Despite community opposition, the Philadelphia Historical Commission on Friday approved portions of a developer's plans to reinvent a string of Center City properties, including what remains of the former Boyd Theater.
The 7-3 vote gave Pearl Properties partial permission to move forward with transforming a chunk of the 1900 block of Chestnut Street.
The vote did not address developer Jim Pearlstein's desire to build a 341-foot-tall apartment tower on what had been the 1920s-era movie palace. Pearlstein and partner Reed Slogoff withdrew that from their application in order to discuss it with residents.
The commission did, however, give piecemeal approval to the remaining plans, overriding the Center City Residents' Association and City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who urged through emissaries that a vote be put off until the project in its entirety could be refined.
"I'm encouraged that the stakeholders and developers will reach an agreement," said Richard Gross, appearing on behalf of residences including Ten Rittenhouse, William Penn House, Kate's Place, and his own condo complex at 1920 Chestnut. He had urged a vote delay.
Pearlstein declined to comment afterward but said in a statement his team would seek input from neighbors about the tower to rise where the Boyd's art-deco auditorium once stood.
"We understand their concerns because we're neighbors, too," Pearlstein said. "We operate primarily in Center City, and what happens here matters a great deal to us."
The commission gave its blessing to a number of elements that, just a few weeks earlier, its architectural committee had balked at before recommending against approval. Pearlstein came back with changes.
The commission approved plans to enclose with a large glass wall and frameless glass doors the Boyd's historically open-to-the-public entrance arcade at 1910 Chestnut.
Originally that vestibule had no doors from its sidewalk entranceway. Today, it's virtually all that remains of the Boyd, which was recently demolished.
Pearlstein also agreed to retain the arcade's historic terrazzo tile floor and display cases that line its walls. A goal is to put a restaurant in that long-vacant space. He agreed to restore a version of the Boyd's marquee from the 1950s and to replicate and restore historic glass above it.
Pearlstein's plans, however, extend beyond the Boyd, which he scooped up after a prior developer could not finalize a plan to revitalize the theater.
His vision encompasses a batch of parcels near the Boyd that will compose a sizable reconstruction of one of the most high-profile blocks awaiting redevelopment near Rittenhouse Square.
The commission approved what he has in store for one parcel - the Raymond Pace Alexander building on the corner at 1900 Chestnut. Pearl will install a retailer there.
The developer encountered resistance, however, for next door.
Pearl wants to knock down a wall and connect the Alexander building to a new structure to be constructed between the Alexander and the Boyd. It would be a three-story building of mostly glass and metal.
Commission member David Schaaf and others feared the design would harm the view pedestrians might have of the Boyd's facade.
Pearlstein left the audience and took a seat at the commission's conference table to address the group: "If the issue is the window lines, we want to discuss that with you. What we're not trying to do is take away from the two beautiful, historic buildings."
In other business, the commission voted to approve an unusual design for a proposed 32-story apartment tower on what is, today, a parking lot on the 700 block of Chestnut Street.
The high rise would be built atop a parcel with no preservation restrictions but would cantilever over the historic Union Trust building next door.