Could the arts make a comeback at the Lakewood Theater?

An outdated rendering showed the historic Lakewood Theater sliced up into restaurant and retail spaces. Then, after the theater was designated as a historic landmark, both Eatzi’s and entertainment venues showed interest.

Now, a commercial adviser who specializes in entertainment assets wants to see the theater become an arts venue once again.
Illustration by Emmanuel Garza

Justin Muller is the former president of the Studios at Las Colinas and spent years rehabbing the studios that made “Silkwood,” “Robocop,” “JFK” and “Barney.” Glenn Beck bought the studios in 2013 for his programming, and Muller has turned his gaze to the Lakewood Theater  as his next renovation project — but he needs the community’s help, he says.

After being named a Dallas landmark in 2015, the theater remains vacant. More than three years have passed since its last show. Muller hopes to raise capital funds to restore the interior and is looking for “tenants in tow” to fill out the space.

Muller envisions a low-key bar in the lobby, similar to the one at the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff. It would operate in conjunction with the upstairs Balcony Club, as well as with a new catering or co-working kitchen that he hopes to attract. He also is looking for a co-working tenant for the balcony level.

“I’m not trying to be the best at everything,” says Muller. “I know about programming and operation and bringing the right tenant mix.”

The second floor would be used for programming, such as the seniors movie club and educational workshops already run by his foundation, the Muller Film and Television Education Foundation. The original theater space could be used as an incubator or exploratory stage, or opened up to an event planning company for weddings and photo shoots, he says.

Muller sat down with Craig Kinney of Willingham Properties Co., which owns the theater, and says the owners are looking for someone to rent at restaurant prices — $25,000 in monthly rent for the 11,000-square-foot space, plus a $100,000 non-refundable deposit to take the theater off the market.

“He’s trying to get Mi Cocina prices,” Muller says, and “has no idea about entertainment assets.”

Muller says it would take more than $1 million to rehab the theater. Looking for the community to come together to support the endeavor, he set up Facebook and Gofundme pages called Save Lakewood Theater, emphasizing historic preservation. He is asking the public what they want and who wants to be a part of it.

His nonprofit foundation is part of the Dallas County restitution program, which allows residents to do court-mandated community service through the foundation’s many endeavors, from welding and historic preservation research to artwork. With help from these individuals, Muller says he can start the project if he can find catering and co-working tenants willing to sign long-term leases and raise $500,000 to do the necessary renovations.

“We are trying to explore this possibility and vision to see if the community can come together and help us,” Muller says.


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