11 Most Endangered Historic Places
The Boyd Theatre
Year Listed: 2008
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Threat: Development, Neglect
Downtown ("Center City") Philadelphia's last surviving major motion picture palace opened Christmas Day in 1928 and operated until 2002. This masterpiece of Art Deco design now sits vacant, has no preservation easement in place, lacks designation as an historic landmark and is threatened with demolition.
The Boyd Theatre was considered the most elegant theater in Philadelphia's premier shopping area, Chestnut Street. Designed by the architectural firm Hoffman-Henon, the Boyd was the only first-run Art Deco movie theatre ever erected in Philadelphia. The rich beauty of its interior was characterized by luxurious ornamentation such as an exquisite, etched glass-mirrored lobby, an enormous auditorium with a seating capacity eclipsing 2,500 and stunning chandeliers. The Art Deco decorative motif was carried out in full force with stained glass insets, a huge mural by acclaimed artist Alfred Tulk and gold and black metal silhouettes celebrating the progress of women throughout the history of the world. The decoration inside the Boyd Theatre has survived and should be preserved.
Following the theatre's closing in 2002, a local group, Friends of the Boyd, Inc., a nonprofit organization of community volunteers, was formed. Since then, it has waged a highly visible citywide advocacy campaign to prevent the demolition of the theatre, including letters to city government, public testimony, rallies, editorials to key media outlets, and petition drives. Friends of the Boyd, Inc. has a website, and uses other tools in collaboration with local advocates, including the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, which this year included the Boyd on its most endangered places list. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has had a longstanding interest in preserving the Boyd; in 1993, the National Trust was involved in litigation to grant landmark status to the Boyd, and Adrian Fine, the Director of the National Trust's Northeast Field Office, serves on the board of Friends of the Boyd, Inc.
In 2005, Clear Channel, Inc. purchased the Boyd and planned to embark on a $31 million restoration of the theatre as a live performance art venue. After Clear Channel underwent a re-organization, however, the Boyd was transferred to Live Nation. Restoration plans were halted in early 2006 when Live Nation decided to refocus itself as a concert presentation company. Subsequently, the Boyd was placed on the market.
Currently, there is no sales agreement in place for the Boyd Theatre. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is working with Live Nation and the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia to attract purchasers who will restore and use the historic theater. The Boyd is eligible for use of Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits by developers. The National Trust for Historic Preservation works nationally with the League of Historic American Theatres to promote the restorations of movie palaces and the National Trust Community Investment Corporation has provided equity investments for restoration of a number of historic theaters. In 2001, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed "Historic American Movie Theaters" among the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the country.