The Philadelphia Historical Commission has cleared the way for demolishing the Boyd Theater on Chestnut Street.
One commissioner described Friday’s six-hour hearing as “a funeral.” The current and future owners of the Boyd Theater played the economic hardship card to justify tearing down most of the art deco movie palace on Chestnut Street, and rebuild it as a multi-screen cineplex.
Attorney Matthew McClure, representing the deal between Live Nation and iPic Theaters, traced a brief history of the building, which opened in 1928 and was called the Sam Eric when it closed in 2002. Since then, it has changed owners three times.
To complete the hardship picture, McClure presented studies concluding that it would be too expensive to renovate the existing 2,300-seat theater.
“Whether the sale of the property is impracticable, is not asked in a vacuum,” McClure said. “The context of that question is whether there is a reasonable adaptive reuse of the property.”
In opposition to iPic’s plan to raze all but the building’s facade, Howard Haas of Friends of the Boyd produced an anonymous foundation willing to buy the Boyd for the same price that iPic will buy it, $4.5 million, to save it.
Haas says his buyer negates iPic’s hardship argument, regardless of his still-unclear plan to convert it to a single-screen IMAX theater.
“Mr McClure asked that his client needs relief,” Haas said. “We had said, we will provide his client with relief! That valid offer of purchase nullifies the requirement that a sale is impracticable.”
The commission heard from a dozen people, from preservationists, to the city’s film office, to neighbors of the Boyd. One said making the decision was like putting down a beloved pet, but the landmark Boyd Theater cannot go on. In the end, the commission approved the immediate business plan to improve the historic, yet blighted property by demolishing the actual theater.
The Friends of the Boyd plan to appeal the decision. Meanwhile, iPic Theaters hope to have their cinema-lounge concept open by summer 2015.