A once-thriving performing arts center in the heart of the Huntridge neighborhood awaits its unknown fate, one that could yield restoration, transformation or demolition.
The 67-year-old Huntridge Theatre, 1208 E. Charleston Blvd., sits dormant at the entrance to the downtown neighborhood. Its owners, Cima Mizrachi and her family, want to change the structure's state by opening a retail space. Community members, however, aim to purchase the building and bring back the all-ages performing arts venue.
"If we change the use of the building, it will never go back to what it was," said Melissa Clary, president of the Huntridge Neighborhood Association. "Changing the use, in my opinion, is a big deal. I think it would drastically change the future and the vision of the neighborhood."
In an attempt to restore the theater, Clary has joined with active residents of the Save the Huntridge movement and formed the nonprofit Huntridge Foundation, which she hopes will unite community members and raise money, with the goal of purchasing the building. She hopes to write a business plan using the community's input to formally present before the C ity C ouncil.
Clary understands the building is currently under private ownership, but she hopes the foundation's efforts will change that.
"Legally, it is not a public building. It is in private hands," Clary said. "It's akin to someone buying the 'Mona Lisa' and keeping it for themselves. People drive by and see it every once in awhile, but (the owners) let it get dirty. If we buy the building as a nonprofit foundation, it will be more like a public building."
Mizrachi's initial plan was to turn the lobby of the Huntridge Theatre, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, into a hub for selling vintage accessories and other items next door to her family's furniture store. Mizrachi's plan took a turn, however, when she was denied a special-use permit to sell secondhand items at a Jan. 10 Las Vegas Planning Commission meeting. She filed an appeal with the Las Vegas City Council and opened Corner Store Furniture, 1201 S. Main St., in the Arts District instead.
Mizrachi said the opportunity for turning the abandoned structure into something useful is still available, as opposed to the option of demolishing it in 2017 when its historic preservation restriction expires.
"I know the community sees (the theater) as a blight, and we want to clean it up," Mizrachi said. "The opportunity is still there for the Huntridge. I wouldn't be able to do what I do (at Corner Store Furniture) there. It's not an ideal place for that, but I want to turn it into something for the community."
Mizrachi doesn't know exactly what she'd like to turn the structure into, but she wants the space to be something residents can enjoy.
"At the meeting (in January), I heard someone say, 'Why can't she find something (for the building) where she doesn't need a special-use permit?' " Mizrachi said. "I took that to heart. It's a great space, and there are so many things to do there. I just want to bring it back to life."
But residents such as Clary don't see a use in turning the building into something other than the lively theater it was in its heyday.
"These residents have a vision for how downtown should be," Clary said. "They don't want a cookie-cutter, big-box thrift store. An iconic theater shouldn't be a place where you can do that."
Mizrachi said she didn't plan to let the building sit dormant since her family purchased the structure in 2002, but "unforseen circumstances came up," citing the economy's downturn. She recognizes, however, that any future plans she has may be altered if activists wish to purchase the theater.
"I don't know (the organization's) plan," Mizrachi said. "But if they're planning to buy the building, I can't stop them."
Clary said foundation members see their work as the "last-ditch effort" before the Mizrachi family may choose to demolish the building after 2017. The ultimate goal, she said, is to stimulate community in the neighborhood using the Huntridge Theatre as a beacon.
"I think the Huntridge Theatre symbolizes community at its core," Clary said. "The history of it being a non segregated theater, the variety of entertainment acts that came through there, the number of Las Vegans who have memories there ... you can't ignore that. It's the perfect example of where you can convene community again, and it's the gateway into downtown neighborhoods. The historical significance of the building - I don't want it to go away. I want the community to be reinvigorated, and we'll see the rest of that neighborhood change."
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-4686.