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Boyd Theatre demolition begins; preservationist 'horrified'

Workers hammered away at the art-deco interior of the 86-year-old theater.

The Boyd Theater in Philadelphia on March 17, 2014.  (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
The Boyd Theater in Philadelphia on March 17, 2014. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)Read more

DEMOLITION began yesterday on the ornate art deco interior of Center City's 86-year-old Boyd Theatre, three days after the Philadelphia Historical Commission granted the owner permission to gut it and make way for an eight-screen movie house.

"There was a small crew there today doing no more than was approved in order to start reconstruction," said Matthew N. McClure of Ballard Spahr, attorney for the building's owner, Live Nation.

On Friday, the commission approved a "financial hardship" demolition permit, accepting Live Nation's argument that it was not economically feasible to repurpose the theater, on Chestnut Street near 19th.

Live Nation bought the Boyd - the Sam Eric Theater in its last incarnation - in 2005. The company plans to sell it to Philadelphia developer Neal Rodin, who has teamed up with iPic, a Florida movie company.

The original exterior facade will remain, the developers said.

"We are very excited about the historical front of the building that is going to be beautifully restored," McClure said.

Meanwhile, Howard Haas, leader of the advocacy group Friends of the Boyd, said he was "horrified" by the sounds of hammering coming from inside the building yesterday.

"We are very fearful that they have started gutting it," Haas said. "And we are fearful they are gutting for the purpose of destroying it, to ruin it."

Friends of the Boyd filed an appeal of the interior-demolition permit to the independent Board of License and Inspection Review, expected to be heard April 1.

Also, the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia is seeking an injunction to halt demolition.

"It is outrageous that the interior gutting work began before revisiting any appeals," Haas said yesterday.

"It's not fair to favor the big guys and nitpick the little guys."

Haas said a donor offered to buy the theater for the sale price of $4.5 million in February.