Theater development gets mixed reviews

Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, ("Takoma DC")

BY LYLE KENDRICK

Many Takoma D.C. residents objected a recent proposal by the Takoma Theatre owner to turn the theater into an apartment complex.

Loretta Neumann, president of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy, said there is a greater need for a cultural arts center and community space than an apartment complex.

She said the proposed dormers would harm the building’s historic nature.

An apartment complex would also destroy the theater’s inside dome and an old vault that held film, she said.

Proposed Takoma Theatre architectural rendering from Cunningham | Quill Architects

Proposed Takoma Theatre architectural rendering from Cunningham | Quill Architects

Family considered options

Theater-owner Milton McGinty and his family proposed the apartment complex.

Lisa Toppin, McGinty’s daughter, said her family hired an outside firm to determine what would be the best use of the space.

The family considered several of the firm’s options, including turning the theater into a retail space, she said.

Closed for now - Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, ("Takoma DC")

Closed for now – Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, (“Takoma DC”). Photo by Lyle Kendrick.

Historical reviews ahead

The Historic Preservation Office will review the proposal, which calls for 22 apartment units, before the proposal goes to the Historical Preservation Review Board in July.

The review board only looks at the building exterior, said Steve Callcott, an Historical Preservation Office deputy preservation officer.

The Historic Preservation Office will specifically look at the side addition on the 4th Street side of the building, new window penetrations and roof alterations in McGinty’s plan, Callcott said.Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, ("Takoma DC")

Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, (“Takoma DC”). Photo by Lyle Kendrick.

“We think that there are strong aspects to it and that it has the potential for being a very creative reuse of the building,” he said.

The family has not determined a builder yet, Toppin said.

Mixed opinions

Faith Wheeler, vice chairwoman for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said while many residents advocate a cultural arts center, other residents would be satisfied with an apartment complex.

They want the building put to use, she said.

Neumann said an apartment complex might be less profitable than selling the building to a private owner.

Webb Management Services, a consulting company, conducted a feasibility study and determined that the theater’s space could financially work, she said.

The theater in use 2003-2004. Photo courtesy of Takoma Theatre Conservancy

The theater in use 2003-2004. Photo courtesy of Takoma Theatre Conservancy

More recent photo of ceiling detail.

More recent photo of ceiling detail. Photo by Steve Smith.

She said the demographics of the neighborhood, the proximity to the Metro station, plans to use a center for educational programs and the size of the theater are among the factors that would make it work.

“My sense is it doesn’t need to be fancy because it never was,” Neumann said.

Toppin said that no private owners have offered to buy the building and she sees the apartment complex as the best financial option for her and her family.

“Right now the building isn’t for sale,” she said.

A Zink theatre

The theater opened in 1923 and was built by the architect John J. Zink, who built more theaters in the area, including the Flower Twins Theatre, the Senator Theatre in Baltimore and the Uptown Theater in Washington.

“It is the heart of the neighborhood,” said Sharon Villines, a retired art history professor and former board member of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy said.

Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, ("Takoma DC")

Takoma Theatre, 4th and Butternut Streets, NW, Washington, DC, (“Takoma DC”). Photo by Lyle Kendrick.

Monty McGinty bought the theater in 1983 and let the Takoma Theatre Arts Project put on performances from 2002 to 2005, Neumann said.

McGinty tried to raze the apartment in 2007 but the District denied his attempts.

Restoration needs now include putting seats the building, replacing wall wrapping and bringing the stage out further so it could serve more purposes, Neumann said.

Neumann said she thinks the theater could be restored with $5 to 6 million.

She said city funds, a private owner, private foundations and renting building space are potential revenue sources.

About the Author

Lyle Kendrick
Lyle Kendrick is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Maryland. He graduated from the University of North Carolina. He has worked for The Daily Tar Heel, an independent student newspaper, and the Cape Argus, a metro in Cape Town, South Africa. He loves movies, American history, national parks and the music of Paul Simon.

2 Comments on "Theater development gets mixed reviews"

  1. Here we go again. The Takoma Theatre Conservancy wants to torpedo a reasonable redevelopment scheme because they’d rather end up buying the theatre, presumably at a cut-rate price. Steve Callcott’s statement is accurate: the Board has no authority over non-landmarked interiors. So, the opponents must attack the windows and the addition as being “incompatible.” That’s a much tougher sell.

    • Agreed. The Takoma Theatre Conservancy is a joke. Rather than admit that they are unable to raise the money to buy the theatre at a cost that the McGinty family feels the building is worth (and apparently has succeeded in finding by making it apartments), they’ll push to keep having half a block taken up by a vacant, crumbling hulk.

      Neumann’s heart was in the right place back in the day, but it’s now time to let it go. Donate the moneys raised to local theatre groups (or to whatever organizations their bylaws state the money can go to in the case of being disbanded) and walk away.

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