Sunday, July 14, 2024

Keeping the Huntridge Theater legacy alive


Keeping the Huntridge Theater legacy alive

Joey Vanas on his team’s movement to reopen Nevada’s first nonsegregated theater


During the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, African-Americans were barred from many entertainment venues in Nevada, because of segregation practices that ruled commercial and social interaction in the state.

On Oct. 10, 1944, one venue opened against the tide of that era’s discriminatory practices. Located on Las Vegas’ Charleston Boulevard, the

The Huntridge Theater

was the state’s first nonsegregated theater. With the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, partners Joey Vanas, Michael Cornthwaite and Rehan Choudry are working to revitalize, redevelop and reopen the legendary venue. Vanas spoke to Las Vegas Black Image to discuss his team’s vision.

What is The Huntridge Theater movement?

The big picture of what we are trying to do is bring the Huntridge Theater back to all its original glory — and then some. This used to be Las Vegas’ most cherished and frequented venue for live music and movies. We are going to do a lot of concerts and a theater component along the lines of art house cinema.

Is the movement for the revitalization of the Huntridge Theater a fundraising activity?

The overall financial picture is that it will take quite a bit of money to purchase the property to restore it and get it operating. The partners involved so far have completely exhausted our personal resources for deposits, appraisals and required inspections.

Now, we have reached a point where we are receiving a ton of support, and people are reaching out saying that they want this project to happen. They are asking how they can get involved, and the recommendations were to do a fundraising campaign that actually targets the people of Las Vegas. The regular, everyday people — someone who might only have five dollars to donate, and also those who have thousands. It doesn’t matter; we want the project to be inclusive of everyone, and give people the opportunity to participate in this historic revitalization effort.

Right now, this is determining whether the project moves forward. This is not a ploy or tactic to try to do something we don’t actually need. We do need the start-up capital to move forward. It is also a way for people to participate, to show their support early. Secondly, part of the fundraising effort will be to target private equity grants and historical preservation money. We are also going after private investors, and we need to be confident of the community support. We don’t want to assume that because the Huntridge Theater was a great theater back in the day, there will be enough demand to make it viable. There is a responsibility to all the future investors, as well, to see how many people really want it.

Are you and your team developers?

No, I am not a developer, but there are a few different partners. Michael Cornthwaite, who is a very well-known downtown venue developer, opened the downtown Cocktail Room, and The Beat, and he developed Oscar’s Steakhouse in the Plaza hotel — which is his most recent development, and there are several additional developments that he has initiated. He is the guy who started the whole downtown movement 12 years ago.

I am another partner. I am not a developer by trade, but I have opened and operated many venues across the country. I have been a part of restoration projects, I reopened the Fontainebleu in Miami Beach in 2008 and I developed the venues in there as well. I have opened 10 venues, and have been a part of openings for the last 10 years. I know what goes into it. I am also the managing partner for First Fridays, and I have a lot of experience in the events business. Our other partner is Rehan Choudry, founder of the Life is Beautiful Festival.

What will be the employment opportunities?

We are not that far in to know what the employee work chart will look like. But once it opens, it will employ a lot of people. We are looking at having a food and beverage concept seven days a week. Arthouse theater in the back of the theater, where you can have dinner and watch a cool independent fi lm programmed all weekend. There will be involvement for nonprofi t organizations and different community causes. There will be a music education component. We are working with the Huntridge Foundation, whose mission is “to preserve the architectural integrity, history and culture of the Huntridge Theater and the surrounding community.” We are working with them on an exhibit they would curate, that would speak to the history of the neighborhood — along with the architect and the theater history itself. There will be a lot of education focus, community programming and some really great concerts and shows.

What is the diversity initiative?

The Huntridge Theater was the fi rst nonsegregated theater in Las Vegas. Actually, we didn’t know that when we first started the project, but we are very excited about it, and we think that is an amazing piece of history. That alone warrants the revitalization of the Huntridge Theater — and the effort, energy and money to save it from destruction. That could possibly happen if we don’t try to save it now.

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