by Frank Lewis
Buildings like the Capitol Theater on Detroit Avenue are giving neighborhoods something to brag about again. And as the Northeast Shores Development Corp. tries to turn around others, like the old LaSalle on East 185th in North Collinwood, the Westown Community Development Corp. is closer. The group will soon buy the decrepit Variety Theater at 11815 Lorain Avenue for a complete makeover into a renovated theater, seven storefronts and 13 apartments upstairs.
Ward 19 councilwoman Dona Brady was successful on Monday in convincing Cleveland City Council’s finance committee to pitch in $211,000 in redevelopment funding toward the 80-year-old building’s purchase. A group, Friends of the Variety Theater, has already raised the remainder of the $1 million asking price through loan promises, and has purchased a new marquee — currently in storage — to return the tired-looking block to an earlier, prouder time.
“They can’t put the sign up without owning the building,” Brady told her colleagues. “So when we do, it’s going to be something. The decline of the Variety, especially the marquee going into such drastic decline, has been sort of a symbol of decline for this neighborhood. So now we’re going to be able to install this marquee, and it’s going to be a beacon for the area again.”
The Westown CDC has been championing the effort for nearly four years, for obvious reasons, says Brady. Last year, Brady was instrumental in having the area — from 110th to 123rd streets — declared a historic district.
“If you don’t act proactively to control what’s torn down or put up, you’re going to lose the neighborhood’s whole sense of identity,” she says.
And she’s happy that the godforsaken “headbanger” music — played there by a slew of big metal and punk acts until a judge shut it down in 1986 — won’t be emanating from the rafters again.
Renovations, expected to last as long as a half-decade, will begin once the sign goes up and the building is firmly under the Friends’ control, says Brady — and as soon as the remaining $6 million-plus in restoration costs can be raised. — Dan Harkins
Photo Courtesy of Gary Swilik