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» Cinematour Forum   » Cinemas in the News   » Dallas TX: Arcadia Theatre burns

Author Topic: Dallas TX: Arcadia Theatre burns
Adam Martin

Posts: 1090
From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted June 21, 2006 10:31 PM      Profile for Adam Martin   Author's Homepage   Email Adam Martin         Edit/Delete Post 
From the Dallas Morning News:

The end of an era
'20s theater among businesses lost in Lower Greenville fire

By PAUL MEYER, HOLLY YAN and LAUREN D'AVOLIO / The Dallas Morning News

A tower of flames and smoke devoured part of historic Lower Greenville Avenue on Wednesday afternoon, destroying the landmark Arcadia theater along with neighborhood restaurants and bars.

The blaze that ignited about 4 p.m. quickly grew to six alarms and choked the residential and commercial area in a dark cloud.

Unable to enter the burning buildings, about 120 firefighters tried to contain the damage into the evening. Homeowners watered their roofs with hoses. Hundreds of others lined the street to watch the spectacle.

And when the fury died down, the neighborhood was left to survey the economic and emotional toll.

The Arcadia theater opened in 1927 as a combination movie house and vaudeville theater. Over nearly 80 years, it held a mirror to the times. As a live music venue, its stage was graced by Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Metallica and Nine Inch Nails. As a nightclub venue, it drew throngs of young DJs and dancers.

"The more I think about it, the more it seems like the end of an era in Dallas," local business owner John Gasperik said. "They might bulldoze it and put up a shopping center. Greenville Avenue is not what it used to be. A lot of character just went up in smoke."

Fire officials estimated damage to the businesses at $1.6 million. They were investigating the fire's cause and precisely where it started, said Dallas Fire-Rescue spokeswoman Annette Ponce.

"It's a total loss for the whole strip," she said.

No injuries were reported.

Wednesday was the first day of summer, a start to economic boom times in the entertainment and shopping area. Angie Wood was working at Condom Sense when a stranger ran inside.

"Your building's on fire," he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her outside. Soon, flames leaped onto the rooftops of adjoining businesses.

Erol Staraveci, owner of the nearby Syn Bar, turned on his television and saw the fire raging inside his club. A few doors down, Lance Hudes realized that his Café Nostra was also burning.

"Devastating to say the least," Mr. Hudes said.

The cornerstone of the neighborhood, the Arcadia theater building, was preparing for the opening of a nightclub called the Carousel Club. The project, which would have been an homage to Jack Ruby's Carousel Club, was set to open in the fall.

"Everything was built and ready to be installed," said John Kenyon, who developed the club's concept.

The roof burned and fell in. Bricks cracked. Steel girders collapsed.

"It is 100 percent destroyed," Mr. Kenyon said. "It's such a struggle."

He said he thinks insurance will cover the damage.

Theater memories

The Arcadia theater boasted the first and only Vitaphone sound equipment in Dallas.

"I used to go watch movies there when I was a little boy," said Wayne Smith, a 40-year-old construction worker watching the inferno. "Thirty- and 40-cent movies like Superman. Now it's just gone."

Besides movies, the theater hosted variety shows, operas and beauty pageants in its almost 80-year history.

In 1973 the theater was the center of attention when Dallas vice officers staged a series of raids on screenings of the notorious adult film Deep Throat. The theater owner, two managers and two ticket sellers were eventually convicted on felony charges of conspiracy to exhibit obscene material. The convictions were overturned in 1975.

Dousing in a hurry

Mr. Gasperik lives at the Shake Rag Music Store directly behind the Arcadia. He was outside watering his lawn when he saw an ominous gray plume of smoke.

When he noticed the fire yards away, the 52-year-old grabbed his garden hose and started dousing his roof, yard and wooden fence.

Flaming debris flew into his yard. One piece landed on the shed of a vacant house and burned the roof. Each time a flaming piece of cinder flew overhead, Mr. Gasperik aimed the hose.

"It was like shooting ducks," he said.

A few doors down, Una Rei Saldaña stood on the roof of her metaphysical health business, watering the roof.

