The Lakewood Theater to be preserved, but not necessarily as a theater

Lakewood Theater opened as a suburban movie house in 1938. The city is trying to designate it as a historic landmark, but it currently sits vacant and may not reopen as a theater.
Lakewood Theater opened as a suburban movie house in 1938. The city is trying to designate it as a historic landmark, but it currently sits vacant and may not reopen as a theater.

Almost every commissioner had a comment to make or question to ask about the Lakewood Theater Monday afternoon during the Landmark Commission meeting, but after an hour and a half of discussion, everything ended exactly as expected: The commission approved the Lakewood Theater’s request to become a historical landmark, and now it’s up to the City Plan Commission and City Council to make it official.

Unlike the meeting in September when the commission first voted to initiate historic designation, today’s meeting was almost completely empty and only three people spoke for or against the designation.

14.12.16-ED-Lakewood-Theater-DFulgencio-0033Preservation architect Norman Alston and Santos T. Martinez with Masterplan both spoke on behalf of Willingham-Rutledge partnership, which owns the southwest strip of the Lakewood shopping center, and neighbor and architect Sally Johnson spoke against the designation.

Johnson argued that there aren’t enough preservation guidelines. Although the designation ensures the outside of the building is preserved and the tower is safe, she fears there is too much loose language regarding the interior, which will be to the detriment of the theater down the road.

“If it’s not written down, it’s not protected,” she insists. “This theater is the most intact 1930s theater remaining of the Interstate Theaters, and it is beautiful.”

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One area of contention is the interior murals by Woodrow Wilson High School graduate Perry Nichols. In the designation, Willingham-Rutledge agrees the murals will not be damaged; however, they can cover them up if needed to accommodate a future tenant. There are other things like that as well, such as the statues and the Potter Art metal staircase. Future tenants can make changes, as long as the changes can later be reversed.

14.12.16-ED-Lakewood-Theater-DFulgencio-0253But Johnson wants everything left in tact. At this point, even with the historic preservation, Willingham-Rutledge could still turn the theater into a retail or restaurant space.

“He might protect something, like the sculptures, but if he takes it out, it won’t be together in that space,” Johnson says. “They won’t be together in that space with that design. It’s the totality of the space that matters. A building isn’t just a grouping of artifacts. It’s the space, the design, the lighting, all of that makes the space special.”

Her points raised concern amongst some of the commissioners who were under the impression more of the interior would be preserved.

“Personally, I would like to see a little more protection,” commissioner Michael Amonett commented, and commissioner Dustin Gadberry asked if there was a way to preserve the use of the Lakewood Theater as a theater.

But per usual, parking concerns shut that conversation down.

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“[The owners] would be happy to put a theater use back in there if there was one available,” Alston says, but “the reality of the parking in Lakewood Shopping Center” keeps that from happening, he insists. “They are actively working to resolve parking issues.”

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Lakewood Theater wallAlston says Willingham-Rutledge is not in talks with anyone who wants to operate the Lakewood Theater as a theater.

Ultimately the Landmark Commission looked to commissioner Daron Tapscott, who has been overseeing the case, to determine how to proceed. He argued the commission had already reached the most reasonable compromise between what preservationists want and the reality of operating a business in that space, so the commission voted to approve the designation as is.

If all goes as planned with the City Plan Commission and City Council, the theater will be named an official Dallas landmark, which will preserve the exterior and tower of the Lakewood Theater, as well as parts of the interior, although things can be covered or altered as needed to accommodate a tenant — be it a theater or otherwise.


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