Sunday, May 24, 2009
Late last week at a courthouse down the street from the theater, the Lathrop Building, which was held by Northrim Bank on foreclosure from Joe Gottstein, was sold to Peach Investments of San Francisco. Since early in the decade, Peach had been interested in purchasing the theater with speculation that it wanted to convert the basement of the theater into a fitness center while the parcel of land directly behind the theater between the Key Bank (also owned by Peach) and First National Building on 5th Avenue would give rise to a 20+ story mixed-use building. As you probably know, the theater has been through a circus latley with the city, private foundations, its owner, and the bank all getting involved in these last few years as the theater changes hands once again since Gottstein bought the building in 1991. The theater itself has been out of operation since the 1980s and since then has played occasional host to your typical banquet, fundraiser, whatever. Preservationists, and rightly so, are concerned about what will happen with the building under the new ownership. I personally think the building will be taken care of under Peach, but we'll see what happens. One good thing about the theater being out of the hands of Gottstein is that with a much wealthier owner, the theater may see some serious TLC and aggressively seek opportunities to hold events or tenants. After 20 years under the good intentioned Gottstein, the theater seemed to be in a pergatory with nothing major happening. In fact I think we might be seeing action already taken as the front doors to the theater have been boarded up. I can't say for sure that the new owners are the ones responsible for this, but as someone who goes by the theater almost every day, I do know the wood was certainly not there a week ago. Earlier this year one of the display windows to the theater was shattered and remains with no glass.
BTW Peach Investments is indeed the same group behind the beautiful mixed-use 188 WNL tower on C Street between Benson and Northern Lights over in Midtown. I think this is why I don't feel too concerned about Peach being the new owner. Besides 188 WNL, the proposed Peach Tower behind the 4th Avenue Theater would also be a mixed-use building that is a level above the rest of the highrise inventory here in Anchorage. Mixed-use buildings are important in that they help foster street life by offering retail and other services on the bottom floor for the residents and/or the office workers above. Many of our highrise offices such as the ConocoPhillips building, or the new JL Tower don't offer that, and as a result their immediate surroundings are dead of pedestrian activity. Mixed-use buildings have surged in popularity, and in some cases mandated by city governments as they all contribute to more efficient economics. The proposed Augustine Energy Center for 6th and G Street will also be mixed-use as well as proposed Town Square Center on 6th and E. But I digress. What I'm trying to get at is that those who understand the need for mixed-use buildings usually come from the same school that embraces the concept of refurbishing warehouses and historical buildings into lofts or other uses. If you've been in a relatively big city in the lower-48 in the last few years, chances are you've seen many of these conversions taking place (many small cities are also seeing this happen). The idea of demolishing a historical building in place of a parking garage or a modernist bland building was a Robert Moses philosophy that flourished in the mid 20th century and peaked in the 60s with the demolition of New York's Penn Station. City planners have since learned from the mistakes made during that 50s-60s period and we're now continuing further into the Jane Jacobs philosophy. Of course we can never be sure that the theater will be saved, and people should be on the look out no doubt; but I hope and suspect the Lathrop Building is in good hands.