"It's a sad day on Greenville Avenue," said her partner, Cerina Wrye. "For six businesses to go out like that, it's devastating for the economy down here."

Gay Hopkins has been vice president of the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association for more than two years. She has been a resident of the neighborhood since 1964 – before it was trendy. Any fire of this magnitude would certainly hurt the whole street, she said.

"It's a bad business blow," said Ms. Hopkins, who believes that a resurgence would depend on the will of property owners to rebuild.

Neighborhood activist Avi Adelman called the properties "the center of the universe for Greenville Avenue." But he said the rebuilding would probably lead to a neighborhood dispute over development in the area.

"That was a major anchor of the neighborhood. It had some good business in it," he said. "I'm looking at it about six months when it's a parking lot. This is going to be the next development battle on Greenville. This is going to be the next fight.

"I want to see an anchor for the redevelopment of Greenville, making Lower Greenville a community of shops and businesses again, not just bars."

Staff writers Michael Grabell, Chris Vognar, David Renfrow and Ty A. Allison contributed to this report.

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Mark Richey

Posts: 90
From: Fort Worth, TX
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted June 23, 2006 06:51 AM      Profile for Mark Richey   Author's Homepage   Email Mark Richey         Edit/Delete Post 
Follow-up about the destroyed theater. The story focuses much more on its more recent incarnation as a live music venue than its history as a movie theater.

Farewell, Arcadia

Theater experienced the evolution of Dallas' entertainment scene

12:11 AM CDT on Friday, June 23, 2006
By TOM MAURSTAD and CHRIS VOGNAR / The Dallas Morning News

Almost 80 years of history went up in smoke when the Arcadia theater caught fire Wednesday afternoon.

After it opened in 1927, audiences were treated to a mix of vaudeville and movies. The Arcadia went on to become one of Dallas' leading neighborhood theaters at a time when going to a movie was still a special occasion. Patrons who turned out to see, for instance, South Pacific were greeted by a window display of a Polynesian paradise and assisted by a staff decked out in nautical costumes.

In the early '80s, the grand-gone-to-seed theater took on another new life when it was transformed into a live-music venue. After a pre-stardom Bonnie Raitt – decked out in a miniskirt and purple spiked hair – headlined the first show in 1982, hundreds of bands covering every kind of music from punk to country played there. It was a gateway venue that performers passed through on their way from underground buzz to superstar sensation, as first-time-in-Texas appearances by Metallica and Nine Inch Nails testify.

It was in this incarnation that the Arcadia cemented its place in the history of Dallas night life and in the memories of a generation of the area's musicians and music lovers. In that era before alternative music became a platinum-selling mainstream force and Deep Ellum transformed into a late-night theme park, the Arcadia played a key role in the development of Dallas' live-music scene.

Its Lower Greenville location helped to break the nascent Deep Ellum club community out of its stockade feeling and link it with the city's other important rock scene. And with the kitsch-cool of its setting, the Arcadia provided the perfect venue for bands and fans who knew they were onto something big that hadn't quite broken.

"That whole building was just so cool looking ... I'm just sick about it," says Jim Heath, more commonly known as Reverend Horton Heat. "I remember I opened for Dwight Yoakam there in '87 or '88 and it made me credible in my parents' eyes. They weren't coming to see me play in Deep Ellum, but they came that night to that show."

The Arcadia also offered a crucial midlevel venue for touring acts that were too big for warehouse clubs and too under-the-radar for arenas. With its opulent marquee and wall mural, not to mention its theater seating, the Arcadia represented a step up for both the bands and the fans.

"It was a tight little place. It only seated 900, and you could pack in a few hundred more," says Angus Wynne, who operated the Arcadia during its musical heyday. "So some of the bands, like the Cure, had to scale down to play there.

Photos: Arcadia fire aftermath
"But the sound was so great and the atmosphere so intimate, shows always had a way of feeling special there. I remember finding the guys from Metallica flopped on the floor in the basement after a show, and they were just blown away by the place. They loved it."

Shortly before sundown Thursday, demolition workers drove a metal battering ram into the brittle brick tower where movies once played and partyers reveled.

