Thursday, March 20, 2014

Why We're Losing the Boyd

As demolition appears to have begun at the Boyd Theater, activists are dealing with the twelve stages of grief, primarily fixating on anger and denial.

The hard truth is the Boyd was lost a long, long time ago when the Sam Eric closed. For all of the Historical Commission's ills, the organization seemed to be the only that recognized the Boyd's inevitable fate.

Meanwhile the public waited, biting their nails fed by the delusion that the Friends of the Boyd was on the case.

The age of the internet allows armchair activists to reach millions, but without a plan this approach gives the public false hope and can even hinder the strategic tactics by professional activist like those at the Preservation Alliance of Philadelphia.

Welcome to Amateur Hour.

Unfortunately in Philadelphia, the media often operates during amateur hour as well. writers seem to take every Facebook page and petition seriously. Both and posted stories about Caryn Kunkle's petition to seize the Divine Lorraine by imminent domain. Despite the unrealistic, and even illegal proposal, the government funded art studios that could never happen were taken seriously by thousands of readers because journalists were actually writing about a proposal they knew was impossible.

Of course the media can't be entirely to blame. Journalists, both mainstream and independent, understood exactly how unrealistic it was to save the Boyd as-is. They wrote about Friends of the Boyd and their efforts because there was no realistic involvement in the challenge to save the Boyd. If there was corporate backing or a public benefactor in the mix, Friends of the Boyd would be nothing but a Facebook page that occasionally appeared in the comments section. You can write about saving history until your fingers bleed, but if you can't bring a serious proposal to the table, there's no reason to be taken seriously.

In an absence of any real effort, journalists had nothing else to write about and Friends became the brand behind the cause. Anyone who didn't know the Boyd was coming down was blinded by hope or the misconception that Friends had a plan. 

Despite the ultimate outcome I'm still an idealist. I would have loved to see the Boyd restored. I would love for there to be a market in Center City to financially support a boutique theater. A new iPic Theater could have easily occupied one of the many surface lots anywhere on Market East or West Market Street. But it hasn't been a realistic outcome for the Boyd in the last decade and is unlikely a realistic outcome in the next, particularly without massive subsidies to maintain a very niche offering.

But that brings us to what the Boyd Theater actually is. Somewhere along Friends' campaign, the Boyd went from being the last historic movie theater in Center City to implying that it is the best that ever existed.

If the Fox or the Stanton was still standing, there'd be thousands of activists in front of the wrecking ball, backed by money and a plan. The Boyd just isn't that interesting. If it were, we'd see the corporate sponsorship and public support for its restoration. If the Boyd were worthy we'd see the kind of philanthropy that has stood up for the S.S. United States.

Unfortunately being the best of what's left doesn't make the Boyd significant, relegating it to truth that not every interesting building can be saved.

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