Preservation Alert

  • July 25, 2017

    Flushing, Queens, NY: After three decades, work finally begins on redeveloping historic Flushing theater

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    From Crain’s New York: Xinyuan Real Estate has started work on a Flushing, Queens, condo project being built around the RKO Keith’s Theater, a partially landmarked historic building that has gone through numerous owners and failed development attempts for decades.

    The Chinese company, which recently completed a condo project on the Brooklyn waterfront called the Oosten, has selected Gilbane Building Co. as the contractor, according to permits filed with the Department of Buildings.

    Xinyuan said that the project is moving forward on schedule, which according to documents submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission this spring, indicates that it is safeguarding and preserving the landmarked portions of the theater, which include the grand foyer and ticketing lobby. It then plans to shore up parts of the foundation supporting these areas before razing the rest of the building sometime this fall. The company is aiming to complete the project in 2020.

  • May 19, 2017

    Flushing, Queens, NY – Landmarks approves plans to disassemble RKO Keith’s Flushing Theater’s historic interiors

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    From 6sqft.com: In a rare case, the RKO Keith’s Flushing Theater is an interior landmark, but the building it’s inside is not landmarked. Built in 1928 to the designs of noted theater architect Thomas Lamb, the elaborately ornamented Churrigueresque-style movie palace has sat decrepit for the past three decades, until Chinese firm Xinyuan Real Estate (they’re also behind Williamsburg’s Oosten condo and the forthcoming Hell’s Kitchen condo that will be anchored by a Target) bought the vacant theater for $66 million last year with plans to develop it into a 269-unit luxury condo. Moving ahead with this vision, they’ve tapped Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and preservation specialists Ayon Studio to erect a 16-story glass tower at the site, which includes plans to “enclose the interior landmark, and to disassemble, restore off-site, and reinstall salvaged ornamental plasterwork and woodwork and replicas” in a new residential lobby. Despite some opposition from the Historic Districts Council (HDC) regarding public accessibility, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted in favor of the plan, congratulating the architects and expressing great admiration for their design.

  • May 9, 2017

    La Puente, CA – La Puente’s Star Theatre could be headed for demolition. Here’s why activists are trying to save it.

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    From the San Gabriel Valley Tribune News: Every night, Danielle Gonzalez makes a point to drive by the Star Theatre.

    The 27-year-old La Puente resident said she finds comfort in the fact that the theater, though infamous for showing pornographic movies from the 1970s to the 1990s, still stands.

    Despite its seedy past, the 1940s-era building, a barrel-shaped structure stretching across the full length of its block at the edge of downtown La Puente, is historically and architecturally significant, Gonzalez said.

    “It’s more of the visual aesthetic, ‘Hey this is La Puente,’” she said. “It may not be 100 percent perfect or beautiful, but it’s still our history.”

    The city may soon lose that piece of history — the new owners of the theater at 145 N. 1st St. are working on a plan to demolish the building and develop condominiums on the site.

    Linda Young, of Star Theatre LLC, which purchased the building from its previous owner in April 2016, said the building has fallen into disrepair and would need extensive work to bring it up to code.

    “I want to keep it also, but there are so many problems there,” Young said by phone last week. “There’s no way we can keep it.”

    Designed in the late 1940s by renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee, the Star is one of five theaters designed by Lee using a lamella roof form, a vaulted roof made up of crisscrossing arches. Lee’s La Puente theater is significant because it is the only one lacking a rectangular facade that conceals the barrel shape of the auditorium from the street, according to Marcello Vavala, a preservation associate at the Los Angeles Conservancy.

    Vavala said the La Puente theater is an example of Lee experimenting with building types unusual for movie theaters.

    “The lamella roof form is mostly used for industrial warehouses,” he said.

    That’s why Gonzalez, a board member for the local nonprofit Arteologists, hopes to convince the city and the owner not to demolish the theater and instead renovate the building and repurpose it as a venue for community performances, art therapy and movie screenings.

    “It’s not like it’s actually going to benefit the city to build more condos, especially not down there,” said Gonzalez, who plans to address the City Council during its regular meeting today.

  • April 27, 2017

    Auburn, NY – Auburn to Schine Theater owners: Fix it or demolish it

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    From Syracuse.com: The city of Auburn has declared the nostalgic Schine Theater unsafe and has ordered its non-profit owners to repair or demolish it.

    The order is one of a series of orders the city send recently to owners of vacant property, said Edward Onori, chairman of the Cayuga County Arts Council, which owns the theater at 16 South Street.

    Onori said the citation will have little effect on its work with the city to restore the old building. “This is just to get us to the table to do something there,” he said.

    The arts council is applying for grants to restore the building, Onori said.

