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The Boyd Theatre

November 29, 2011

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

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.

View of the lobby from the mezzanine.

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.

The murals in the auditorium were painted by Alfred Tulk of the Rambusch Company.

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.”

All of the seats have been removed from the theater.

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.

The ceiling of the Boyd Theatre.

Many of the theater's ornate decorations are in offsite storage awaiting restoration.

The lobby of the Boyd Theatre.

Another view of the auditorium from the balcony.

*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.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. jJohn Yonnotti permalink
    November 29, 2011 12:01 pm

    Great Pictures! Thanks!

  2. November 29, 2011 2:22 pm

    In 2005, Clear Channel purchased the Boyd Theatre to restore it for live shows, and did preliminary work seen in these photos, but they changed focus and the new corporate owner put the Boyd up for sale. In 2008, Philadelphia developer Hal Wheeler announced plans for the Boyd to be a mixed use venue for entertainment & hotel events, but in 2010, while still pursuing his vision, he suddenly died. A solution is still needed so the Boyd can be restored & reopened for entertainment! Visit http://www.FriendsOfTheBoyd.org

  3. knudsens permalink
    November 29, 2011 2:23 pm

    Great place.

  4. November 29, 2011 8:35 pm

    This was my favorite theater in Philly throughout my childhood and early adulthood. Can’t count all the movies I saw there over the years. There were many. The earliest I can remember was “Return of the Living Dead.” The last movie I saw there was “Star Wars Episode 1.” I think I snuck beer into the theater and fell asleep in the middle of the flick.

    If we can’t get this theater up and running in one capacity or another, we have no right to call ourselves a 1st class city.

  5. Bryan Phillips permalink
    December 3, 2011 4:37 am

    Your pictures are fantastic. It is such a shame to have seen original pictures of the lobby back in the day and to see the changes that have happened over time. Fixtures gone, changes, balcony railings and other items, gone or changed. It would be great to see it back the way it was when it first opened.

  6. Pete Stanton permalink
    December 27, 2011 9:10 am

    terrific photos, I go back the days when as a seven year old kid, Ben Hur premiered in 1959, and the whole family went the day after Christmas. Dad purchased reserved seats front row balcony. No other childhood experience stuck with me as that one did–being overwhelmed by the sheer grandeur of the place combined with the spectacle of that film. (Mom complained of a headache for 2 days because of the chariot race!). Many trips to the old palace followed that, particularly the wide screen Cinerama flicks, but none could equal the 12/26/59 Ben Hur trip. It is so sad to see a piece of childhood memory erode…Philly claims to be a world class city..not in my mind, if they ignore an historic treasure like the Boyd !

  7. Bill Longen permalink
    March 5, 2013 4:06 pm

    My own experience with the BOYD Theatre was our grade school trip, I was 10 years old, to see BEN-HUR in the fall of 1959, front row balcony seats, watching a movie on a giant curved screen that almost touched the sides of the balcony and the sound was spectacular!
    IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD was another fun adventure viewed on that giant screen. The projection room was moved under the balcony when they installed CINERAMA
    which allowed the projectors to be in a straight angle with the screen which produced a bright, sharp picture. The projection room had large port glass and you could see in the booth and watch the projectors running.

    I worked several shifts as a relief projectionist at the BOYD/SAMERIC in the mid 70’s when the theatre was on the downslide, not only dirty but dangerous. Also remember helping the projectionist at a studio exhibitors screening of THE ODD COUPLE, in 1968.
    My Manager (Anthony Wayne Theatre, Mrs.Day) and I arrived late to the screening but the show hadn’t started, because the operator had a problem switching the projectors from 70mm to 35mm for the screening. I went into the booth to help out along with several other people and we got the show up on screen in about 20 minutes, the projectors I believe were Norelco 70/35mm and very cumbersome to operate, especially when you switched from one film format to another. The theatre was full of local exhibitors and they were not hapy, how embarassing for Paramount Studios and the Boyd management.
    I love the BOYD Theatre not only for it’s spectacular presentations but it’s grandeur, with that special giant marquee and the awesome, lofty lobby and the staircase going up to the loge and balcony. Although the best viewing angle (sweet seats) at the BOYD were dead center, orchestra seats just in front of the projection room.

    I remember going to the BOYD to see EARTHQUAKE (’74) in Sensurround and was upset to see that they had punched big holes in the orchestra section walls, just at the edge of the screen to place the sensurround speakers.

    Love to see the BOYD restored to it’s former elegant art-deco style. Philadelphia has to save the last remaining movie palace, since all the other great single screen theatres were torn down (FOX, STANTON, STANLEY, GOLDMAN) without a whimper or protest from anyone!

    My highest hopes for the dedicated folks in their efforts to save the magnificent BOYD.

    Bill Longen
    Fog City Cinemas LLC

  8. Lou Martucci permalink
    March 18, 2013 3:42 pm

    Since the demise of the magnificent Mastbaum Theatre there’s no reason to believe the Boyd has a chance of survival.

  9. April 9, 2014 4:38 pm

    They are tearing it down as I write this…so tragic

  10. May 27, 2014 2:24 pm

    Reblogged this on retail fix and commented:
    Was not saved thanks to Phillys corrupt politics

Trackbacks

  1. Boyd Theatre profiled in After the Curtain | Theatre Historical Society Readerboard
  2. The Boyd Theater. « …a view from the thirteenth floor
  3. Throwback Thursday | Red Bag Report
  4. Angel found to rescue Boyd Theater at last minute | Philadelphia Real Estate Blog
  5. Theater Updates | After the Final Curtain

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