Extreme Makeover

The Ogden's rehab is done, but the future's still dark for other vintage theaters.

Another classic neighborhood movie house, the Federal Theater, at 3830 Federal Boulevard, was built in the 1920s to showcase popular flicks and newsreels. By the 1980s, the place was being used as a porn theater and for dance parties and raves. For a while it was storage for the Ron Schrantz Carpet Remnant Clearance Center next door. In 2001, Jay Bianchi, owner of Quixote's True Blue and Sancho's Broken Arrow, proposed leasing the property and turning it into a concert venue and performance space. He gave up, though, after getting flak from the neighbors and failing to get a rent break from the building's owner, George Sager, who also owns the Oriental (and in the '80s held title to the Gothic). "It would have been at least $500,000 to renovate the Federal, and it would have taken a lot of time to do so," Bianchi says. "Time and money were working against each other."

After Bianchi passed on the space, the Industrial Arts Theatre performance group took on the 600-seat Federal in December 2002. The IAT was offered a reduced rent for taking the building "as is," and embarked on a $250,000 renovation even as it hosted productions of original plays. But the cost of maintaining the Federal was too high, and when the IAT left the building in 2004, the eighteen-year-old arts group closed up, too.

The Federal is still looking for tenants nostalgic -- and ambitious -- enough to lease the space. While it's clear that such a venture is enormously risky, you just have to look at the restaurants, retailers and coffee shops surrounding the Bluebird Theater to see the wave of economic renewal that can be generated by rehabbing an old movie house -- even one that showed porn -- before it's too late.

"Most of these theaters seem to be in run-down areas," Schalk says, looking out from the Ogden's new balcony. "If you let these places go for too long, the disuse can just run them into the ground, and the next thing you know, you have the Federal Theater."

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