    The city’s Code Enforcement Officer Lane Pausley told The Citizen that the Schine did not have any specific violations, but that the order was prompted by 25 to 30 years of “non use and disrepair.”

  • Philadelphia, PA – North Broad Investments, a Historic Preservation Taskforce and the Uptown Theater

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    From GoodMenProject.com: here’s been an attempt, in one form or another, to revitalize the Uptown Theater in North Philadelphia since the late 1980s, yet to no real avail, despite it being spacious, well-constructed and rich in historic value, black history in particular. If the now crumbling walls at 2240 N. Broad Street could talk, they’d tell stories of a magical 16th birthday party for Mr. Stevie Wonder; Mr. Earl Young, the drummer whose chops are heard on classic recordings, like ‘Disco Inferno,’ receiving informal tutorials on music theory; classic battles of the bands featuring super-groups like The Temptations and the Four Tops; and even an unconventional church who was displaced by a massive winter storm.

  • March 24, 2017

    Las Vegas, NV – Assembly Democrats want to save historic Huntridge Theater in Las Vegas

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    From the Las Vegas Review-Journal: Two Nevada Assembly members want to take another stab at saving the Huntridge Theater in Las Vegas.

    Democrats Heidi Swank and Elliot Anderson of Las Vegas introduced a bill Monday seeking $3 million for the Division of State Lands to purchase the shuttered theater near downtown Las Vegas.

  • March 21, 2017

    Fairfield, CT – Petition pushes to re-open town’s Community Theatre

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    From the Fairfield Citizen: The First Selectman tried, unsuccessfully, a few years ago to nudge the owner of the Fairfield Community Theatre to make a deal with a developer, so the shuttered movie house could be reopened. Now, Keith Rhodes, a member of the Economic Development Commission, has started an online petition, seeking to put pressure on owner David Pollack. In just a matter of hours Monday, Rhodes’ change.org petition had surpassed the initial 500 signature goal. As of Thursday that goal is now at 5,000 and over 3,300 people have signed the petition. “As evidenced by the groundswell of support, I am very confident that David Pollack and the Pollack Family Trust will do the right thing here and allow the town of Fairfield to finally broker a deal with the many interested property developers and other groups,” Rhodes said. “It is my understanding that all attempts of town diplomacy have failed, even at the highest levels.” The theater, and its marquee is an iconic part of the downtown. It was run as a non-profit foundation for about 10 years, but the group’s founder, Leo Redgate, was hesitant to raise the money needed to make needed repairs, without a long-term lease or purchase agreement. “The truth is that the entire Fairfield community is tired of the sad sight of the once vibrant Fairfield Community Theatre in the center of our proud town,” Rhodes said. “There is so much potential, and as a long-time town resident, father of two and a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission, I wanted to do something about it.” Community and Economic Development Director Mark Barnhart said the town shares the same goal in seeing the theater restored and re-opened. “The petition shows, that even after being closed for more than five years, there is a strong affinity for the Community Theater and frustration with the apparent lack of progress,” Barnhart said. “I have seen some hopeful signs as of late, as David has stated a willingness to sell the property, though, clearly, things are not moving as quickly as anyone would like.” Barnhart said he remains in touch with Pollack, and his broker, and will continue to provide whatever assistance he can to facilitate the sale of the property. Calls to Pollack were not returned. “The town’s goal is to create a beautiful, multipurpose performing arts center for children, students and parents alike,” Rhodes said. “To date, David Pollack has refused to sell the property, and the theater just sits there in disrepair.” The 100-year-old theater is about 8,000 square feet and seats 700.

  • March 17, 2017

    Pittsburgh, PA – No appeal for Garden Theater block redevelopment effort

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    From the Post-Gazette: Several historic facades in the Garden Theater block on the North Side could end up becoming casualties in the battle over a proposed apartment building at the site.

    Bill Gatti, CEO of Trek Development, said Thursday that tearing down the facades is an option now that state Commonwealth Court has upheld a lower court ruling denying a zoning variance to the firm for the construction of an eight-story apartment building at the site.

    Trek had planned to spend $2.7 million to save and restore the facades, which date to the 1890s, to maintain the historical character of the block.

    But if they are removed, it could allow the developer to build a smaller building at the site in an effort to comply with the current zoning, which limits the height to 45 feet.

    “It’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. Historic preservation is a core value of Trek. But we’re bumping up against harsh economic realities that is causing us to consider something that we wouldn’t naturally consider,” he said. “We’re open to demolition if that’s what it takes.”

    Mr. Gatti said it is unlikely that Trek will appeal the Commonwealth Court decision to the state Supreme Court, but instead will set out to find another solution.

    As tough as it would be to lose the historic facades next to the Garden Theater, some URA board members said it should be considered given the court ruling.

