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October 22, 2014

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Joe Downtown: On this night, the Huntridge shined again

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Supporters gather around as a light show of rainbow colors light up the tattered structure of the Huntridge Theatre marking the hope of its resurrection during the Save the Huntridge concert fundraiser in Las Vegas Saturday, June 29, 2013.

Save the Huntridge Fundraiser

Arising Tide rocks the stage while performing at the Save the Huntridge concert fundraiser in the parking lot of the Huntridge Theatre in Las Vegas Saturday, June 29, 2013. Launch slideshow »

By any standard, Saturday was simply too hot to stand for longer than a few minutes outside. By 5 p.m, the National Weather Service said the temperature had hit 115 degrees. To mess with that kind of weather is to invite trouble.

Yet there they were at 6 p.m., sweltering and swaying to the opening band in the parking lot of the historic Huntridge Theater, some for several hours, in homage to the theater and efforts to save her from the wrecking ball.

The impromptu fundraiser, complete with bands, food trucks and art, was thrown together in three days by Shaun Swanson and others volunteering to their time to an attempt to raise $150,000 over 40 days. Until midnight, 200 maybe 300 people or more came, gave some money and took as much heat as they could before leaving.

If partners Michael Cornthwaite and Joey Vanas are able to raise the $150,000, they'll be able to make down payments to the Mizrachi family, current theater owners. It also would enable them to pay inspectors, soil samplers, architects and others needed to begin the difficult renovation project.

Rehan Choudry, founder of the Life is Beautiful festival, had been a partner with Cornthwaite and Vanas in the venture. But Choudry recently dropped out of the arrangement to focus on the food and music festival, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26 and 27, over a 15-block area of downtown.

The $150,000 being raised for the Huntridge is miniscule compared to the expected renovation cost. By December’s end, $4 million needs to be paid to the Mizrachis to buy the building; then over the next few years, the partners estimate, it will cost $11 million or more to renovate the Huntridge.

It needs work.

Steve McMahon showed some of the damage done to the second floor, where what used to be a recording studio was stripped of all soundproofing. Giant holes were smashed into the walls where wiring appeared to be ripped out. If recording equipment ever existed there, it was long ago carted away.

McMahon got his start working with bands here in the 1990s. He later went on to work as a roadie on U2’s Popmart tour in 1997. He stands with an imaginary spotlight and shows how he would point it at the stage from the second-floor both.

“Just a lot of memories tied into this place,” he said.

Cornthwaite and Vanas have faith investors with deeper pocketbooks, along with grants and other funding ideas, will meet the need for those extra millions of dollars.

But they also want small investors, and by the thousands. These are people who might only be able to contribute $5 or $10. Numbers of investors are important, Cornthwaite has said, the thought being that would show potential big investors the project enjoys broad-based community support.

So far, those numbers haven’t transpired.

As of Monday morning, 343 had contributed, according to the fundraising website.

In 22 hours, Saturday afternoon to Sunday, the fund collected a little more than $16,000 from 23 contributors – two gave the bulk of it, with $5,000 and $10,000 contributions – bringing the 23-day total to just over $75,000, the halfway point with 17 days remaining on the crowdfunding campaign.

More was donated in a bucket under one of the tents in the Huntridge parking lot, and names of those contributors were sometimes anonymous. Donations also came from drinkers at the Huntridge Tavern across the street. The bar gave 10 percent of all drink sales to the fundraising effort. Customers Saturday streamed in and out, spending a few minutes in the heat of the Huntridge parking lot, then returning for more heat-cooling beer.

They stopped coming back in around 10, when the theater was lit up.

With the help of volunteers Todd VonBastiaans and Bryan McCarthy, of Alios entertainment and architectural lighting, 1217 Main St., what had become a blight to the neighborhood turned into a beacon.

Lights in a rainbow of color lit it from the ground up and white light bounced off the massive “HUNTRIDGE” atop the central tower. People saw a majesty in the place that likely didn’t exist even when it opened 69 years ago.

“We believe the theater needs to be alive again,” VonBastiaans said.

Cornthwaite, standing in the lot with owner Eli Mizrachi, looked up at the large lettering atop the windsail-like wall that juts up 75 feet in faded art deco glory. Paint has been scraped and burned off by humans and the weather.

The lighting caught those white letters just so, making them glow in the night.

“Is that neon?” he asked.

Not yet.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown, he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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