I took my daughter to the dentist today. When we left the dentist’s office, which was across from the Warner Theater, she remarked sadly that she couldn’t believe that Carvel Ice Cream had closed. I explained to her that its business location wasn’t particularly good, especially after the closure of the theater itself. She accepted this and moved on, as kids do, but I thought back to what I knew of the theater’s closure, and I got relatively angry, not because I was fond of Carvel, but because I loved the theater.
The story that floated around at the time of the Warner’s closure was that it had been brought to its knees by fire safety violations reported by a city inspector. Because the repairs necessary to bring the building into code were so expensive, the theater’s owners chose instead to simply walk away, putting the building up for lease to somebody willing to pay the money it would take to get the doors open again, thus creating an incredible amount of front-end cost. What we’re left with is the following grim reality: the Warner Theater is unlikely to ever re-open.
I’ve heard a different version of the same story. In this version, one of the city’s fire inspectors went to the theater to see a movie and, while there, walked into the theater’s offices. The kids working behind the counter at the theater told him repeatedly that he wasn’t allowed into the theater’s office. He repeatedly refused to identify himself, staying to poke around, and allegedly getting incredibly offended that anybody would dare question his presence anywhere. The next day, he came back for an official inspection, and punished those kids behind the counter for doing their job by documenting fixes so expensive that it drove the theater out of business.
Perhaps the first the version is true. Perhaps the second version is true. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because the theater was killed and now the business attached the theater has gone down. In other words, instead of having an attraction to bring people downtown, the city’s inspectors decided that it would be a better idea if the area was vacant and abandoned. Good plan guys.
I am biased of course. I loved the Warner Theater. I loved watching movies there as a child. I loved “watching” movies there as a teenager. I loved watching movies there as an adult. And although the building was old and creaky, I don’t ever remember sitting inside it, thinking to myself, “I am in grave danger.” But that fire inspector did. He is the expert of course but one has to wonder what changed, because I remember that building as a child and as a teenager and I don’t remember it being any different than it had been for years on the day that it closed. Surely fire inspectors had been there before. Surely fire inspectors had signed off on that building before. This is the tripping point for me, the point where it becomes very easy to imagine that a fire inspector settled a score against the theater rather than a fire inspector heretofore undiscovered piles of gasoline soaked rags placed below every electrical socket.
At the end of the day, I am left with this one question: what was really accomplished by closing that theater? And how did anybody benefit from it? The answers to both questions, as of right now, is that nothing was accomplished and nobody benefited. As I said: good plan guys.