    “I’ll tell you at this point, from the residents I’ve heard from, they say just tear it down. They’d rather see some development happen,” said URA board member R. Daniel Lavelle, a city councilman.

    Board member Cheryl Hall-Russell said she has also heard that, adding the “level of frustration is so high right now” among residents who supported the project.

    In 2015, the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment approved variances for Trek to build to 97 feet behind the facades, one of which is 70 feet tall, nearly double the 45-foot limit.

    The argument was that the old building already exceeded the current height restriction. But Commonwealth Court ruled that Trek “failed to meet its burden to prove that it was entitled to the variances.”

    Interestingly enough, attorneys for the appellate, Stephen Pascal, argued that the facades weren’t necessary and the money budgeted for their restoration could be used to build a smaller building.

  • Shawnee, KS – Downtown theater plans up in the air

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    From the Shawnee Dispatch: A Shawnee couple’s dream to renovate the former Aztec Theatre has been put on hold.

    But plans for reviving the historic movie theater may still be in the works; it might just be with a different owner.

    At the Shawnee Fine Arts board meeting last Wednesday evening, Liam and Marie Tripp announced to a stunned crowd they were unable to finalize their purchase of the little downtown theater.

    Property owner Wade Williams told them in an email last week, he is in the process of selling the venue to another party.

    The news comes two months after the Tripps announced to the Shawnee community they had bought the theater, currently called the Fine Arts Theatre, and they were waiting on legal documents to be drafted.

    Williams confirmed to the Dispatch he offered the property to the couple, given they had “earnest money,” or, in other words, funds to finalize a contract. A sales agreement had not been drawn up at the time the couple went public with the news, however.

    In early February, the couple organized and held a public meeting at the Shawnee Library to formally announce themselves as the new owners and to reveal their renovation plans for the movie theater, which sits near the corner of Johnson Drive and Nieman Road. The meeting drew around 100 people, including city officials.

    To develop fundraising plans for the theater’s renovation, and make it a community effort, the Tripps created a nonprofit organization, the Shawnee Fine Arts Foundation, and established a board for it which currently has 15 members.

    But Williams told the Dispatch soon after the Tripps publicly announced themselves as the new owners he started to question the couple’s financial ability to purchase the venue. Since there was no final contract, he began looking at other offers.

    Meanwhile, the Tripps continued to rally the community with their quest to reopen the beloved theater.

    Last month, Williams toured the vacant theater with the Tripps and a group of Shawnee Fine Arts board members.

    This month, he officially announced his intent to sell the theater to another party instead.

    He wouldn’t reveal the names of the potential new owners to the Dispatch, saying it was up to the buyers to reveal themselves when the time was ready.

    And although the Tripps may not be the new owners after all, hopes for the theater’s restoration haven’t changed.

    “I can confirm I have a sales agreement and hope the theater sells because the buyers are substantial and will restore the property back to a classic movie theater,” Williams said.

    When Liam announced the news at the Shawnee Fine Arts board meeting last week, the reaction was solemn.

    “I’m sorry if I disappointed you people,” he told the board members. “That was the last thing I wanted to do.”

    Despite Williams’ announcement of his intent to sell the theater to another party, Liam insisted he still wants to help the potential new owners make the former Aztec Theatre an asset to the community.

    He hopes all the work he and his wife spent rallying the community will benefit the theater and any new owners in the long run.

    “I lit the fire, but I don’t have to carry the torch,” he said.

    The board members agreed it would only be in the city’s best interest to work with the new owners.

    After all, they said, the goal of having the theater reopened hasn’t changed.

    Shawnee Fine Arts chairman Joe Bolander said it’s important for the community to remain optimistic.

    “If he (Williams) now has a contract with someone else, we can’t do anything except show our support,” he said. “I’ll be very disappointed if the new owner doesn’t open it as a theater.”

    Bolander, along with many of the other board members, joined forces with the Tripps to reopen the theater because they all want to see its former glory restored.

    They hope that dream is kept alive.

    “I drive by this theater on my way to church every Sunday and I always used to look to see if it was going to open,” Bolander said. “To have such a beautiful old theater in my backyard is amazing and history will be brought back to life if it reopens. It’s about nostalgia.”

  • February 10, 2017

    Chatham, VA – Something old to something new; proposal to turn old movie theatre into fishing store

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    From WSET.com: Doomsday doesn’t mean the end for a Chatham building. Danville Resident, Steve Delgiorno and his business partner will present their plans to the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors on Monday night. If approved, Delgiorno hopes to turn what was once a movie theater (Ed: Chatham Theater) into the new headquarters for Doomsday Tackle Company, a fishing company. The County has owned the building for about 30 years, and currently uses it for storage.