Workman were seen moving heavy machinery into the Boyd Theater's auditorium Monday morning, leading Philadelphia preservationists to conclude that its owner, Live Nation, has begun demolition of Center City's last art deco movie palace.

The Preservation Alliance's advocacy director, Ben Leech, said he could clearly hear hammering sounds when he walked past the theater's Sansom Street exit doors.

"I can't think of what else they'd be doing other than demolition," he said. He noted that a demolition permit was posted on the theater's Chestnut Street facade this weekend.

On Friday, the Historical Commission granted Live Nation permission to raze the historically designated theater on the grounds that the building had become a financial hardship. The company, which is required under the decision to maintain the Chestnut Street facade, intends to sell the building to a Philadelphia developer to erect an eight-screen multiplex for the Florida entertainment company, iPic.

Although the 1928 movie palace is a landmarked building, only its exterior is protected under city law. Live Nation said it sought the hardship ruling because iPic needed to demolish the outer walls to construct its screening rooms. The demolition permit posted on the building was issued Feb. 25.

Live Nation's point person on the Boyd, executive James Tucker, could not be reached for comment.

During the lengthy debate over Live Nation's request for hardship, the Nutter Administration made no attempt to intervene, even after a donor stepped in at the 11th hour and offered to buy the theater at the same price iPic offered.

"We've let the process run its natural course and I don't intend to intervene," said Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for commerce and planning. "The process has determined there is hardship. There are legal permits in place, and that's okay."

Friends of the Boyd President Howard Haas, who has fought for more than a decade to save the lavish movie palace, said he was outraged that Live Nation began demolition so quickly, before the group could appeal the hardship ruling. "This certainly takes away from the fundamental due process," he complained. "This gutting serves no purpose other than to stop us from taking the appeal."