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Editorial: Boyd Theater

Certifiably historic

In several of the region's smallest downtowns, great old movie theaters have been rescued - such as the Ambler Theater, Jenkintown's Hiway, and Media's Theatre for the Performing Arts.

So why can't Philadelphia find a way to preserve its last great movie palace, the Boyd Theater?

The shuttered, 2,350-seat art-deco beauty on Chestnut Street near 19th is on the auction block for the second time in three years.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation just placed the Boyd on its annual list of the 11 most endangered historic sites in the nation. Making that dubious list should be the first step toward finding a means to preserve this gem, built in 1928.

But the Boyd has been at risk for years because the Philadelphia Historic Commission in 2002 missed the chance to grant it historic certification. Then-Mayor John Street's administration stood silent while the previous owner - a major mayoral campaign contributor - skillfully fought off historic status.

Fast-forward to today, when hope has faded that the 2003 buyer, Clear Channel Communications subsidiary Live Nation, might convert the theater for live shows.

A new owner could still revive the theater, which is remarkably intact thanks to stabilization work done by Live Nation. But without historic certification, there's little to prevent the theater's demolition or conversion to other uses. Such a move would be this historic city's loss.

It isn't too late to restart historic certification efforts or even relocate the building, as Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron noted last week.

The nonprofit group Friends of the Boyd is devoted to trying to save the theater. How about a role for Mayor Nutter?

Perhaps the sequel for the Boyd could be an extended engagement.