21 January 2007


I announced less than a week ago that the owner of the Highland Theater in Highland Square had taken out a permit to raze the building. Since then, I've attended three meetings (one at which the mayor was present) and read lengthy threads at the chief source and highlandsquare.org regarding the news and its implications.

I've wrestled with where I stand on what should or should not be done. As a member of the Highland Square Neighborhood Association, I'm probably immediately labeled as a rabble rouser/chicken little/eternal optimist/diehard liberal just by association. It's true that the news cuffed the sleeve that my heart rides on, and my instinct was to chain myself to the vinyl-padded doors of the theater.

But I'm also a realist/cynic, and this side of my regularly does battle with the hopeful optimist in me. (So much so that I named my blog in honor of the duality.) Arguments ceding the theater because of a reality of low attendance and high maintenance costs didn't fall on deaf ears. Nor do I ignore the need for Portage Path Elementary School to be rebuilt and serve the needs of its students/families.

I don't have to take a stance, yet I'm often asked about Highland Square goings on, so I wanted to flesh out this complicated issue.

The neighborhood association is launching a campaign to "save the theater." Saying this is a tad hyperbolic but more concise than "Let's see if we can find a way to keep the theater as a viable, mixed-use community arts center while addressing the important needs of Portage Path School."

I decided I support this effort, and I hope the nuances of it will come across, rather than it looking like a "save the theater at all costs just because" campaign.

While it may be a very optimistic endeavor, it is not naive. We are well aware of the challenges—and there are many. Our organization has behind it some bright, talented people that have tackled projects that qualify them to give this one a try. Plus our new president has more energy than someone who sprinkles cocaine on her Cheerios every morning.

One of the first objectives is to assess feasibility. Maybe we'll come to the conclusion that it is not viable, but our city government and the owner of the Highland should let us try.

It's difficult to make a go of anything amongst the politics I surmise are at play with the theater. It's not just an issue of someone's wanting to tear a theater down. Tearing it down would create space to use for Portage Path School, which is located behind the theater. I think some people want to paint the issue as black and white—giving the school what it needs versus preserving a local landmark. There has to be a way to do both.

And that's what we're trying to find out.


Terra said...

One ABJ article I read said that the Highland Square Association didn't want to tear down and rebuild Portage Path school, and chose to renovate instead. Now renovation includes expansion into the Highland theatre. Is that true? If so, can the school be rebuilt instead, without destroying the theatre, or is that still out of the question? Just curious.

Adam Harvey said...

The most effective weapon that Tremont residents had in their efforts to keep Tremont elementary around was a list of alternative ideas. While other schools merely showed up and said "Don't Close Us!" Tremont had seven alternatives that showed the neighborhood's commitment to its namesake.

That's why today it is the only public Montessori school in the CMSD. The more ideas you have for the space, the better chance you have to keep it from being torn down. Plus it is constructive instead of just reactive.

peppermintlisa said...

adam, absolutely. we are coming up with alternatives.

terra, HSNA never said we didn't want to tear down Portage. I think perhaps Progress through Preservation might want to save the building. I think the school itself wants a brand new building. In an ideal world, both buildings would be saved and renovated, but I think we're picking our battles.

I don't know how much space the school needs to rebuild; they seem to be needing more than the current amount they take up. Then there is an issue of parking (for the school adn the theater.)

So, there are a lot of facets to address.

Anonymous said...

My mother went to Portage Path School and saw the Highland Theater being built from her second grade class window. She has always had difficulty accepting it as historic, although she did enjoy walking to nightime movies in the late thirties. That's probably a lot of the problem with it's survival. Who would consider allowing a couple of grade-school girls walk to a night-time movie there now?

Anonymous said...

I hate to bring my southern Ohio country dialect into your fine establishment of polished rhetoric, but:

They just closed down 2 of the 3 theatres here in Pullman, and guess which one's left? Yeah, the shitty multiplex. It makes me want to have my arms turn into wolf heads that I can use to gnaw on the city planners and everyone else involved.