It crumbled like sugar cubes, leaving behind twisted, quivering metal and black smoke.

"That's where I used to work," said Jake Vanek, pointing up at the exposed projection booth.

Mr. Vanek was a lighting technician for the old Arcadia dance club in the early 1990s. He celebrated his 21st birthday here. On some nights, he would climb the tower to watch the city.

Then in November 1993, his friend and the club's co-owner, Richard Olsen, was killed inside by armed teenagers.

"That's why I had to come see this," the 34-year-old said Thursday. "This is sad."

As the embers still smolder, it's impossible to know what the future holds for the remnants of the Arcadia. If not for the fire, plans were in place to have the space reopen as a dance club and concert venue called the Carousel Club, a project conceived by the same team behind the Red Jacket Lounge.

"It was going to be a high-end establishment, sort of 'neoburlesque' club that would provide a safe and sophisticated place for people to dance and have a good time," says Anthony Scerbo, who has been working with club impresario John Kenyon to once again reincarnate the Arcadia.

"Everything was in place, we were looking at a September opening. But now, really, I have no idea."

That's the thing: Whatever may be built on the Arcadia site or out of the shell that remains, it won't be the same. The Arcadia is gone, and in this age of supersized entertainment, it's hard to imagine making room for a "tight little place" like the Arcadia.

Staff writer Paul Meyer contributed to this report.

The website also has a selection of photos showing the aftermath of the fire on the building.

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John Robert

Posts: 135
From: Addison, TX
Registered: Jan 2005

 - posted June 23, 2006 09:34 AM      Profile for John Robert   Email John Robert         Edit/Delete Post 
Found more photos at

Several post-fire pics in the thread, as well as a few of it's last few years --including one with the marquee still intact, but without any letters hanging on it.

One of the posts has a link to video coverage from KTVT/11.

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John Robert

Posts: 135
From: Addison, TX
Registered: Jan 2005

 - posted June 25, 2006 07:03 AM      Profile for John Robert   Email John Robert         Edit/Delete Post 
More links....

Photos, videos (4), more photos,

plus this Dallas Morning News article:

Family shares Arcadia memories sweet and sour
Dallas: Siblings recall swinging on curtains, gorging on candy

09:38 PM CDT on Saturday, June 24, 2006

By KATIE MENZER / The Dallas Morning News

Many people carry memories of the Arcadia theater in their hearts.

Ruben Medrano carries his on his arm.

That's where the 41-year-old displays the scar from his unfortunate run-in with the theater's popcorn machine three decades ago.

"I was tilting the metal kettle on the popcorn machine – it gets to 450 or 500 degrees – and I hit my arm against it," said Mr. Medrano, whose father ran a Spanish-language theater in the Arcadia in the 1970s and '80s. "I did that only once. I learned my lesson."

Still, most of his memories of manning the concession stand and working other odd jobs with his brothers and sisters at the Arcadia are sweeter.

The nearly 80-year-old theater on Greenville Avenue burned down Wednesday, but it played a central role in the Medranos' lives for almost a decade, and they said its big screen will always star in their family history.

But not their dental history.

The Medrano kids fondly remember locking themselves in the "candy room" – the old theater's supply closet – and making reductions in their dad's sweetest inventory.

"For some reason, I just remember Snickers," said Frank Medrano, now 42, the third eldest of the family's nine children. "Tons and tons of Snickers."

After the customers went home at night, the younger kids would roll log-style through the lobby, which then sloped down toward the door. They'd melt pennies under the lamp of the movie projector.

And they'd twist themselves tight in the thick velvet curtains that hung in doorways and swing.

"My dad didn't like it and would yell at me that I was going to tear the curtains," said Anna Garza, Medrano child No. 5.

They'd also have "adventures" exploring the old air ducts and dressing rooms in the basement, which were holdovers from the earliest days of the theater. Although the old building served many functions over the years – from porn house to concert venue – the Arcadia had opened in 1927 as a combination movie house and vaudeville theater.

