Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beach Theatre Foundation to appeal decision to demolish historic movie house

The ongoing efforts of the Beach Theatre Foundation to save Cape May's historic movie house of the same name continued today, with the organization's announcement that it will appeal a ruling by the New Jersey Superior Court allowing the demolition of the structure.

The Beach Theatre, opened in 1950, is Cape May's only remaining movie house and one of the last connections to William C. Hunt's movie empire (Hunt's Theatres, Inc.), which was so prominent in the Wildwoods throughout better part of the 20th Century.

Designed by William Harold Lee, the Beach Theatre's architectural and cultural significance has been well documented. Frank Investments, owners of the complex, wants to demolish the landmark and build condominiums on the site.

Here's the official press release from the foundation, announcing the appeal...

Foundation to appeal court ruling allowing demolition of Cape May's Beach Theatre

CAPE MAY - The Beach Theatre Foundation, Inc., (BTF) a not-for profit entity dedicated to saving and restoring Cape May’s historic Beach Theatre, announced it will be filing an appeal with the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court from a lower court ruling allowing that structure to be demolished.

The lower court decision handed down in July 2011 by Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong found that the BTF lacked technical legal “standing” to intervene in what the group claimed was an illegal and collusive settlement of litigation between the City and the current theater owner, Frank Investments, Inc., reviving an expired demolition permit and circumventing administrative hearings before the City’s Zoning Board of Adjustment over demolition.

The Beach Theatre, Cape May’s only remaining movie house, was built in 1950 and designed by award-winning architect, William Harold Lee. The Theater has been cited for its historical significance by numerous architectural experts, including the head of the Graduate Program for Historic Preservation at George Washington University, the state wide preservation advocate, Preservation New Jersey, as well as Cape May's Historical Preservation Commission (HPC) and Planning Board.

Most importantly, it was rated by the Cape May City's architectural consultants, McCabe & Associates, for the most recent survey of the Historic District to be a "key contributing" building within the district.

BTF President and founder Stevens P. Jackson commented, “The BTF really had no choice but to appeal from Judge Armstrong’s narrow, and we believe erroneous, reading of how standing should be applied in this case.

Even prior to the time the Beach Theatre’s historic status was determined by our local Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Board, that venue had been open for nearly 60 years of public use and community service. No matter who owns it, the future of the Theatre is, and has been, a matter of broad public concern in a National Historic Landmark City.”

Jackson continued, “Here, the owner and City Council colluded in an orchestrated lawsuit and settlement with the very purpose of avoiding further hearings that could have led to the theater being sold under rules of fair marketing applicable to historic property. The lower court decision basically sanctions an open hunting season on countless numbers of structures significant to the state’s history and denies preservation groups a fair chance to save them as we think the Legislature intended and our broad judicial tradition in this state permits.

"After all, the one public body in Cape May actually charged with judging the historic importance of the theater, namely the HPC, is opposed to demolition, but budgetary constraints kept it from joining our suit.

"While we think it’s disgraceful the City Council should suppress its own board of experts and intrigue with an owner that is responsible for the derelict state of the site, we expected better from the court. Unless the appellate courts correct the situation, we could face the ironic tragedy of the Theatre being torn down and the new HPC survey being approved with a key contributing building that is not standing anymore.”

No schedule has yet been established for the appeal process.

On a related matter, Jackson noted he was still awaiting a response from Cape May City officials on the repayment plan the BTF submitted in May 2011 for the $100,000 note issued to the City in 2007, the proceeds of which were used to lease the theater.

He commented, “We have several thousand dollars of pledgor money paid in prior to the original October 2012 maturity of the note that is just sitting idly by because the City has not yet approved a simple agreement.

"It’s a mystery to us why City officials would make a big deal of insisting the BTF pay the loan early and then stall in accepting repayments.”

1 comment:

  1. this is the U.S.A. money losing means time for a change.Let the people that own it,pay taxes on it do what they have a right to do,demo it!