Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Cultural master plans and Drive in theaters?

In the past, I've argued with smart growthers in Montgomery County, Maryland who wanted to remove the parking lot from the "park and shop" in Silver Spring's Downtown, when that element is key to the historic significance of the complex.  

To me, historic integrity was more important than making the point about automobile-centricity.  Plus, a parking lot doesn't always have to be for parking...

Although, instead of allocating the space for parking, they could use the space more as an events space.  Surprisingly, parking lots are re-purposable.

The Lido Theater in Newport Beach, California remains privately owned, but keeping it open as a single screen cinema remains a struggle.

Another thought, were I to win one of those many hundred million dollar lottery tickets, would be to create a fund to buy and/or support the continuation of various historic theater buildings across the country, creating an organization to provide support, technical assistance, even the creation of a national booking circuit.

Anyway, I have a bunch of pieces about typically missing elements in culture master plans, and how such planning initiatives should be broadened significantly.  Although I don't think I have a separate piece on cinemas.

Add saving drive in theaters to county arts plans: the Redwood Drive-in in Salt Lake County.  I hadn't mentioned drive in theaters.  As metropolitan areas have urbanized drive in theaters have mostly been demolished, as their large footprints have been attractive for redevelopment.

And yes, they are definitely a car-focused use type, and typically this blog isn't focused on that, but history is history.  

Patrons watch "Avengers: Infinity War" on a Saturday night in early May, 2018 at the Redwood Drive-In Theatre in West Valley City. Photo: Josh Terry, Salt Lake Deseret News.

The Redwood Drive-In in West Valley City, Utah is now owned by a real estate developer who wants to convert the property into a housing development ("Developer pulls plans for WVC drive-in theater, swap meet site after community opposition," Fox13).  

From the standpoint of urban planning we have a conflict of interests.  In a booming housing market, adding to housing supply is a priority.  OTOH, saving one of the last examples of a significant use type, from both an arts and historic preservation standpoint, is in order too.  In this case, I vote to save the drive in.

In a cinema element in a community cultural plan, saving and operating various types of cinema facilities ought to be considered.  

Salt Lake County has the opportunity to preserve such a facility, unlike Sonoma County, California ("Drive-in movie theaters gone but not forgotten in Sonoma County," Santa Rosa Press-Democrat).
In Salt Lake County, I vote for saving the Redwood Drive In as a significant cultural asset worth preserving ("Happiness is a drive-in movie and a bag of Twizzlers," Salt Lake Deseret News).

Hull's Drive in from the air.
The Hull's Drive-in in Lexington, Virginia is a nonprofit.  It turns out that there is a nonprofit drive in in Virginia.  The original owner died, the next door property owner bought it but didn't have the money to maintain it, and the community came up with the money to buy it from him and operate it going forward, around 2000.
Salt Lake County is best practice for owning and operating arts facilities.  Salt Lake County is a national best example for financial support for the arts, as a portion of the sales tax, called ZAP, for Zoo/Arts/Parks, is used to support cultural activities and venues.

The county itself owns a number of such facilities, facilities in Salt Lake City and the just opened Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center in suburban Taylorsville ("Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center, a $45 million ‘jewel’ in Taylorsville, opens doors to arts groups big and small," Salt Lake Tribune).  From the article:
The Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center is a new concept for Salt Lake County, which has built a cultural empire with its four venues in downtown Salt Lake City: Abravanel Hall, the home of the Utah Symphony; the Capitol Theatre, where Ballet West and Utah Opera perform; the Eccles Theatre, which plays host to touring Broadway productions and major concerts; and the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, home to such groups as Plan-B Theatre, Repertory Dance Theatre and Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company.
The County also owns the Salt Palace convention center and other events centers outside of Salt Lake (including the place where I got my vaccine shots, the Mountain America Expo Center).  Some of these facilities are managed by the national firm SMG.

So having a drive in theater as one of these assets isn't a stretch.

The Salt Lake County program is complemented by other efforts.

