The Boyd Theatre
November 29, 2011
The Boyd Theatre, downtown Philadelphia’s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas day in 1928 (the same day as the RKO Keith’s Theater in Queens, NY). Located in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood, the 2,450 seat theater was commissioned by Alexander Boyd and built by Hoffman-Henon, a Philadelphia architecture firm also known for the construction of the nearby Prince Music Theatre. One of the companies commissioned for the Boyd’s interior decoration was the Rambusch Company, who later decorated the Loew’s Kings Theatre.
Unlike many theaters built in the 1920’s, the Boyd was originally intended to be a movie theater and, although there were backstage dressing rooms, did not feature vaudeville shows.* The opening day brochure said that the Boyd was dedicated to women’s progress throughout history. This appreciation for women is referenced throughout the theater, especially in several murals, one of which shows an Amazonian queen fighting African and Asian armies.
Alexander Boyd sold the theater to the Stanley Warner company, which ran many of downtown Philadelphia’s theaters, after the construction was completed. Shortly after the Boyd changed hands a Kimberly theater organ was installed. It remained in the theater until 1969, when it was the last theater organ played in a Philadelphia theater. Various movie premieres were held at the theater over the years, including “The Happiest Millionaire,” “Rocky III,” and “Philadelphia.”
After being sold in 1971, the Boyd was renamed the SamEric by it’s new owners, the Sameric Corporation. They renovated the theater and eventually added three additional auditoriums next to the original, which was renamed again as SamEric 4. The theater closed and was slated for demolition in 2002 before a group of concerned citizens formed the “Committee to Save the SamEric” (which later became “Friends of the Boyd”) to save the theater from demolition. In the past ten years several attempts were made to restore the theater, without success. The theater remains unused.
*Some say that by the 1920s vaudeville was no longer a part of the newer movie palaces. We will address the history of vaudeville in an upcoming post in the Glossary section.