Lakewood Theater Dumpster

The city of Dallas Landmark Commission voted unanimously to start the designation process for the Lakewood Theater Sept. 8. (Photo: Save The Lakewood Theater)

It was a packed house today at Dallas City Hall as the Landmark Commission opened the floor to discuss designating the Lakewood Theater as a historic landmark.

Just months ago, Lakewood Theater owners Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham courted Alamo Drafthouse as a tenant for the property, but when problems over parking kept the pair from sealing the deal, Kinney and Willingham proposed dividing up the interior into restaurant and retail space. They tried to assure Lakewood residents that the exterior of the theater would remain unchanged, but all bets were off after blue and red balcony seats started filling up a dumpster outside the building. To some, this was a shot over the bow.

In most cases, the city of Dallas Landmark Commission doesn’t start work to certify a building unless the property owner requests it. However, thousands signed petitions and rallied supporters to preserve the hand-painted murals and Art Deco interiors of the theater and the truly iconic neon spire and marquee.

The commission heard from all manner of Lakewood Theater supporters, as well as the property owner, at the 1 p.m. hearing. Even Blazing Saddles star Burton Gilliam came to 1500 Marilla to speak for the theater. When the final vote was tallied, the landmark commission unanimously agreed to start the process of designating the beloved theater as an official City of Dallas landmark. This means that work on the theater is effectively shut down, and nothing inside or outside can be changed without the approval of the commission.

To say that supporters of the Lakewood Theater were overjoyed would be accurate. They came out in droves, clad in their “Save the Lakewood Theater!” T-shirts, clapping and cheering when the commission’s vote came down.

This is a unique situation in business-friendly Dallas, one where the voice of the neighborhood stymies the plans of a property owner. What are your thoughts on the vote?

Alamo Drafthouse is a likely tenant for the Lakewood Theater, but parking issues and rent price are sticking points. Photo: Mike Merrill

Alamo Drafthouse is a possible tenant for the historic Lakewood Theater in East Dallas, but parking issues and Alamo’s offered rent are proving problematic in negotiations. Photo: Mike Merrill

As we reported in January, the now-empty Lakewood Theater has an interested suitor, the Alamo Drafthouse, and negotiations are quite a ways along now.

Property co-owners Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham of Willingham-Rutledge talked to multiple restaurants and businesses that could fill the historic space in various incarnations, located at 1825 Abrams Pkwy. in East Dallas. It has stood empty since the last tenant’s lease ended at the end of January.

Things seemed most promising with Alamo Drafthouse, according to the Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate, but two issues are creating problems. And those issues could mean Lakewood Theater’s chances of staying a theater, and not getting broken up into multiple spaces, are at risk.

Built in 1938, Lakewood Theater is not protected by any official historic designation, and while the co-owners have verbalized their commitment to keeping the marquee intact, the interior is another story. If the Alamo Drafthouse doesn’t work out, “We have other options that may involve carving up the space. We just don’t know yet,” Kinney said back in November.  

But let’s get back to the current issues at hand.

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The Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, in downtown has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, this structure was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Downtown Dallas’ Davis Building, aka Republic National Bank Building, has Dallas Historic Landmark Designation. In 1926 this structure was the tallest in Dallas. In 1945, it was the largest office site in Dallas. Photo: Davis Building.

Dallas has a rich historic and architectural legacy, shown through buildings like the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, DeGolyer House and Gardens in East Dallas, and the Eastside Warehouse District and State Thomas neighborhood in Uptown.

But just because a building or neighborhood plays an important part in the story of Dallas doesn’t mean it’s protected from big changes, up to and including demolishment.

Just last September, 1611 Main Street and neighboring buildings were razed as part of the Joule’s expansion plans. It was a beautiful Romanesque Revival built in 1885, one of downtown’s oldest structures. It sat next to the site of another Dallas landmark torn down by the Joule in 2012, the former Praetorian Building.

Lakewood Theater is another example of an unprotected structure—it may be beloved, but nothing stands between it and the wrecking ball besides the assurances of the owner that they won’t demolish as part of renovation plans.

That’s where historic designation comes into play and the efforts of Dallas preservationists to care for the future of the buildings and neighborhoods that have shaped what our city into what it is today.

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Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Charles Henry via Creative Commons

In our culture of “bigger, better, newer, faster,” historic theaters may well be one of America’s most endangered buildings.

