Nutter wants the Boyd preserved

Howard Haas photo

May 29

By Matt Blanchard
For PlanPhilly

Is Mayor Nutter working to save the Boyd?

In a statement released today, the new Mayor called the 1928 Chestnut Street movie palace a “cherished institution,” and called upon the city’s Historical Commission to seriously consider granting it protection.

“It is the last remaining example of the major movie theaters that were once prominent in Center City and which were an important part of the economic, social, and cultural life of the City…” Nutter wrote.

The Boyd faces possible demolition as Live Nation, the Clear Channel subsidiary that owns the theater, seeks to the sell the property with no guarantees the buyer won’t attempt to demolish it. Bids to buy the Boyd were due on Wednesday.

Today Nutter stopped short of ordering his appointees on the Historical Commission to preserve the building:

“I hope that the Historical Commission will give a thorough evaluation of this structure’s importance to our City…” he wrote. But the rest of the sentence seems to indicate a clear desire for a particular outcome: “…and I pledge to work with them to preserve this building.”

An application to put the Boyd on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Structures was submitted today, and occasioned Nutter’s comments. The Historical Commission is set to address the matter at its July 16th meeting.

Third Time’s the Charm?

Today’s application is at least the third attempt to protect the Boyd. In 1987 the commission designated the theater historic, only to see that ruling overturned by a controversial 1993 state Supreme Court ruling that jeopardized all historic preservation efforts in the city.

Then in 2002, with the building under new ownership, the Historic Commission rejected historic designation in a 7-2 vote. The vote was criticized as a baldly political move by Street appointees to assist developer Ken Goldenberg, a major Street campaign donor.

Today’s application, filed by the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia, is expanded to contemplate the full scope of the building’s social and cultural importance – even including the landmark 1993 court battles over its preservation.

Alliance head John Gallery said he hopes Live Nation will do the right thing.

“All of our efforts have been trying to get Live Nation to select a bidder who will preserve the theater,” Gallery said. The Boyd was last week named one of the “11 Most Endangered Historic Places” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It is not clear, however, whether the Historical Commission could move fast enough to stop a new owner bent on demolishing the Art Deco movie palace. Live Nation did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.


In a very Nutteresque aside, the mayor’s statement included a slightly wacky personal touch.

“For so many of us Philadelphians, the Boyd is an entertainment venue that holds many fond memories.  In fact, the Boyd is the place where I first saw that great film Rollerball.”

Rollerball, for those who missed it, is a 1975 film starring James Caan. It depicts a future world where corporations have replaced nations and disputes are no longer settled by warfare, but rather by a super-violent sport called Rollerball.

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