City Hall

Hey, Are They Tearing Down the Lakewood Theater in Old East Dallas Or What?

Don’t know what was going on at the beloved Lakewood Theater in Old East Dallas when I stopped by this morning — either a very serious remodeling or the first stages of demolition. When I went inside, workers seemed to be ripping out the stage and a bunch of interior structural elements, although I neither saw nor heard jackhammers.

My understanding was that nothing was supposed to be going on. Late yesterday, Katherine Seale, chair of the city’s Historic Preservation Task Force, persuaded David Cossum, director of development for the city, to sign a “To Whom It May Concern” memo scheduling the theater for a September 8 landmark hearing.

That notice supposedly is enough to prevent Craig Kinney, co-owner of the 77-year-old structure, from obtaining a demolition permit from the city. I saw no permit in evidence when I stopped by this morning on my way to pick up doughnuts.

But I did see a large crew hauling out what looked like wooden structural elements which they were piling in a dumpster. Because of a regrettable language issue, I thought they were inviting me to duck under yellow safety barrier tape and come inside to admire their handiwork. Once inside I realized they were yelling at me not to come inside and possibly were about to lay hands on me, so I of course apologized in broken pidgin Spanish and vacated the premises immediately.

But if those were not the early stages of demo, it’s one hell of a re-do.

Yesterday, Kinney told Robert Wilonsky, a reporter for a local daily newspaper, that he was having seats removed as part of an asbestos remediation project. I am aware that no asbestos permit has been requested for that address from the city. It's possible a permit could have been obtained from the state. I saw none in evidence, and the work crew was not wearing or using hazmat equipment, but they could have been in early stages before any asbestos is disturbed.

I am concerned for myself and others, who, like me, have spent long hours sitting on those seats: I know that as soon as I read Wilonsky’s story linking the seats to asbestos, I conducted a self-examination, which, by the way, was not easy.

Seale told me this morning she is not interested in pursuing restrictive landmark status for the building against the wishes of the owner, hampering the owner’s ability to tear it down or redevelop it for other uses. She said she called for a landmark hearing yesterday when she heard from neighbors of the theater that seats were being ripped out.

“The neighborhood and East Dallas have fought for so many years to save and preserve that shopping center,” Seale said when I reached her this morning. “I thought all of this cannot go away tomorrow with a demolition permit.”

Seale said her understanding was that scheduling the hearing would prevent the owners from obtaining a demolition permit until after the hearing, but she said it was not her aim to seek designation of the building as historic, against the owner's wishes.

“So, just to tap the breaks so to speak, I asked staff to put the Lakewood Theater on the agenda for the Landmark Commission on September 8 to have a public conversation. Putting this on the agenda is very different from designating a building over owner objection.”

I tried to find Kinney at the site, and I called and left messages at his law office and at an associated real estate firm, but I have not yet heard from him. I actually think they were inviting me in at first this morning, but then they suddenly changed their minds.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze