We’ve been talking about it long enough, and now it might actually happen: The iconic Lakewood Theater is poised to become an official Dallas landmark on Monday when its owners go before the Landmark Commission.
Somewhat surprisingly, no one is being dragged to the commission against their will. The theater’s owners support the designation and have been working towards achieving it since September when the commission voted to initiate historic designation.
Keep in mind, historic designation will only preserve the theater’s iconic tower and exterior, not the interior, although there has been some talk about saving the murals. Those are the sorts of details we’ll find out on Monday.
Check back for our coverage of Monday’s meeting. Until then, here’s a recap of how we got here:
It was more than a year ago in November 2014 when we first learned the Lakewood Theater was set to change tenants in February, with no guarantee that either its use as a theater or its structure would remain the same. Neighbors were unsettled to learn the iconic neighborhood theater on Abrams Parkway does not have historic designation, meaning it can be changed or even demolished if the owner wishes.
That same week Craig Kinney, who’s part of the of Willingham-Rutledge partnership that owns the southwest strip of the Lakewood shopping center, assured us that they “would absolutely do nothing on that tower or change the exterior. It’s a great asset to us.” At that time Willingham-Rutledge was talking with potential tenants who wanted to continue to operate the building as a theater, but other options involved “carving up the space” for retail or restaurants.
As the weeks passed we’d get wind of possible tenants who were scoping out the space, including at one point Austin-based Alamo Drafthouse, but then parking issues… and parking issues… and parking issues.
In August a crew of workers began ripping all the red chairs out of the auditorium and giving them away to whoever showed up at the parking lot and wanted one. This caused alarm among neighbors and the city, and shortly afterwards Dallas Landmark Commission chairwoman Katherine Seale formally requested that “the city of Dallas immediately begin steps to initiate the landmark designation of the Lakewood Theater” — with or without the owners’ approval.
But the city didn’t have to strong-arm the owners because the owners agreed to work with the Landmark Commission on designation as a historic landmark, and they even hired preservation architect Norman Alston to help them navigate the process.
On Monday the owners hope to get approval for historic designation from the Landmark Commission, but they will still have to get approval from the City Plan Commission and Dallas City Council.
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