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Recently, upon logging in to a local architecture discussion forum, I was greeted with a post that seemed to indicate an imminent threat to the historic, long-vacant Berry Theater down at the intersection of Hemphill and Berry streets. Fortunately, after more examination, this turned out not to be the case. A simple mis-drawing of a box on a development proposal had appeared to put the Berry in the firing line, but the project in question was actually located on an adjacent lot.

The crisis my have been averted, but it did get me thinking about the Berry and our other old single-screen movie theaters. Most of the ones still standing are decaying from years of neglect. The city has lost a great many of such buildings over the years, from the grand downtown movie houses like the Worth Theater to smaller neighborhood destinations like the Tivoli, 7th Street, and Frog, yet there seems to be no movement afoot to try and save the handful that haven’t been demolished yet.

Other than the Ridglea (while it hasn’t really set the world on fire in its new life, at least it’s been restored and protected now), the Bowie (which still stands, albeit converted into a bank), and the Rose Marine, one would be hard-pressed to find theaters in Fort Worth that have been given any attention. The New Isis in the Stockyards still stands vacant and crumbling, its marquee promise of “The New New Isis” only a cruel mockery. The aforementioned Berry lost its own marquee to a street widening many years ago, and has been sealed up for longer. The Grand over on East Rosedale last saw use as the home of what some called a questionable religious sect, and is currently vacant. The Poly has been sitting vacant seemingly forever. Even a structure as grand as the Hollywood Theater downtown remains entombed as a parking garage for the Electric Building apartments.

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It’s fairly remarkable that with Fort Worth’s increasingly active local music scene, not to mention greater attention being given to the city’s filmmaking world, that none of these theaters have been bought up and restored for live music venues or art house movie theaters. The often-glacial pace of development in Fort Worth has kept these theaters in an ever-worsening state, even as residents are crying out for more music and movie options. The city’s historically poor track record of historic preservation means that the majority of these structures are completely unprotected from demolition.

Our dwindling supply of historic theaters would seem to have the potential to be an incredibly valuable resource for the city’s culture, but the future of these buildings is uncertain. A first step could be the city taking the initiative to protect the theaters with real historic designations while they still have time. Given the low priority that City Hall places on such matters, I fear time is only growing shorter for these buildings.

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