Huntridge Theatre supporters document residents’ memories to lure investors

At 15, Connie Sheldon lied to her employer and claimed to be 16. Her father dropped her off in the parking lot every weekend for work. She couldn’t drive yet.

The year was 1960, and her employer was Lloyd Katz, owner of the Huntridge Theatre. Sheldon worked as an usher and cashier at the historic theater from 1960 to 1968.

“The best part about it was all of the great friends we made,” Sheldon said.

At 67, Sheldon returned to the hallowed grounds of her youth, where she spent her teenage summer days, to record her story.

Huntridge Revival LLC is a partnership among three downtown Las Vegas entrepreneurs : Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornthwaite, First Friday managing partner Joey Vanas and Life Is Beautiful Festival founder Rehan Choudhry . The goal of the project is restoring the 69-year-old neighborhood icon.

The group, in collaboration with fellow downtown-based company Silver State Productions, filmed members of the community sharing their memories of the Huntridge Theatre in front of its 75-foot-tall tower. The hope is to put together a fundraising campaign convincing investors of the structure’s historical and sentimental value to the valley.

“Coming up with the funds is the first priority,” Cornthwaite said. “We’re going to gauge the interest of the community — somehow gauge the level of support.”

The trio recently signed a deal with the theater’s owners, the Mizrachi family, to purchase, renovate and reopen the theater.

The investors plan to revive the “shell” to its former glory as an alternative concert venue that once boasted bookings of the Smashing Pumpkins and the Beastie Boys, according to Cornthwaite. The abandoned furniture store, which Cima Mizrachi planned to convert into a secondhand shop after receiving a $19,000 visual improvement grant from the city of Las Vegas last summer, could be converted into a beer garden, an independent cinema venue or a restaurant or coffee shop, Cornthwaite said.

“It’s all a work in progress,” he said. “We haven’t worked out every detail.”

Daniel Roberts has served as president of the Huntridge Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of preserving the architectural integrity, history and culture of the Huntridge Theatre and the surrounding community, since its inception in July 2012. Roberts said his organization has attempted to contact Huntridge Revival LLC but has yet to receive a response.

“We support the movement on the theater,” he said. “They’re obviously willing to invest time and money. I hope that would indicate the type of individuals investing in the theater.”

Roberts’ nonprofit also wants to see an adaptive reuse of the theater similar to that of its latter reincarnations and urges strong community involvement with the project.

“We hope (Huntridge Revival LLC) seeks the opinion of the community, not just the dollar,” he said.

Cornthwaite and company plan to start a crowd-sourced fundraiser, with the Huntridge memory project as the centerpiece, where members of the community or anyone willing to help can donate to the project.

“Of course, that can’t fund the entire project . I wish it could,” Cornthwaite said. “The community support is still something we’re really going to need. People need to feel invested.”

The group is aiming to complete the revival of the Huntridge Theatre in three years.

“ I’d love to be done sooner, but that poses its own problem,” he said.

For now, the company intends to appeal to valley residents’ sentimental side with its film project.

At the very least, memories of the Huntridge Theatre’s golden days will be recorded for posterity.

“My best friend Elaine Katz and I usually worked the Saturday morning matinee,” Sheldon said as the sun set May 15 to a camera loaded in the back of a pick up, pointed toward the theater’s art deco tower. “We often oversold the Saturday matinee. So our boss told us to count 500 tickets (loaded into the box office machine) and mark the last so we’d know when to stop.”

Sheldon shared her memories of the theater, hoping to help save it.

“It breaks my heart to see it like this,” she said.

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