The Lakewood Theater tower has been dark for some time, but its neon lights should shine again sometime in November.
“We’re talking about having a big re-lighting ceremony — come out and throw some Frankenstein light switch,” says Norman Alston, the preservation architect who is overseeing the theater’s historic renovations.
The stretch of the Lakewood Shopping Center from the theater to Starbucks was purchased by Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham in 2007. An outcry from neighbors and preservationists led the Dallas Landmark Commission to seek historic landmark status for the circa 1938 structure. The owners acquiesced, then hired Alston, who initially was a fierce critic, to oversee the building’s restoration.
Kiefer-Starlite in Denton has been repairing the ball that normally sits atop the theater tower and also replacing the neon lights that panel the tower. Alston shared a rare inside look at the ball on his blog.
“It is clear now that the lights on this ball used to ‘twinkle’ with the help of a mechanism from 1939,” Alston’s blog notes. “Unfortunately, this restoration won’t restore the twinkle, but so many of the parts will be updated that we can expect it to be burning brightly for years to come.”
The owners considered converting the neon lights to LED, which happens often these days, Alston says, but “we looked at that and it’s really not the same.” (Some may remember the fuss over the neon-to-LED switch at the Skillman Live Oak shopping center a few years back.)
The owners also wanted to repaint the theater, so “a conservator came out and scraped it to find original colors,” Alston says. “We’re really doing some fun stuff on the outside,” he adds, and the inside is undergoing some work, too, but “the paintings are protected,” he assures.
The work to repair the lights is “not a particular hurry on this end; the tenant’s got a little way to go yet,” Alston says. He wouldn’t confirm that the future embodiment of the historic Lakewood Theater would, indeed, be Bowlski’s, because the tenant isn’t ready to announce, but Alston calls it “the worst kept secret in Dallas right now” — especially since Bowlski’s has the Lakewood Theater address on its website with a “coming late 2018” notice. Alston likes the modern bowling alley concept because “other concepts had kind of broken up [the theater], and I was not comfortable with that, but this is going to maintain most of the spaces.”
Alston lives in the Hollywood-Santa Monica Conservation District and recently did a presentation about the Lakewood Theater at a neighborhood association meeting “to fill some time.” Then the Lakewood Neighborhood Association asked for the presentation.
“I guess I’ve got a road show here,” Alston quips.
He says he’s “juiced” about all of the renovations and restorations, and thinks the new and improved lighting will be “a nice Christmas treat for everybody in East Dallas.”
This being East Dallas, however, he anticipates at least a handful of bah humbugs.
“There will always be somebody who is not happy,” Alston says, “but I don’t know who that is yet.”
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