The Huntridge Theater is saved. On March 31, developer J Dapper finalized his $4 million purchase of the 76-year-old venue, ending a long bout of local anxiety over the ultimate fate of the historic structure. Opened in 1944, this erstwhile movie house, designed by architect S. Charles Lee (the architect of record for LA’s Max Factor Building, Tower Theatre, Fox Wilshire Theatre and more), has lived a number of lives before now. It has been Las Vegas’ first nonsegregated cinema; a concert venue that hosted Nine Inch Nails, Beastie Boys, The Killers and scores of others; and the unwitting subject of some 20-plus years of revitalization efforts, legal proceedings and potentially catastrophic neglect.
Now, the Huntridge can begin anew. Live music is returning to its stage, Dapper says. Standing in the theater’s cavernous interior—the seats, flooring and virtually everything else has been stripped away, leaving a large concrete-and-metal box—the developer is visibly elated. “We’ve been working on this deal in earnest for close to three years, but I’ve been wanting to get this done for 10 years,” he says. “And we’ve already done a lot of due diligence, so that part of it’s pretty much done.”
On March 31, Dapper Companies released an aspirational rendering that included a restoration of the Huntridge’s iconic sign; a restaurant/brewery, located in the former bank/furniture store building next door; and a dazzling revamp of the theater’s profile, which has been altered from Lee’s design over the years by the addition of a stage dock, a flyspace and, oh, yeah, a new metal barrel roof to replace the wood-framed roof that collapsed on the day of a Circle Jerks show in July 1995. But Dapper says that whatever happens with the theater, and the structures and property surrounding it, will be influenced by the operators who sign onto the project. Finding and signing those partners will take up the first year of what he anticipates will be a three-year process.
“We think that there’s really two types of tenants for this project,” Dapper says, gesturing around the auditorium. “There’s this side, which is the concert portion. We’ve already had four or five different parties showing different kinds of interests. We’ve got some people who want to run it as a concert venue, but we’ve got some groups that also want to do things in here that are a little different than concerts, things I initially didn’t consider, but I’m warming up to the idea. And I’ve had a lot of people showing interest in the food and beverage side of things.
“If we have a tenant that has a specific need that we can’t meet within the walls of these existing buildings, that’s part of the reason that it’s going to take three years. It’d be great to be able to just go, all right, let’s restore it and see what happens. But every tenant has a very specific [intended] use. We need to be able to understand them.”
One thing that’s certain is that the theater isn’t crumbling again if Dapper can help it. “There’s definitely environmental concerns with a building this old,” he says. “The main concern is the [late 1990s] roof; you know, it looks pretty good, but you can’t be sure of it because you don’t know what’s holding that roof up. So, we did something called GPR [Ground Penetrating Radar] scanning. Our structural engineer came in, scanned all the walls and the inside and the outside, and that GPR scan told us that it’s actually really sound and in good shape. At the end of the day, that’s what we needed to know to be able to say, ‘OK, we’re going to buy this.’”
Surprisingly, some of the theater’s decorative elements have survived as well. During a tour of the facility, Brad Jerbic—the former Las Vegas City Attorney who now heads up the Project Enchilada restoration project, and a vital partner in helping Dapper to secure the Huntridge—showed me the original Streamline Moderne chandeliers that hung in the lobby, two giant octagonal metal fixtures with domed shades. They’re dirty and they probably need rewiring, but aside from that, they’re beautifully preserved and nearly as photogenic as the theater’s beloved neon sign. (And it probably goes without saying that Jerbic, who’s overseen the restoration of several vintage Fremont Street motel signs in the past few years, is excited to see the Huntridge’s art deco neon lettering restored and lit.)
The three-year wait for a new Huntridge Theater may seem long, but Dapper will help to fill the time by opening several new Downtown spots over the next few years. The nearby Huntridge Center will soon welcome new tenants, said to be a grocery store and diner. The Herbert, Dapper’s renovation of the former Western Cab building on Main Street and Gass Avenue, is soon to open with the first Downtown location of Great Greek Mediterranean Grill. His renovation of the former Mahoney’s Drum Shop building, less than a block away from the Huntridge, is pretty far along. (Fun historical fact: Tickets to many of the Huntridge’s 1990s shows were sold through Mahoney’s.) A full, down-to-the-slats renovation of the towering United States Postal Service building at Las Vegas Boulevard and East Carson Avenue, which will include food and beverage offerings, a rooftop patio and a new, vintage-inspired post office space, is beginning construction.
It’s a lot to process, especially for those of us who gave (and gave, and gave) to Huntridge resurrection efforts and gradually gave up hope as we waited an entire generation for the theater to reopen its doors. But J Dapper’s track record is solid just in the Huntridge neighborhood alone. And as Brad Jerbic has demonstrated through his renovation efforts, Downtown Las Vegas is just too stubborn to go down easily.
“That’s when you have opportunity—when everybody else gives up,” Jerbic says.