Monday, December 22, 2014

Fate of the Boyd Uncertain, Again

Months ago, at the height of an effort to save Philadelphia's last surviving movie palace, the Historical Commission proved that it knows as little about history as it does preservation by approving the demolition of the Boyd's auditorium.

Neil Rodin promised he'd deliver us an iPic movie theater if Live Nation, its previous owner, cleared the way. Now that the auditorium, perhaps the building's most worthy attribute, is nearly gone, Rodin is out of the picture and the property has been purchased by Pearl.

Pearl Properties pitched a sky scraping apartment building for the now-vacant corner of 19th and Chestnut last summer, but its height and density upset neighbors. Now that it owns the Boyd, the art deco-ish apartment tower can be built without the headache of a zoning variance. 

So what about the Boyd? Well, Hamid Hashemi of iPic insists that it's still interested in leasing the Boyd from Pearl, but Inga Saffron pointed out Friday that iPic could only afford Rodin's cheap rent, and that Pearl has no interest in the movie business. 

Of all the theaters that graced Philadelphia with the birth of celluloid, it's a shame that the Boyd is the only to survive. While its auditorium is indeed beautiful, the only protected piece - its facade - is the building's least interesting attribute. 

As for the historic building, its classification only protects the facade, one that would complement Pearl's proposed tower. But at this point, does it matter? Unless Pearl intends to restore the Boyd's lobby and incorporate it into the tower as its entrance, the theater's face is its least interesting piece. Like ghost structures and shadow walls, salvaged facades can be bitter reminders of history we lost.

Even if Pearl is willing to entertain iPic's proposal and match Rodin's low rent offer, it seems like a poor business move. In fact, iPic's general business model seems like it's designed to fail, or at best, it's not sustainable. Blankets and recliners aren't innovative ways to draw fleeing viewers back to the silver screen. That's like putting a coffee shop in a Blockbuster then doubling the rental price in exchange for the experience. 

If I want to cozy up to a movie, I've got Netflix and a cat at home. I'm not going to spend twenty plus dollars to fall asleep in a room full of strangers. 

As a vintage movie theater, the Boyd's original auditorium would have offered something unique, and the vacant lot next door could have been annexed to provide another screen or two. iPic's bandaid approach to its dying industry never had a realistic future on Chestnut Street, and unless it begins to understand why Millennials would rather watch College Humor on their iPhones than sit in a movie theater for three hours, it doesn't have a future in the business.

Hollywood isn't going anywhere, but how we access it is changing. Offering amenities isn't the solution, it may just stave off the demise for another decade. Like print journalism, the movie theater we've known for a century is on its way out. What's next is anyone's guess, but iPic doesn't have it.

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