Lakewood Theater’s history may mean big changes for its future

Lakewood Theater tower and marquee: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Lakewood Theater tower and marquee: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

At today’s Landmark Commission meeting, the Lakewood Theater should easily clear its first official hurdle on its way to becoming a Dallas landmark. With its owners and preservationists now working in tandem on this goal, the theater’s history, it seems, is safe.

“The tower, signage and box office, all of that’s taken care of,” says Norman Alston, the preservation architect and Hollywood-Santa Monica resident hired by the theater owners to lead them through the landmark designation process.

Even the interior murals by Woodrow Wilson High School graduate Perry Nichols should be saved, invoking a rarely used provision of the city’s landmark ordinance protecting interiors that are customarily open and accessible to the public — in this case, a theater lobby.

With its history almost squared away, what about the theater’s future? Theater co-owner Craig Kinney told the Dallas Morning News that he doesn’t have tenants lined up; he’s waiting for the landmark process to wrap up and will begin marketing again. Wrap-up also requires a stamp of approval from the City Plan Commission and City Council.

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Kinney also noted he made a deal with nearby Lakewood Towers, better known as the Wells Fargo Bank building, to use 80 of its parking spots for the next 10 years. Parking was an issue for Alamo Drafthouse, the most high-profile pursuer of the theater this past year. Alamo’s demand, for the theater owners’ asking rent price, was 150 parking spots guaranteed for 15 years. The Lakewood Towers parking gets the owners much closer to Alamo’s demand.

Is it enough for the popular Austin-based theater company?

Alamo DFW COO Bill DiGaetano says the Lakewood Towers parking “would definitely help the issue but would not solve it completely.” He does, however, think the theater owners pursuing historic designation is “great progress!” As for whether it impacts Alamo’s pursuit of the Lakewood Theater, “possibly,” DiGaetano tells us. “We are going to wait and see what happens with the designation. We need to see how thorough it is and if it prevents us from demising the space.”

Alamo wanted to break up Lakewood’s single auditorium into three or four. Normally, interiors aren’t impacted by the city’s landmark ordinance, but the murals’ safeguarding, whether they remain visible or not, would prevent any changes to the lobby structure.

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The good news for the owners (and perhaps for Alamo, too) is a discovery Alston made that opens doors for the theater — literally. A comparison of the Lakewood Theater’s original architectural drawings and the finish out led him to believe that there were plans to add retail space to the theater’s southern wall. If Alston convinces the city of his findings, it would give the owners the option to build onto the south side and create openings in that wall connecting the theater to the new space. More space means, of course, more flexibility and more rent income.

If this pans out, the irony will be that even though the owners initially were reluctant to embark on the landmark process, their acquiescence to preserve its history may turn out to be the most beneficial investment they could have made in their property’s future.


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