Ruben Medrano – who is now a lawyer living in Richardson – said his dad began renting the theater in 1974, a year after Dallas vice officers staged raids on the Arcadia because its operators were showing the adult film Deep Throat.

He was only 9 then. The movie tickets were $3.25 each, and the first film they showed was Tonta Tonta Pero No Tanto, loosely meaning Dumb, Dumb, But Not Too Dumb.

"Dad gave me a stack of fliers and sent me to hand them out up and down Greenville," he said.

The movie starred María Elena Velasco, also know as La India María, a celebrated Mexican comedienne. She was one of many Mexican celebrities who also performed at the Arcadia when the Medrano family managed it.

Ms. Garza, who now lives in Lewisville, said she grew to love the Mexican actors through their movies, although she rarely understood them. The family ran a Spanish movie theater, but their parents spoke to them only in English.

"Movies would run for a week, and by the end of the week, I knew what was going on," Ms. Garza said.

But as the years passed, Ms. Garza said she began to pick up some of the language. The phrases she learned probably wouldn't be found in a traditional Spanish vocabulary book.

She said her first words were "boleto, por favor," meaning "ticket, please."

But her most vivid memories are of a "creepy ladder" behind the screen that "seemed to lead to nowhere."

"I remember being little and looking up at the ladder, and it just seemed to go on forever into darkness," she said. "I used to try to climb it, but I'd only get halfway up before I got too scared and had to come down."

Ms. Garza's brother, Ruben, said the mystery of the ladder wasn't too hard to crack, especially for the older kids who were more responsible for running the business. He and his two older brothers had to climb it all the time.

It led to the roof, a pigeon coop and a view of the parking lot. Their father would tell them to stand up there and watch for criminals trying to break into customers' cars.

"Since we were so high up, there's not much we could do if we saw something happening but yell," he said. "It was more to frighten people."

What Ruben Medrano found frightening was the women's bathroom, which was sometimes his duty to clean.

"There were things in the ladies bathroom that, as a kid, I didn't know what they were," he said. "I'd get in there and I'd be like, 'Holy cow, what happened in here?' The women were much dirtier than the men."

The memories make him smile now, but he said he recalls being pretty angry as a kid.

"This wasn't a summer job," he said. "We worked all the time, after school and on weekends all year round."

The worst jobs seemed to involve the theater's marquee, an enormous triangular sign that jutted out in front of the building and announced the movies playing that week.

Perched at the top of a shaky, 12-foot ladder, they'd have to carefully remove and reattach letters to the marquee weekly.

"Rain, snow or sleet, we'd have to change the letters," Ruben Medrano said. "My father would now say I'm exaggerating, but I have the memories of the ladder swaying in the wind."

Then there were the pigeon droppings that would find their way to the sign's hollow middle. One of the sons would periodically climb the ladder, jump inside the sign and shovel out the pounds of pigeon waste.

No one volunteered for that job.

"It was nasty, nasty work," Ruben Medrano said.

His father retired in 1983, and the family left the theater. Now their parents live in Harlingen in South Texas. Frank Medrano lives in a small town nearby.

Ruben Medrano said his mother cried when he called her Wednesday to tell her of the fire.

"That was a long time to be there, 10 years," he said. "There are a lot of memories."

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John Robert

Posts: 135
From: Addison, TX
Registered: Jan 2005

 - posted July 27, 2006 12:11 AM      Profile for John Robert   Email John Robert         Edit/Delete Post 
Now it's being revealed that the cause of the fire was linked to food cooking at the neighboring Nuevo Leon restaurant.

Dallas Morning News article

Cooking fire linked to Greenville blaze

10:47 PM CDT on Tuesday, July 25, 2006

By HOLLY YAN / The Dallas Morning News

Investigators say a cooking fire sparked the blaze that tore through a stretch of Lower Greenville on June 21.

The fire started when cooking food was left unattended in the kitchen of the Nuevo Leon restaurant in the 2000 block of Greenville Avenue.

The blaze quickly engulfed the neighboring Syn Bar, Condom Sense, Café Nostra and the historic Arcadia theater, which has hosted vaudeville acts, music headliners and big-screen movies over the past 80 years.

