History of the Boyd Theatre
Taken from Irvin Glazer's book Philadelphia Theatres, A-Z: A Comprehensive Descriptive Record of 813 Theatres Constructed Since 1724.
Photo of Boyd Theatre on Opening Day, 1928 (Photo from the Irvin R. Glazer Collection, Athenaeum of Philadelphia)
In 1928, center city's only art deco palace, The Boyd opened; its huge polychrome mirror interior is the last intact large movie theatre in the city. The decor, still in style, emphasizes the reserve of architects Hoffman and Henon.
The Boyd was the only Art Deco first-run moving picture theatre erected in the city. Its carved limestone facade was etched with touches of color. A towering vertical sign with many angular surfaces towered over the handsome marquee, the underside of which was crafted into swirls of crystallized glass illuminated from within. A deep and broad recessed promenade, lined with shops, led from the Chestnut Street frontage to a series of handsome lobbies and foyers. Twenty floodlights sunk into the top of the marquee brilliantly illuminated the front at night with intense and changing colors. On the inside, custom designed area and aisle rugs, ceiling height carved mirrors of many hues, modern statues in wall niches, and multitudinous crystal and glass lighting fixtures added to the rich ambiance. The Boyd had a fully equipped stage and an organ and orchestra pit, which could be raised and lowered electrically. There were twelve dressing rooms backstage.
Far in advance of its time, the rich beauty of the decoration was dedicated to the progress made by women in the history of the world. Murals and stained glass insets symbolized the supremacy of woman with a great painting atop the proscenium depicting the defense of the Amazon Queen against the warriors of Asia on one side and tribes from Asia on the other side. This theme was continued by a succession of murals down the sides of the prosecenium and along the walls of the auditorium. The opening was Christmas Day, 1928.
For the first time in the East, a section of five rows of reserved seats at the rear of the orchestra were elevated on steps. These were armchairs, sumptuously upholstered and unmatched in luxury compared with any of today's seating. The proscenium was fifty feet wide and thirty feet high although the Boyd has always been used solely as a motion picture theatre. A three manual, nineteen rank Kimball theatre organ played between shows for the first few years. The organ was removed after a farewell concert on Washington's Birthday, 1969. It was augmented and re-installed in the John Dickinson High School in Stanton, Delaware. The final concert at the Boyd was the last time a theatre organ was played in any theatre in the city of Philadelphia.
The Boyd, for decades, was the most elegant theatre in Philadelphia's premier shopping area, Chestnut Street. Its first run policy featured the best Warner Brothers' product until the advent of Cinerama in the late 1950's. Sight line requirements then mandated removal of 400 seats on both sides of the theater, and three projection booths were erected at the rear of the orchestra level. When Cinerama product was no longer available, the Boyd had a brief period of porno. In 1971, the Boyd, its vertical sign removed, was changed to the Sameric with a new plastic marquee. The interior was substantially unchanged. To the West of the Boyd's lobbies, since the theatre opened, the land had been a parking lot. Since the theatre lobbies are at right angles to the auditorium, it was decided in 1980 to build two small theatres in the parking lot space. Those theatres are now built, each seating 450 and the marquee now reads "Sameric I, II, and III". These two small theatres are almost devoid of decoration. They are first run theatres as is the main theatre. (Sameric IV in 1985)
Now let us keep the Sameric/Boyd as an intact theatre, and let us keep that decor, still in style. Let Glazer's words as to the theater still being intact and still in style ring forth as true for centuries beyond us, so that our children, their children, and so forth, will all enjoy Philadelphia's LAST MOVIE PALACE.