Saving Huntridge Theater too taxing, readers say

One impassioned reader came out swinging when I wrote last Thursday it was time to stop dumping tax and fee dollars into saving the Huntridge Theater. After all, about $2 million of the public’s money hasn’t done the job so far.

“You are a piece of (expletive) with no respect for history or architecture. Maybe resign and make way for a real writer who gives a (expletive) about Las Vegas,” emailed someone who didn’t sign their name.

But he/she/it was out there almost alone, which surprised me.

Even advocates of saving the Huntridge Theater said it’s not likely to be salvaged and that government officials should not keep approving payments.

A $1 million payment, which would have brought the total to at least $3 million, won’t be given to the latest wanna-be saviors, Michael Cornthwaite and Joey Vanas, who said they couldn’t reach an agreement for sale of the property with the owners, the Mizrachi family.

The theater opened Oct. 10, 1944, and actresses Loretta Young and Irene Dunne were owners, providing a sense of glamour to the movie house.

According to the “Classic Las Vegas” website, Lloyd Katz operated the theater for 32 years, and it became a symbol of desegregation because of his policy admitting blacks and whites. He tried to buy it in 1977, but Dunne refused to sell it to him. Instead, two years later she sold it to Frank Silvaggio. In 1992, Richard Lenz and the Friends of the Huntridge bought it, and Lenz began holding concerts there. In 1993, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, but in 1995 the roof collapsed. The Huntridge closed in 2004, unable to succeed as a concert venue.

All that remained of the Hollywood glamour, movies and rock concerts were fond memories.

Longtime Las Vegan Chas Musser was forceful in his opinion. “Not one dime of taxpayer dollars should be spent on the Huntridge Theater. To do so would be malfeasance of office. Tax dollars are critically needed in numerous areas for the public good. … The taxpayer should not be responsible for any cost related to the not so historic Huntridge Theater.”

Many wrote to say that even if it were restored, people would be reluctant to go there because the neighborhood is declining.

There was also competition between the Huntridge Revival LLC, created by Cornthwaite and Vanas, and the Huntridge Foundation. Kathleen Kahr, who has lived in the Huntridge neighborhood for 25 years, wrote, “I feel very sad that ego has killed this theater.” She referred to the two groups with the same desire to “save the Huntridge.”

“I can say that I feel they (the foundation) did everything they could to thwart the efforts of Huntridge Revival because they wanted to be the ‘ones’ to save the theater,” she wrote.

Some were very short in their comments. Doug Meyer wrote, “Get rid of ‘beloved rathole.'”

One wrote, “Have the USAF declare the land under the Huntridge vital to the national defense and condemn it for a few pennies on the dollar.”

Then the writer added: “Honestly, I think that land, minus the Huntridge, is worth about $1.75. I wonder how much is would cost to remove the Huntridge tower, move it to someplace downtown in the art district, and leave the idiot landowner to wonder what the hell happened?”

Owen Messinger has lived behind the theater at the corner of Maryland Parkway and Charleston Boulevard for 35 years. He said the theater has been a health problem for the last few years, and neighborhood support has dwindled. “The potential was and is unlimited but the deterioration of the building makes it a hard go to be successful.”

But not all have abandoned hope. Arnold Stalk, former Housing Division chief for the city of Las Vegas, wrote he has “offered to meet with the powers that be to help coordinate private sector donors to rehab the facility. I’m in the process of scheduling a meeting.”

Cornthwaite and Vanas estimated it would cost $4 million to buy the land and at least $10 million to make the gutted theater useable and develop the property for multiple uses.

Freelance writer Mike Henle wrote: “I absolutely do not like seeing elements of Las Vegas decaying, but this was one of those sites that might be better off bulldozed instead. So many people here want to resurrect something and bring back the old days. On paper, it all sounds great, but this thing looked like a loser long ago.”

Many wrote to say tax dollars need to be used for more productive uses because there are so many critical needs within the city of Las Vegas, particularly homelessness.

“My take is you save the facade for (its) historical connection and then redevelop it into a office complex,” wrote Fred Conquest. “To do that you need to sell it to a private party with covenants built into the sale.”

Two state agencies that gave the Mizrachi family $1.5 million with covenants are now suing the family for not abiding by the covenants. That’s another problem facing would-be saviors of the Huntridge.

Gayle Schreiber wrote: “It’s like the Moulin Rouge. They keep trying and trying and it goes nowhere. On the other hand if someone would want to renovate the building, the Las Vegas Entertainers Hall of Fame and Museum is looking for a home and could bring the corner back to life.”

Dozens wrote on the Review-Journal’s website, Twitter and Facebook, and the consensus was this: If private investors want to make a go of it, great. But the city and state should quit spending money on the Huntridge Theater, no matter how significant it is historically.

It’s a matter of priorities.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Thursday. Leave a message at 702-383-0275 or email at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @janeannmorrison

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