The Lakewood Theater has been an institution in East Dallas since 1938, and its owners are looking for new tenants. Preservationists said the original space -- filled with a single movie screen, whimsical murals and a grand, carved staircase -- could be drastically changed.
But some of those concerns were allayed Tuesday, when the Dallas Landmark Commission unanimously agreed that the theater should be designated as a historical landmark.
The theater operated almost continuously since it first opened until this past January, when its lease expired. Worried locals recently jumped into action when workers removed scores of antique theater seats, and left them in a huge dumpster. The building’s owners said it was all part of asbestos removal.
One of the most vocal people pushing for the landmark designation was actor Burton Gilliam, who's best known for his roles in Blazing Saddles and Back To The Future. Gilliam is 77 -- the same age as the theater -- and says, when he was a kid, he’d bike a few miles down the road to see picture shows there.
”Too many places in the East Dallas area -- especially movie theaters -- have gone by the wayside. I don’t want to see it happen to the Lakewood Theater,” said Gilliam, who currently lives in Allen.
Former City Council member Veletta Forsythe-Lill also argued for landmark status.
“The owner has said he does not intend to take down this icon. I have no doubt that he believes that today,” she told the committee. “But tomorrow can bring a new owner and a new plan.”
One of the current owners, Craig Kinney, took the podium to respond to his critics.
“So I’m pleased everybody’s here today, so they can hear it straight from me," Kinney said. "There’s no mistake: we understand the Lakewood neighborhood has a love affair with the Lakewood Theater. And we share it.”
Kinney says he wants the landmark designation process to move as quickly as possible -- ideally in six months. He says the building owners will likely spend more than $1.5 million to revitalize the space, and that he’ll hire a preservation architect to work with the city on the plans.
After the vote, Amanda Daigle said she felt relieved. She and her fiancée, Nicole Griffin, performed there for years.
”It was, it was, home for me," Daigle said. "I met my fiancée there. Just so much of my life was at the Lakewood, so I needed to see it survive."
For many folks, preserving Lakewood Theater isn’t just about the architecture. It’s about what happened on-screen -- and off.