Way to Go, Philadelphia! We Destroyed the Boyd!
Posted: 09th May 2015
Dear City of Philadelphia,
As a current resident and someone who has lived here off and on for just under a quarter of my life, I wanted to take a moment to congratulate you on the destruction of the Boyd Theater. This is a proud moment of victory over all of the Golden Age movie palaces in the city - each and every one. We won, huh? That will show every other major city that has retained at least a few that Philadelphia is not going to be bothered with hanging on to its past, no matter how much value it has. Selling a theater Pulitzer prize-winning architectural critic Inga Saffron described as "one of Philadelphia's most glamorous and ornate movie palaces" to Live Nation and Neal Rodin for the same price another buyer would have bought and restored it for and then letting them shred the interior was genius... but letting them back out of their original arrangement a year later and sell it to Pearl Properties to deliver the death blow - I have to hand it to you, it certainly shows all those preservation-minded people whose pockets the Philadelphia Historical Commission is in! Rejecting the historic designation of a place like the Boyd and denying a buyer an opportunity to save a one-of-a-kind historical landmark when they offer the same price as someone who plans to demolish it just says, "Hey, look! We're not here for all this 'stewardship of irreplaceable architectural resources' crap! We're about development - go ahead, make us a bid, and you can melt the Liberty Bell down to make a smaller, uglier clothespin sculpture outside City Hall. Who cares?"
I have to applaud the courage it must take for the Philadelphia Historical Commission to be a puppet for the office for the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and make a stand so contrary to their original mission to "preserve and protect the cultural resources that have historic, architectural, cultural and archeological significance in the City of Philadelphia". I mean, who really expects you to take the past seriously in this day and age? It's not like Philadelphia is a place that tourists flock to specifically because of its link to the past. You go to DC for the museums and to see government buildings, you go to New York for the cosmopolitan lifestyle and sense of scale, you go to Baltimore for - ok, well, maybe don't go to Baltimore - and now you can go to Philly to see a bunch of crappy, blocky condos sprouting up from the ubiquitous demolished blocks peppering the city. They look sort of like Mondrian's paintings would if he were color blind! Tourists will come for the cheese steaks and soft pretzels too, because you can't get them anywhere else on earth, and maybe to visit where the buildings were that once made the city unique, close their eyes, and use the power of their imaginations to envision what they must have been like. That's what I get about this that I think other people don't, Philadelphia: children LOVE to imagine, and we're doing this all for them. They won't have to feel intimidated by the beautiful old relics of bygone eras that make them feel small or teach them or challenge them to do great things; they can see their banal, cheaply constructed replacements and know in their hearts that mediocrity is A-OK.
Before I go, I also wanted to compliment you on your plan to save the facade and lobby: that's adorable! I'm sure you'll follow through with that and not somehow inadvertently destroy them too, so that one day people walking by on the street who care about architecture can stop and stare with awe and excitement. "Wait! What's inside there, an old theater?" they'll say. "There's some Art Deco in the design - it looks like it might be something neat!"
Then they'll realize it's gone, and die a little inside. What a look they'll have on their face! It's probably the same one that people who care about the theater have now when they see the "Preserving the Boyd Theater" poster on the front of the building after grimly surveying the shattered remains of the auditorium through the gaping hole that's been ripped in the back. Fun times! It's a good way to teach those nerds that cities aren't about architecture, the past, or unique landmark destinations - they're about tearing stuff down and building newer, shabbier stuff, then tearing that stuff down and building over it again in an endless cycle so demolition companies, construction companies, developers, and crooked bureaucrats can make mad loot. Thanks for reading my fan mail, and I hope that with the theaters out of the way we can get back to kicking the asses of all our historic churches.
PS - Sorry Baltimore. I love you too.
Photograph and text by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. If you're interested in more Abandoned America blogs, follow this link. If you enjoy my writing, check out my books: Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream (Amazon / Barnes & Noble) or Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences (Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Signed copies).
By joyce smith: This is sad.
By eric richardson: sorry to see a good building taken down to many nice buildings have come down in Philadelphia but still have some nice one's left to enjoy and love eri
By Kate: It is a crime indeed to watch them die. Though I will not cry for the Morris Mechanic as that was just flat out ugly. The Senator was saved last I heard. (From Baltimore)