Mighty and Young No More

Timeless, but not classics: Casa Linda Theatre's marquee
Mark Graham

Mighty and Young No More

Five years ago, the Casa Linda Theatre's marquee became a tombstone, memorializing the movies that made one last stand before the theater closed in January 1999. Those films--A Bug's Life, Prince of Egypt, You've Got Mail and Mighty Joe Young--were forgettable then and notable now for that reason alone. They're the answer to a local trivia question and, to local residents, a lingering reminder that the theater sits empty. Well, except for the rats.

"It's pretty rough inside," says Barry Waranch, who went to the theater as a kid and took his own kids there before it closed. "It's sad. It was a cool place. It wasn't as neat as Inwood, but it had a little bit of that kind of feel. You'd walk in and instantly know you were a little bit back in time."

Too bad going back in time isn't an option anymore. Most of Casa Linda Plaza, the shopping center that houses the theater, is empty as well. Though it was once a model of postwar urban planning, time and money have chipped away at Casa Linda Plaza's usefulness. Now owned by Florida-based Regency Centers, only about half the space is leased out, and most of that isn't anything special. Put it this way: The jewel of the plaza is a Starbucks.

Casa Linda residents, and their neighbors in Forest Hills, Little Forest Hills and Lake Highlands, would love to add "for now" to the previous sentence, almost as much as they would enjoy seeing A Bug's Life and its brood end their five-year exclusive engagement at the theater. But they've had their dreams dashed too often to believe again. There have been too many rumors and false starts. They can't see the potential, only the decaying husk of a once-great shopping center and the rat-infested shell of an old-school movie palace.

But others can. It's the kind of trick you have to play on yourself when you're a real estate developer, the kind of imagination you must possess when you're the president of the area's neighborhood association. Potential is all you have when you're selling something that doesn't exist.

Soon enough, it might, and it all begins with the Casa Linda Theater. Theatre Brothers Ltd., a local group of investors that includes Waranch, bought the theater six months ago. In another month, Waranch says, they'll have a new tenant, and the neighborhood will have something to rally around. They're just not sure what that something is.

"We're talking to all sorts of different groups," Waranch says. "We've had at least 12, 15 theater groups. Just a real big variety. We're trying to find that user that can take it to the next level. It might be theater, it might be--it'll be something in the media world. Something good will be there soon. Sooner than later."

For Waranch, memory was almost as important as money when it came to making the deal. He and his partners, all self-described "Dallas kids," knew the place from their youth, knew what it meant to the community and knew it could happen again. "We like the history of it," Waranch says.

Cindy Bourne, president of the Casa Linda Estates Neighborhood Association, likes the future of it. The theater, the plaza, all of it. That's why she recently formed what she calls "a support group" for the plaza, a committee formed from the dozen or so neighborhoods surrounding the shopping center.

"We sort of feel like Regency needs some help," Bourne says. "We're going to try to give Regency, the management company, our positive support in getting the shopping center leased out and getting quality tenants in there, the kind that would be able to support a theater again. We did a survey for our neighborhood with all of our residents about what they want in a shopping center, and a theater was one of the number-one options. People are open to a regular movie theater, a mixed-media [venue]--just something to keep that place alive and kind of bring the feel back."

Even with the presence of Waranch's and Bourne's groups, however, it's best not to get too excited yet. The Texas Department of Transportation and the city are set to begin construction soon on a project that will open up the clogged arteries the intersection of Garland and Buckner roads has become, adding double left-turn lanes and dedicated right-turn lanes. The construction will further hurt the already stagnant flow of traffic into the plaza.

Not to mention the fact that getting new tenants into the plaza is easier said than done, given the rental rates Regency charges. (The company did not return numerous calls.) Then again, maybe it will take only one new tenant--whatever eventually moves into the Casa Linda Theater space--to transform the plaza. Maybe that's all that is needed to force Regency's hand.  

"The theater is sort of like the cornerstone, really," Bourne says. "I mean, I know it hasn't been active for quite a while. But quite honestly, everybody looks to that theater when they look at the shopping center."

Waranch is confident they'll have something to look at soon, and not just in Casa Linda Plaza.

"We love it over there," Waranch says. "Honestly, I have no idea why it hasn't leased. It makes no sense to us. But frankly, that whole area, I think it's truly about to kind of hit. My feeling is there is going to be a bunch of redevelopment in that area." --Zac Crain

Time To Talk

To those who think AIDS is a gay problem, the new statistics are shocking. In 2003, 83 percent of new AIDS infections among women across the nation were found in blacks and Hispanics, according to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among this subgroup, black women had an infection rate several times that of Latinas.

Dallas County has striking, and similar, statistics, too. In 2004 there were 779 new AIDS infections, according to the Dallas County Health Department. Though a majority of those infected were men--white, black and Hispanic; homosexual and heterosexual--149 were women, 112 of whom were black. In other words, of all new AIDS infections in women in Dallas County in 2004, 75 percent were found in African-Americans. Yet black women make up only 10 percent of the county's population.

The new reports were enough for Mayor Laura Miller last week to proclaim February 7 National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day.

It's a good start, Dr. Barbara Cambridge says, because information is what's lacking. Cambridge, in 1987, began the first support group for black women infected with HIV in the Dallas area. Today, she's an associate professor at the UT-Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and a once-a-week volunteer at AIDS Arms. She's amazed at how little things have changed.

"AIDS is something that is not talked about among African-Americans," she says.

To be sure, factors other than a faulty education in AIDS have driven up the infection rate among black women in Dallas County. Too many women trust their sexual partners and their histories, and too few trust the government that tests for HIV, she says.

Still, Cambridge says she doesn't see blacks confronting AIDS with the same intensity the gay community reached in the early stages of the epidemic. "I think there are programs out there that are working to put that information out, but on a large-scale effort? I don't see that. " --Paul Kix

Only Rock and Roll

The seven members of I, The Passenger, a hardcore metal band based in Plano, pride themselves on chaos they create in performance--twirling microphones, jumping on amps and violently hurling themselves around.

"We're very physical on stage," says drummer Jason Perez. "Always been this way, always will be this way. It's what sells CDs, man."

That's why it was a shock on January 20 when the manager of an Arlington club called Division One decided they were too rowdy and pulled the plug three songs into their set. The resulting confrontation ended in a bit of real-life violence.

Perez says that after their second song, the sound man broke in to ask the band members not to twirl their microphones and stand on the amps. "Well, the microphone and gear we were standing on was all of our own," Perez says. "Because of the chaos and violence, we always bring our own mikes and lots of duct tape to make sure nothing falls apart on stage."

Assured that the gear belonged to the band, the sound man said they could continue but that he didn't want any patrons hurt. The band agreed, but the vocalists were screaming the lyrics to their third song--and twirling--when manager Alan Ghreizi shut off the sound, jumped on stage and told them to get out. The pretend chaos gave way to real chaos, with beer bottles thrown on stage and a shoving match between the manager and vocalist Ryan Giesecke. After a band member called police, four Arlington squad cars arrived.

Promised $3 a head, the band got paid nothing, but Perez says what made the band really mad was losing the chance to sell CDs of their EP The Perfect Ending. "That's where we make our money," Perez says.

Ghreizi couldn't be reached for comment. Christy Gilfour of the Arlington police says the case was closed with no charges. What Perez doesn't get is why the club booked I, The Passenger, since its shtick is fake violence for the rich white teenagers. He put the word out to other bands warning them about the venue.  

"We put on the same show at Trees and it was totally fine," Perez says. "If you know what you are getting into when you book us, it will be totally copacetic." --Glenna Whitley

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