Preservation Row: brighter future for Boyd

July 8

By Alan Jaffe
For PlanPhilly

Friends and fans of the Boyd Theatre, the faded Art Deco movie palace on Chestnut Street, gathered under the marquee this afternoon to celebrate a double bill of good news:

• The developer who is planning to restore the theater and build an adjacent boutique hotel is “close to the final acquisition” of the property, announced Howard Haas, president of the Friends of the Boyd organization.

• And Philadelphia City Council last month finally passed Councilman Bill Green’s measure that would authorize historic designation for building interiors, a bill motivated by the threat to the Boyd.

According to Haas, developer Hal Wheeler is currently finishing a project on Rittenhouse Square, and will complete the purchase of the Boyd site from concert producer Live Nation “as soon as possible.” Wheeler is “very eager” to begin the Boyd project and is “working hard to assemble funds” to complete the purchase, Haas said.

The renovation itself is expected to take a year to a year and a half. “It took six months to build it; it takes longer to refurbish,” Haas said.

The Friends of the Boyd were hosting a visit Wednesday by about 100 members of the Theatre Historical Society of America, whose 1,000 members can be found throughout the U.S. and Europe. Each summer they gather at a different city to tour its great stages and movie houses.

Haas explained to the society members that Councilman Green had introduced his bill in May 2008 to protect the interiors of landmark buildings. It has slowly made its way through City Hall, and Mayor Nutter is expected to sign it into law. It would require property owners to seek approval from the Philadelphia Historical Commission for altering an interior that has been designated historic. It does not apply to private residences.

The exterior of the Boyd has been protected since last August, when the building was added to the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places. But not much remains of its grand façade.

The interior, on the other hand, is waiting for its moment to shine once again.

The Boyd opened Christmas Day, 1928, a movie house masterpiece designed by theater architects Hoffman-Henon, who also built the renowned Mastbaum and Erlanger theaters in Philadelphia. The Boyd was defined by its luxurious, French Art Deco etched glass interior, painted proscenium and murals, ornate ceiling, carpets and chandeliers. “It was one of the first Art Deco movie palaces in the United States,” Haas said.

The theater screened the great films of the 20th century, including Gone With the Wind, The Good Earth and Kitty Foyle. Grace Kelly attended the opening night of High Noon at the Boyd, and more recently Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington walked the theater’s red carpet at the premiere of Philadelphia. The last films to be shown were in 2002.

The reconstruction plan by Martinez + Johnson Architecture will include restoring the theater’s original light fixtures, mirrors, carpets, paint and plaster, in addition to recreating the marquee and ticket booth. “Every fixture will be replicated and restored,” Haas said.

Wheeler plans to build a Klimpton brand hotel on Sansom Street and intends to use the reopened theater for hotel events and entertainment, including a classic film series and movie premieres, according to Haas.

Friends of the Boyd plan a museum within the building, featuring original artifacts such as seats and lights, and a digital organ for silent film screenings. Public tours of the restored theater are also planned.

“This will have a huge economic impact as an anchor of Chestnut Street West,” Haas said.

Karen Colizzi Noonan, president of the Theatre Historical Society, said she had seen the boarded-up interior of the Boyd on a previous visit. “This theater wants to be restored,” she said. “It wants to come back.”

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