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The Issue: The owner of the Takoma Theatre is planning a five-story apartment building for the historic spot. The theater has occupied the corner of Fourth and Butternut Streets NW since 1923; Milton McGinty bought the building in 1983. But the low-density neighborhood of Takoma has not been kind to a privately owned arts building that puts on plays, and McGinty wants to head to a greener pasture—real estate. In 2007, he petitioned to turn the theater into an office building, catalyzing the formation of Takoma Theatre Conservancy, a nonprofit that wants to purchase the property; he was ultimately denied by the Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB). But now McGinty proposes razing the theater and replacing it with an apartment building—with a tiny theater on the ground floor. With the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and the Conservancy up in arms, will HPRB still pull an Atropos?

Save the Theater: According to the ANC 4B resolution against the demolition passed Oct. 15, “there is strong and active support among people in the community to keep the Theatre, with the prospect of at last having an active cultural arts and education center.” The resolution notes there are no other theaters in Ward 4, and only one in Ward 5—at Catholic University. Ward 4B Commissioner Faith Wheeler told City Desk, “The Conservancy has had engineers look at the building, surveys and analysis done, and interviews with people from various walks of life to determine the viability of a cultural arts center. We’ve had a an extremely positive result.” The Conservancy would like to host everything from film showings and theater performances to educational lectures.

Time is Up: According to Capital Community News, the empty lot is worth $2 milion more if the floundering theater is demolished. McGinty told the paper, “I threw caution to the wind, and I didn’t consider location and all the financial issues that could apply.” A commenter on the blog DC Mud points out, “What is the purpose of saving something that has no viable economic alternative? We cannot have these museums of public space. It is time to move on.”

Next Step: At an Oct. 22 meeting, HPRB unanimously voted against the demolition, a step that Wheeler says “they were bound to do anyway by regulation.” McGinty has appealed to the preservation board. In the meantime, nail-biting theatre-nostalgics can contribute to the Takoma Theatre Conservancy. If the building is demolished and rebuilt, McGinty promises at least to keep the theater’s sign and facade, for posterity.

Photo by Mr. T, Creative Commons Attribution License