Testimony for the DC Historic Preservation Review Board HPA #09-380, Takoma Theatre Presented by Loretta Neumann President, Takoma Theatre Conservancy October 22, 2009 Thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the Takoma Theatre Conservancy. We are a nonprofit organization incorporated in DC in 2007 by community residents to save and revive the historic Takoma Theatre as a community cultural arts and education center This is the second time we have come before you. Two years ago, this board denied a similar application by the owner to raze the Takoma Theatre, which is located in the heart of our historic district. We urge you to make the same decision with this new application. We remain convinced that the Takoma Theatre is not only an icon of the past but also a great cultural resource for the future. That it has not reached its potential does not mean it should be demolished or dramatically changed. The Takoma Theatre is truly unique. Designed by noted theatre architect John Zinc in 1923, it was a movie house for 60 years until renovated by the current owner as a live theatre for dramatic plays. Today it is the only intact theatre left in all of Ward 4. And, visible from all four sides from three city streets, it remains one of the only free standing historic theatres left in Washington DC. Studies Show Takoma Theatre Remains Viable Over the past two years, the Conservancy has obtained grants from the District government, private foundations and individual donors to study the feasibility of reviving the theatre, both programmatically and architecturally. These studies are still underway. But what we have learned so far is very encouraging. First, we engaged Webb Management Services, a nationally recognized arts management consulting firm based in New York, to conduct a market and needs assessment. Their report (Needs Assessment for the Renovation of the Takoma Theatre, April 2008) found that: the market and audience demand is there for a reanimated Takoma Theatre; the space is needed by performers and other users; and it can compete with other facilities in the region. In particular the study noted the competitive advantage that the theatre has in terms of its size and location. However, it also identified several additional spaces and features that would be needed to make the theatre fully functional, including proper support space (dressing rooms, backstage and offices) ; a small café or food service component; classroom space; a multi- purpose rehearsal performance space; and production space. The report further concluded that the Takoma Theatre ―can contribute to the revitalization of its business corridor and can also help to bridge the divide between Takoma DC and Takoma Park, MD.‖ (Note: The historic district in Takoma DC abuts the one in Maryland; both are on the National Register of Historic Places as well as local landmark lists.) HPRB Case HPA #09-380, 2 Takoma Theatre Conservancy October 22, 2009 In February 2009 the owner of the theatre finally allowed access to the theatre by the Conservancy and our consultants – architects, engineers and others. They visually reviewed the condition of the building and assessed the building’s opportunities and limitations. Their work resulted in two reports: Study One, Requirements Definition for the Takoma Theatre Cultural Arts and Education Center, Part A – Preliminary Space Programming, September 2009. In this study, the architectural firm Martinez + Johnson examined the Takoma Theatre and identified, defined and described the required programmed spaces and their relevant characteristics in terms of number, size, and capability; determined the functional requirements for each space and their importance by type of presentation use. M+J determined significant similarities and differences by type of presentation that could affect building development decisions. The results of this study can be used to develop further architectural plans and guide decisions for the renovation and potential expansion of the building. Study Two: Building Alternaives for the Takoma Theatre Cultural Arts & Education Center, Part A- Analysis of Existing Theater Building, Structural Engineering Report of Existing Conditions, September 2009. In this study, engineers from Robert Silman Associates examined the current physical condition of the Takoma Theatre, including its building systems and materials. They included photographs, noted structural issues and made recommendations for further study or mitigation. They concluded that while further investigation is recommended to identify possible structural defects that would impact the renovation of the building, ―initial observations seem to indicate that the building as a whole is fit for reuse as a performance venue. Substantial structural repairs are not anticipated…‖ (Note: We have brought a copy of all three reports for your files.) Future of the Takoma Theatre The Conservancy remains committed to saving the Takoma Theatre as a public resource for community benefit. To make it work, however, its future operationally must be different from the past—more multipurpose theatrically and with a wider base of financial support that only a nonprofit organization can bring. To do this, we are reaching out to forge partnerships with other arts and education organizations. We are seeking help from many different sources, both public and private. We are continuing with architectural studies and developing business plans. And we are supporting musical and theatrical performances in schools and other facilities—just this week we funded performances by the Smithsonian Institution’s Discovery Theatre at the Takoma Education Center and Shepherd Elementary School. One day we hope that students from all over the region can come to the Takoma Theatre for these and other events. In summary, we urge you again to deny the application to demolish the Takoma Theatre.