see the 2013 affidavit to Live Nation’s hardship application for a full rundown of those HERE. Despite a matching offer from an anonymous donor represented by Friends of the Boyd to preserve the building, Live Nation last October sold the Boyd to Pearl Properties.
Earlier in 2014, Pearl announced plans to build a 26-story tower at 1900 Chestnut and incorporate its historic two-story, limestone art deco façade. However, the Center City Residents Association opposed the rezoning required, and Pearl’s focus broadened to a wider redevelopment of the block.
Now in possession of all the properties from 1900 through 1910 Chestnut, as well as 110 and 112 South 19th Street, Pearl has unveiled their plan for development to the Historical Commission, whose Architectural Committee will vote on final approval. It’s the first item on the agenda.
In Pearl’s plan, the Boyd Theatre’s façade will remain, as will the main lobby, which will feature a new restaurant. But the theater itself, the main auditorium, will be replaced by a 27-story apartment tower. Demolition on the auditorium began in March. The tower’s design comes from Eimer Design of 109 South 13th Street. It will rise 323 feet to the roof, 341 feet to the top of the mechanical structure. The Sam Eric marquee will be removed and the Boyd’s will be restored. Notably, the ornamental art deco vestibule to Sansom Street, one section that was to have been preserved, will be replaced by a loading dock.
On 19th Street, 1900 Chestnut will remain, but the buildings on either side of it will also be demolished: 110 and 112 South 19th Street (most recently Thunder hair salon and Prudential Savings Bank, respectively), and 1902 and 1904 Chestnut (a Dollar store and Industry XIX nightclub). A new three-story building will straddle 1900 Chestnut with frontage along Chestnut Street and a smaller entrance immediately south of the art deco “1900” signage on 19th Street. The new modern building will serve to connect the deco components of 1900 and 1908 (the Boyd) Chestnut.
With a nomination prepared by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, the Boyd was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places in 2008—but only its exterior was protected. The Philadelphia Historical Commission granted a hardship exemption to Live Nation in March 2014 to “partially demolish” the Boyd; this exemption carried over in the sale last October.
Attempts to reach Pearl Properties for comment today were unsuccessful.
Ed. Note: The original version of this story stated that the Bala Theatre was still in operation. Friends of the Boyd president Howard Haas pointed out that the Bala closed in December. This has been fixed.