[Coolican's Neon Eden]
The battle for the Huntridge is waged in frustration and misunderstanding
Wed, Nov 21, 2012 (midnight)
Photo: Leila Navidi
If you talk to the small population of youngish to middle-aged Las Vegans who actually grew up here, you’ll probably hear about the Huntridge. And for good reason. In addition to the building’s gorgeous Moderne architectural style—it opened in 1944—the list of bands that played the Huntridge once it went from movie theater to concert venue is like a roll call of some of the best ever. Nine Inch Nails. The Smashing Pumpkins. Fugazi. Pavement. Tool. Beck. Foo Fighters. Green Day. Remember the Circle Jerks show when the roof caved in but they still played the parking lot? And memorably, as my colleague Spencer Patterson noted in his 2007 ranking of Vegas’ all-time best shows, the Beastie Boys loved the Huntridge so much they passed up the Strip for their MTV $2Bill show in 2004, in what some fear could be the last significant show there ever.
The die-hards of the Huntridge Foundation hope that’s not the case.
“It was always the best place for a punk rock show,” Dan Roberts, the foundation’s president, told me. “You always ran into people you knew or people you hadn’t seen in years.”
The new Las Vegas must feel like a different planet for people who grew up here 20 and 30 years ago, so we should empathize with their attachment to an institution like the Huntridge and what it represents as a rock venue, a place of the brimming youthful cocktail of rebellion, idealism, intoxication, anguish, sex.
At a recent foundation fundraiser, I was impressed with the work they’re doing to preserve the history of the Huntridge, which was designed by the renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee and was the first integrated movie theater in the city way back in the 1950s. The foundation has begun to amass a nice collection of photography and show posters. It’s not easy preserving a building you don’t own, they said. Indeed, the relationship between the activists and the family trust that owns that building and three other nearby parcels has all the warmth of the Yuri Andropov-era Cold War.
“I try to put myself in their shoes,” Roberts said. “It’s their investment. I understand that. We just want to show them it could be good for everyone.”
Much of the bitterness stems from the fight earlier this year over what to do with the adjacent building.
Cima Mizrachi, 27, and a Vegas native, grew up with the Huntridge, owned by her family, and in her family’s local furniture business. She wanted to open a boutique with her husband, Steve Torgerson, in the space adjacent to the concert hall, which would offer new and vintage items and embody their eclectic sensibility. Somehow this got twisted into “second-hand store” and “pawn shop.”
“I was trying to make it a little more aesthetically pleasing and to do a business I know how to do,” Mizrachi told me, still visibly frustrated. “A pawn shop? There’s nothing wrong with a pawn shop, but it’s just not what I do.”
Although Mizrachi received her special-use permit, by that point she was long past ready to open—they decided to forgo a wedding celebration and use the money to open their store—and did so at a different location on Main Street south of Charleston. And guess what? Corner Store Furniture Co. is pretty fantastic. I listened to the Magnetic Zeros on their stereo and checked out their cool new designs, vintage pieces and new reproductions of classic designs, as well as interesting housewares and other treasures, like an impressive collection of classic Polaroid cameras. It’s like stepping into a little bit of Brooklyn.
Meanwhile, the store is also contributing to a nice revival of that neighborhood, which, if you haven’t seen it lately, is about to be the Next Big Thing. Wouldn’t that have been great in the Huntridge neighborhood? Mizrachi and Torgerson work seven days a week, both at the store and on neighborhood improvement efforts.
The whole episode is a good lesson in the importance of listening.
Huntridge aficionados fear that once restrictions on what can be done with the building are lifted in 2017, the wrecking ball will arrive. Mizrachi said that fear is unfounded and even called it “irrational.”
She and her husband strike me as reasonable and community-minded people, and we should view them as an asset, not as the enemy, as we try to solve the Huntridge issue.
J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Neon Eden radio show airs Wednesdays at 7 a.m. on 91.5 FM.