For almost a decade, Las Vegans have been calling for someone to save the historic Huntridge Theatre. It appears they’re about to get the chance to help save it themselves.
A partnership group calling itself Huntridge Revival, LLC—headed up by Life Is Beautiful Festival founder Rehan Choudhry, Downtown Las Vegas mainstay Michael Cornthwaite and First Friday managing partner Joey Vanas—has signed a contract that will allow it to renovate and relaunch the landmark at the southeast corner of Charleston Boulevard and Maryland Parkway, Choudhry and Cornthwaite confirmed in an exclusive interview with the Weekly Wednesday night.
To do so, however, Huntridge Revival will require financial support from the people of Las Vegas, the two men explained.
“We have a purchase contract that’s signed,” Cornthwaite said, referring to a deal the group has inked with the local family that has owned the property since January 2002. “We’ve put down a deposit, and we have to raise additional funds to eventually close on the property and then renovate the entire property. We’re looking at this as a two-to-three-year project.”
Choudhry, former entertainment director for the Cosmopolitan, and Cornthwaite, who owns Downtown Cocktail Room and co-owns the Beat Coffeehouse and the Emergency Arts gallery complex, said details about the specific ways the public will be able contribute to the project and the dollar amount required to fund it will be unveiled in the coming months.
“The notion is not that dissimilar from the way the Smith Center was funded, but with a different sense of purpose,” Choudhry said. “We want all levels of people, from über-wealthy business investors down to a 14-year-old kid who can only contribute $1. We want everybody in the process to feel like they’re an invested owner of the venue.”
“It’s a call to action,” Cornthwaite said. “We won’t be able to accomplish this without the community buying in. If you want to make it happen, you should participate.”
In terms of specific plans for the building that once housed concerts by the Beastie Boys, Beck, The Smashing Pumpkins and hundreds more, Choudhry said, “We have no intention of deviating from what the Huntridge was in the past. At the end of the day, that big room is still a 1,600-capacity music venue,” he added, promising “a few surprises” for the remainder of the sizeable corner property.
Designed by renowned movie theater designer S. Charles Lee, the Huntridge opened on October 10, 1944, and served a vital role in the community for more than three decades before closing for the first time in 1977. Among its many claims to fame, the Huntridge was the first Las Vegas theater to feature air conditioning and one of the country’s first fully integrated movie theaters.
The Huntridge managed to survive down periods that became more frequent during the 1980s and early ’90s, along with a 1995 roof collapse and frequent scares that the building might be torn down, initially morphing into a discount movie house and later reinventing itself as a music venue. The final show, on July 30, 2004, featured metal acts Dimmu Borgir, Bleeding Through and God Forbid.
Since then, the structure—most recognizable by its art-deco design and 75-foot-high tower—has sat vacant and, apparently, fallen into massive disrepair. “It’s a complete mess in there,” Choudhry says. “The good news is, we’ve got a good infrastructure to work with, so there’s no need to tear any big piece of it down. But it’s going to be a massive amount of work.”
The Huntridge has been listed among both the National Register of Historic Places and the Nevada State Register of Historic Places since the early 1990s, and while those designations alone do not serve as legal protection for any structure regarding demolition, covenants attached to the property—conditions of a series of grants totaling close to $1.5 million, from the state of Nevada and the City of Las Vegas to the Friends of the Huntridge, the nonprofit group that managed the theater from 1992 to 2002—do. Those covenants are set to expire in 2017, however, putting Huntridge Revival’s plan in a possible last-chance-at-preservation position.
“We need to find dedicated partners who are emotionally invested in the project,” Choudhry says, “but we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t believe it was going to happen.”