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Sitting Down with THE Boyd Preservationist

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Touching on this morning's post about the Roxy theater, it's evident that Philadelphia is seriously lacking a fully-restored and operational historic movie theater. The Boyd Theatre at 1908 Chestnut Street should be at the forefront of the conversation to bring one back to Philadelphia.

Opened on Christmas Day 1928 and boasting one of the most extravagant and rarely seen art deco interiors in the city, the Boyd held its name until it was renamed the Sameric in 1971 after a change in ownership. The theater remained open until 2002 and was subsequently purchased by Clear Channel three years later with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. Unfortunately, Clear Channel's theaters formed an independent company that we know today as Live Nation and restoration of the Boyd ground to a permanent halt.

The Boyd was placed on the 2008 List of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Curbed recently had a chance to sit down and talk about the building's past, present, and hopeful future with Howard Haas, Chairman & President of the Friends of the Boyd.

Curbed: What is the importance of restoring the Boyd?
Haas: The Boyd Theatre is Philadelphia's last premier motion picture palace where Hollywood stars came to celebrate Philadelphia premieres of their films. For its history as a premiere movie palace and also for its unique art-deco interior, the Boyd should be preserved, but it's not just a question of trying to preserve a historic building. It's also an opportunity.

Curbed: Does the Boyd present more of an opportunity for film or for live performances?
Haas: If the Boyd were to become a historic Broadway theatre (which is why Clear Channel purchased it in 2005), it could take about $50 million to build a new stage and refurbish the building as a theatre, whereas to build a brand new Broadway theatre in Philadelphia would cost $200-300 million.
Even without Broadway shows, concerts could be held at the Boyd just as many former movie palaces throughout the country. It's also an opportunity for world premieres of locally filmed movies. Movie premieres generate a great deal of excitement in a city because there's all the activity of the Hollywood stars arriving in their limousines, there's the spotlight on the sidewalk and the facade. But there's no great venue to host them with any viable number of people coming.

Curbed: With so many other American cities boasting a restored movie palace of their own, why doesn't Philadelphia have one?
Haas: Ironically, movie palaces were open for longer in Philadelphia than many other cities. Until relatively recently, the vast majority of cities in America had gone fairly quiet before revitalization, so there were only about half a dozen real vibrant downtowns across the country (Philadelphia being one of them). One explanation is simply that many of our movie theaters were open as movie theaters and continued with that purpose. The other explanation is that there's been some concern about competition since the creation of the Kimmel Center.

Curbed: How rare is it for a major city like Philadelphia to be without a restored theatre like the Boyd?
Haas: Going around the country, Boston has at least three historic movie palaces downtown. Cleveland has five on Playhouse Square. Pittsburgh has at least two. Washington, D.C. and Baltimore have one each downtown. Chicago has three in the loop downtown, and the list just goes on and on.
It's just unheard of for a major city not to have one. Go into the Barnes & Noble and look at the travel books. Every book will talk about a saved and restored 1920s movie palace that now hosts a variety of events. Every one of them!

For more photos of the theater's interior, take a look at photographer Matt Lambros's gallery on After the Final Curtain.
· Friends of the Boyd [Official]