No one was seriously injured in the fire.

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Mark Richey

Posts: 90
From: Fort Worth, TX
Registered: Feb 2003

 - posted December 11, 2006 08:34 AM      Profile for Mark Richey   Author's Homepage   Email Mark Richey         Edit/Delete Post 
The end has finally arrived...

Arcadia Coming Down Tuesday

ELIZABETH LANGTON / The Dallas Morning News

The past is set to come tumbling down Tuesday, but developers have high hopes for the area that was once the Arcadia theater.

The Arcadia's owners want to replace the burned structure with a residential-retail development occupying just more than 2 acres on Greenville Avenue.

Early plans call for a three- or four-story complex. Sixty residential units and about 18,000 square feet for retail shops would surround a parking garage.

"It's the thing to do these days – create a place where people can live and shop and eat," said Bill Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Dallas commercial real estate firm Dunhill Partners. "This is a good direction for Greenville Avenue to go."

Demolition and removal of the Arcadia's remains and an attached retail strip will start between 7 and 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The 1920s theater burned June 21 when a kitchen fire in Nuevo Leon restaurant spread to neighboring businesses along the west side of Greenville between Sears Street and Bell Avenue.

The six-alarm blaze destroyed the Arcadia, the Syn Bar and Nuevo Leon restaurant. It forced Café Nostra and Condom Sense to close.

Barrocco Lounge, which occupied the northern end of the retail strip, reopened days later but was asked to vacate by Sunday.

Even before firefighters doused the flames, speculation started about what might eventually occupy the prime piece of real estate.

Development battles have waged here before. Neighborhood opposition to Cityville Greenville, two blocks south of the Arcadia, forced FirstWorthing to scale down its original plans. Residents and businesses have clashed for years over parking and traffic.

Residents who live in neighborhoods around the Arcadia expressed guarded optimism about Dunhill's proposal to solicit retail stores rather than bars and restaurants.

"It's not even about this specific location; it's about a balance of community retail uses," said Bruce Richardson, secretary of the Lower Greenville West Neighborhood Association. "We want good, healthy daytime retail and less of the current mix."

Avi Adelman, vice president of the Belmont Neighborhood Association, said Lower Greenville should become a pedestrian-friendly area with a wide variety of shops. "We need something that's not a bar, not a restaurant," he said. "That's not what we want."

The project as proposed would require a zoning change. The current community retail district zoning does not allow residential uses.

But Mr. Hutchinson believes he can build support in the neighborhood, which some Dunhill employees call home.

"We would like something that would not be controversial – that's key," he said. "We want to be good stewards of the property, good neighborhood citizens."

Dunhill owns the property with a group of developers. They are working with architects to draft plans. Mr. Hutchinson expects to show them to city officials and neighborhood groups in January. He hopes to complete the project in 18 months.

City Council members Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, whose districts are split by Greenville Avenue, had not heard about Dunhill's plans when contacted last week.

But both said the proposal sounds like what Lower Greenville residents want to hear.

"I would like to see the plans a little more in detail, but initially it sounds pretty good," Ms. Medrano said. "I think the businesses and the residents want diversity. They want some businesses that will be conducting business during the day instead of just having it be just a nighttime area."

Ms. Medrano envisions creating a pedestrian environment on Lower Greenville with businesses that support the people who live there.

"They are a neighborhood, and we need to remember that," she said.

Though she likes Dunhill's concept, Ms. Hunt said adding housing to the area could meet resistance. Residents have opposed them before.

"I think the issue that will come up is density," she said. "The residents are already concerned about traffic and parking."

The Arcadia was built in the late 1920s, when audiences saw both movies and vaudeville acts there. It became a popular live-music venue in the '80s and later a dance club. The theater was being renovated for a new club when it burned.

Mr. Hutchinson said nothing remains of the architecture that could be used in the new construction. But Arcadia could become part of the development's name.

Said Ms. Hunt: "It's sad to see the Arcadia go because it has such an important place in East Dallas history. But hopefully we'll see something that's an improvement."

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