One block from Rittenhouse Square, on Chestnut Street between 19th and 20th, stands a relic from the past. Originally opened in 1928, the now historic Boyd Theater used to be the premier movie venue in the Philadelphia area. The Art Deco theater is a tribute to the days when movie palaces treated cinema with a church like reverence, featuring intricate architecture, an extravagant marquee and ticket booth, and a stunning auditorium with 2,450 seats.
Yet, when passing the Boyd Theater while walking down the street, few may realize its historical relevance and beauty. After closing in 2002, the now abandoned Boyd has become warn down and dilapidated. The once bustling surrounding neighborhood has similarly fallen on hard times.
Even though the Boyd Theater has fallen from its original splendor, it still has plenty of people in its corner. Local leaders and organizations have taken and interest in the Boyd, and the not for profit Friends of the Boyd was created to protect the architecture and historical relevance of the theater. The facade has also been declared a historical landmark.
Yet, not everyone is in agreement on what the future should hold for the Boyd. After several failed attempts to convert the auditorium into a live performance venue or event space, there is finally a viable offer on the table. The Florida based company iPiC has proposed to turn the Boyd into an 8 theater Cineplex, complete with a restaurant, liquor license, and comfy reclining chairs. The plan would preserve and restore the theaters facade and exterior entrance to its original glory, and would also have historical artifacts from the theater placed on display. However, the plan would call for the auditorium to be knocked down. Organizations such as the Philadelphia Film Office are in support of the plan, while others like Friends of the Boyd are against it.
Detractors from the plan include Inga Shaffron, architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer. According to Shaffron, based on its architecture and historical relevance, the entire theater needs to be protected. She sites examples from several other major U.S. cities that have restored historic movie palaces and the benefits they've had on their communities. She also makes the point that ten years is far too short a time to give up hope for a full restoration.
Shaffron says, "When you walk down Market and Chestnut today, you don't see any theaters that used to be there and we're going to lose that memory of these places when they're gone. I think there's a really significant difference in just knowing that they were there and seeing the physical place, even if it's not used for that purpose."
On the other side of the argument is Sharon Pinkenson of the Philadelphia Film Office. Pinkenson claims that the Cineplex is the only plan that has come even close to being realized, stressing that there isn't much need for an auditorium with a 2,540 seat capacity. She also makes the argument that when other cities have restored old movie palaces, they often do so on the tax payers dollar, and many of them struggle financially. Penkenson also makes the point that the plan would allow the space to be used as it was originally intended, and that a movie theater would revitalize the surrounding area.
Pinkenson says, "This (plan) makes tremendous amount of sense for the citizens of Philadelphia and for the practical ability to reserve, to restore, to preserve this facade and the head house." She goes on to say, "They're very committed to preserving and restoring as much of the artifacts as possible."
Whatever your opinion, the Boyd Theater should always be remembered as the place where Grace Kelly attended the premier of High Noon in 1952, where Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington attended the premier of Philadelphia in 1993, and where countless Philadelphia residents packed the theater to partake in the cinema experience, perhaps for the very first time.