City's Historical Commission approves partial demolition of old Boyd Theatre

Posted: March 17, 2014

AFTER HEARING hours of passionate testimony, the Philadelphia Historical Commission yesterday approved a Florida company's application to partially demolish the former Boyd Theatre in Center City.

The company, iPic-Gold Class Entertainment, plans to raze much of the building, on Chestnut Street near 19th, and transform it into an upscale eight-screen movie theater.

But those against the building's demolition plan to appeal.

Howard Haas, president of the Friends of the Boyd, one of the leading advocates against its demolition, testified yesterday that a local foundation, which wants to remain anonymous, has committed to pay the $4.5 million purchase price for the Boyd.

The Friends group wants the Boyd restored into a "multipurpose entertainment venue with an occasional film program," with refurbished, modern seats - 2,350 of them, Haas said.

After the hearing, Haas said his group plans to appeal the vote. The appeal would go before the independent Board of License and Inspection Review, which hears appeals of decisions by city departments. It has 30 days to file the appeal.

Haas was one of various preservationists who said the building's demolition and the loss of its art-deco interior would be a travesty for the city.

Others testified that they welcome a modern movie experience and said the building, shuttered for 12 years, attracts blight.

Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, testified that she initially wanted to preserve the Boyd and see it restored to its old grandeur, but has since realized there is "no hope" in restoring it. Moviegoers don't want that old-time experience, she said.

"When we go, we demand an experience that meets, exceeds what we get in our home," she said, adding that people want luxury seating, good food, the latest technology and iPic service.

Richard Gross, who lives near the Boyd, said the empty building attracts drunks who urinate there and is a "home for rats" - dead and living. He passed around a cellphone picture of a dead rat to the commission.

Gross, a Broadway producer, dismissed the Friends group's plans. A Broadway producer "doesn't want the obligation to fill 2,300 seats," he said, adding that producers want venues of 1,000 seats or less.

Matthew McClure, a partner at Ballard Spahr, who represents iPic and Live Nation, the owner of the building, said after the hearing that iPic will work with Historical Commission staff to restore the theater's Chestnut Street front to its 1928 splendor.

The Boyd, last operating as the Sam Eric movie theater, closed in 2002. The Historical Commission's vote was 9-1, with one abstention.

On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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