There are at least 160 of these beauties in the Lone Star State, once the center of a city’s entertainment district. But now these Arcadias, Palaces, Majestics, Paramounts, and Pioneers often sit in states of disrepair.

Some municipalities or private groups have stepped up and renovated these architectural treasures, like the Pines Theater in Lufkin, the Historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, and the Crighton Theatre in Conroe.

But all too often, these buildings are demolished to make way for new development that looks flashier and brings in more rent per square foot.

In Odessa, the Ector Theatre is at the center of just such a situation now, with a proposal to make it part of a new downtown hotel and convention center, a $73 million project. Dallas-based Gatehouse Capital, a real estate investment company, made the proposal for development of the area that would include retaining the historic Ector image, but details are sparse.

Check out the whole story over on MidlandDirt.com!

 

 

The Lakewood Theater went dark over the weekend as the existing tenants of both the theater space and the adjoining Arcade Bar have moved out. (Photo: Julie Billingsley Geron)

The Lakewood Theater went dark over the weekend as the existing tenants of both the theater space and the adjoining Arcade Bar have moved out. (Photo: Julie Billingsley Geron)

You’ve certainly heard all about the hubbub surrounding the Lakewood Theater and its many proposed tenants and transformations. Most recently, the longtime bar inside the theater, The Balcony Club, was able to renew its lease at the eleventh hour.

But without management at the Lakewood Theater, the trademark tower and marquee have gone dark, much to the dismay of neighbors. It’s a significant part of the neighborhoods identity, and one that nearby residents had been told would be maintained and preserved whatever should happen to the actual theater.

Instead, as reported on the Lakewood, Dallas Facebook page, the marquee is empty and not a single strip of neon in the sign is ablaze.

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Photo courtesy A. Vandalay via Creative Commons

Photo courtesy A. Vandalay via Creative Commons

The lease for the current tenants of Lakewood Theater is over at the end of January, and it’s anybody’s guess what will happen to the beloved East Dallas landmark, but there are confirmed rumors of interest by Alamo Drafthouse.

As we reported last November with our story Lakewood Theater Makeover Concerns Preservationists, Neighbors, property co-owners Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham of Willingham-Rutledge have been talking to restaurants and businesses that could fill the space, located at 1825 Abrams Pkwy.

Two theater groups have expressed interest, and one of them is the Alamo Drafthouse, confirmed Kinney, who also co-owns surrounding properties in the southwest strip.

“We’ve talked to everybody,” Kinney told Dallas Morning News reporter Robert Wilonsky.  The situation remains, though, “Nobody’s committed. So I can’t tell you whether they’re interested or not.”

Wilonsky also talked to Alamo Drafthouse COO Bill DiGaetano, who wouldn’t confirm any plans on the record, but emphasized his company’s interest preserving in historic theaters.

“Alamo has a policy not to comment on real estate negotiations, whether real or fictional,” he told Wilonsky. “But we have a long history of preserving 35mm film and, as shown by our Ritz Theater in downtown Austin and the current restoration of the New Mission Theater in downtown San Francisco, we have a huge passion for preserving great classic movie houses. I personally love the Lakewood Theater and would love to see it stay a theater.”

DiGaetano also made a point of addressing what seems to be the biggest concern of neighbors and preservationists: the colorful tower. “If anything came to fruition, we wouldn’t touch the marquee or the tower.” Jump to read more!

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Photo by Jerry McClure/Dallas Morning News

Photo by Jerry McClure/Dallas Morning News

The Lakewood Theater has stood as a colorful and beloved East Dallas landmark in Lakewood Shopping Center since its 1938 opening. So recent news reported by Nancy Nichols at D Magazine that the theater, located at 1825 Abrams Parkway, will be getting new tenants and a new look next year has preservationists and neighbors concerned. This is because the theater has historic designation (in other words, protection from demolition) on neither a national nor local level.

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IHOTW 7022-Lakeshore-ext

I was in Lakewood earlier this week looking at a stunning, stunning home I will show you in a bit. Unfortunately, I had to rush home because our fire alarm was going off — false alarm, thank God– so I had to leave the area lickety-split. Otherwise, I’d probably still be there.

White Rock Lake is so gorgeous — I don’t care what anyone says. It’s water, and it moves. Looking at that sunlight glistening off of the ripples just infuses you with a calming peace. While my alarm company was blowing up my phone, I looked at that water and thought, well, who cares, we have insurance. Then I recalled that Bree (the Doodle) was in the house, so I got my adrenaline all pumped up and ran home as fast as I could. (more…)