Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Save the Highland Theatre campaign kicks off

A good size crowd of citizens met in the basement of Grace United Church this evening to make plans to save the venerable old movie house.

The meeting got off to a stellar start with the first ever public showing of 8 mm film shot by the wife of construction firm owner that built the Highland Theatre in 1937. The camera follows the building crew as they slither up and down beams and ropes. No hard hats and safety ropes to be seen. There were guys heating up rivets in big cans on the ground, slinging the hot rivets up to the guys on the beams. In the distance, tantazling shots of Highland Square homes and streets, a window back through time.

Three grandsons of the firm's founder were at the meeting: Nelson, Dick and Blaine Wallace. They gave very stirring speeches about how much the theatre meant to them. They told us their family had always lived in Highland Square since moving to Akron.

Members of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association facilitated the meeting. They are proposing a community arts center. They are looking for a private purchaser who would lease it to a non-profit organzation with a board made up of community members. Grants and targeted reliable programming: films, concerts, theatre productions (that would work on a basic platform stage), town hall meetings, charity events, private parties, seminars, and lecture hall. Local visual art could be on constant display in the lobby -- an artist co-op.

They've talked to the Cedar Lee in Cleveland and to arts organizations all over the city -- looking for ideas to make it a success. And have located two individuals interested in investing in the building.

Ron Higgins, Media Consultant gave us a run down on all the challenges ahead, from parking to rennovation. Parking is a huge issue and will need to be addressed, in my opinion. Long time residents seem to think that parking on streets within the immediate neighborhood of the theatre is good enough. It would be ideal if all the local businesses that close at 5 PM would go for double use. I'm not sure what double use entails? Does that mean evening parking might be paid parking in those lots? That might be a good idea, especially if the lots had attendants -- could help deter crime.

Speaking of which, an Akron detective was at the meeting to announce that a thief who's been breaking into cars in parking decks had been caught and they think this guy is one who has done a number of these smash and grabs up and down W Market St.

It was also intersting to hear the open acknowledgement of the differences in class and culture in the divide between north and south of W Market St in the square. Kids who live north of Market go to King Elementary while those living on the south side go to Portage Path Elementary.

Portage Path is another issue that impinges on all the theatre planning. It is supposed to be rebuilt on the same site. A number of people at the meeting asked if the school had to be rebuilt on that corner. Turns out the school is sitting on the very edge of its boundary line. Since the whole building has to be torn down, it would be just as easy to build on another piece of land, one more centrally located within the neighborhood it serves.

By great coincidence and amazing good fortune, a public planning session on the building of a new Portage Path Elementary School is to take place tomorrow (Wednesday) night at Portage Path School starting at 7 PM.

After all the information was shared, plenty of other Highland Squae residents spoke in support of the theatre. It was quite an electric grass roots kind of energy as many people stopped to chat in small groups and share their reactions after the meeting officially ended. An official email list was begun and if you want to join in the action to save the theatre, go to the HSNA web site to make contact and keep up with plans.

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