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January 25, 2015

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Historic Huntridge could face destruction

Theater owner wants out of state preservation deal

The owner of the historic Huntridge Theatre, designed by famed theater designer S. Charles Lee and once owned by Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young, is seeking a state ruling that would allow him to destroy the building, leaving Las Vegas nostalgia buffs in stunned silence.

The Huntridge has been so prized by preservationists that, in recent years, the state has picked up $1.6 million in costs to renovate and maintain the 64-year-old building.

The current owner, Eli Mizrachi, wants to repay the state the money so he can decide the fate of the building without being obligated to the state. One person who has worked with Mizrachi on the building said he wants to raze it to build a high-rise office building on the 3-acre site at Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway.

The previous owner had promised to preserve the building. Mizrachi’s request to get out from under that promise will go before the state’s Cultural Affairs Commission next month. Mizrachi did not return calls over two days for comment.

Huntridge supporters hope they can thwart the wrecking ball.

“What a great opportunity for the city to step up to the plate,” said Brian Alvarez, a curator and urban historian born here 33 years ago. “They saved the Fifth Street school, they’re doing the old post office, they’ve saved La Concha. Now it’s time to save the Huntridge.”

Councilman Gary Reese, whose ward includes the theater, said he understands the value of the location for other purposes. “I would like to see it stay what it is,” he said, but added that he would not ask the city to spend money to fight for it.

Built in 1944, The Huntridge was designed in the Streamline Moderne style exemplified by the form and finish of the Hoover Dam. S. Charles Lee, who designed the theater, is credited with 400 theaters in California and Mexico in the 1930s and ’40s.

Mizrachi purchased the property in January 2002 for $925,000 and promptly put UNLV School of Architecture graduate Kasey Baker to work on remodeling the building’s interior and exterior. Her plan would have cost about $2.7 million.

Nothing came of it, she said, because Mizrachi concluded the land was more valuable for uses other than as a restaurant and music performance venue.

When she stopped work, she said, Mizrachi told her he had been approached by developers who “wanted to do a high-rise office building.”

The building’s fate now goes to the Commission for Cultural Affairs, which is tentatively scheduled to discuss the matter when it meets March 20-21 in Carson City.

Over eight years beginning in 1993, before Mizrachi bought the building, the commission granted a group known as Friends of the Huntridge Theatre about $1.57 million as part of its mission to provide assistance to groups “conducting projects that preserve and protect historical buildings used to develop a network of cultural centers and activities.”

Under terms of grants made to the theater, the building could not be demolished until 2017.

Commission Chairman Bob Ostrov-

sky said Mizrachi’s request to buy his way out of the previous owner’s preservation promise might have to be put to the state’s attorney general.

Over the past 14 years, the state has spent more than $32 million on 87 buildings it has identified as worth preserving.

There is no precedent in Nevada of a property owner’s trying to reverse a promise to maintain a historic property by repaying preservation funds to the state.

Ron James, Nevada’s historic preservation officer, said he wanted to make one thing clear.

“That building is extremely important to the community, to the history of Las Vegas,” he said, noting the Huntridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. “I don’t think we should underestimate that. I don’t think we should forget that.”

Correction: An error in this story, saying that the Huntridge had a role in several movies, has been removed.

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