The County Library system created an events space and amphitheater at their main branch, which supports various meetings and events also.  

Separately, the local Salt Lake Film Society runs cinemas including one in a c. 1950 building in the 9th and 9th neighborhood called the Tower Theatre, which also contains a video rental facility as another form of cultural preservation ("Why Tower Theater Video Rentals Thrive While Blockbusters Rentals Fail," Utah Stories).  

I'm not sure if city and county monies went towards buying these facilities.  Likely SLFS gets funding from ZAP and the city.

In a cultural master plan, organizations like SLFS need to be acknowledged and included, as stewards of key cultural assets.

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At 9:35 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Maybe I'm losing it but this strangely is one of your better posts. I couldn't care less about it, and I'm pretty allergic to the topic because of the noise about the Cleveland Park parking lot and how meaningless the argument is.

But you take it to a very interesting place; the value of history and why we want to preserve the old stuff. I've often said you argument has been "Golden/Silver age of cities represented an ideal form, and we need to preserve that form" but that is a a terrible simplification.

In this you are making a larger argument about the value of the old and a reminder that we don't really own cities. They change, and we need to keep reminding ourselves were are not owners just merely trustees for the future.

Also glad your are throwing more SLC content into there. As I've said before one problem with urbanism is its so granular that is hard to envision how stuff really works in another city,, although cities are found in almost every culture around the world.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Hmm, while I'd say I've written a lot of incredibly insightful stuff, to the point where I re-read stuff I say "how the hell did I write that?" I see your point.

WRT Salt Lake, I am writing more pieces, but covid put a damper on so much.

I have a decent set of pieces, at least 5, which are damn good.

The ballpark piece too. I went and did a bike-"shield" survey and intend to write more detailed comments about what to do. The recent sports framework piece update is related to that.

It's frustrating because witnessing the last 20 years of DC's growth, seeing all the same density reductions here, and knowing the impact it will have. Plus the transit being polycentric rather than concentrated (monocentric).

wrt HP, Salt Lake has so much but because it's bound by the f*ing conservative legislature (86% Mormon, 70% Republican) local control and action is seriously circumscribed.

That being said the County ZAP program, how they co-locate citizen-fronting facilities, is best practice.

The thing they and the State haven't figured out is that (1) they look good 'cause they're growing and (2) growth doesn't mean cut taxes, it means you need to spend more on infrastructure and other amenities.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

One of the biggest realizations is talk and branding over reality. Utah (Envision Utah) is put forth on being forward planning wise, environmentally focused etc.


They say air quality matters, etc.

AS IF!!!!!

Lots of animus/advocacy against the creation of an inland port over air quality reasons. But I am not so against. But think if they committed to high quality environmental impacts (not unlike how the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach is doing a bunch of environmentally focused initiatives ).

I plan to write a piece about how if Utah really was forward thinking and concerned about AQ, like California and some European cities, they would ban the future sales of ICE vehicles by X date, only allow EVs.

But the car sales industry here is so major. Both Miller and Ken Garff.

And the state is huge in the production of fossil fuels, oil and coal, with a number of refineries.

No way it will happen.

But it will be an interesting piece.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The ballpark is a great example of building it and development not coming.

1. They built it outside of the core.

2. Most of the development in the area is car-centric, if not industrial, with no complementariness.

So of course there is no complementary development.

Basically, I'm going to recommend they build their own Wrigleyville on the face blocks from State Street to the Ballpark Trax Station.

The one way it could come about is that the owner of the team is Larry H. Miller Enterprises (cars, real estate development, entertainment). They just sold off the Jazz and the Jazz front office operates the minor league team. But the Miller family still owns the baseball team.

But the Miller Enterprises firm has the financing and capacity to construct 2.5 blocks of liner buildings... (although they are still car centric and suburban focused).

At 10:05 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Am reading a biography of Marriner Eccles, from Utah but "father of the Federal Reserve" too, key New Dealer, progressive Republican. Frustrating that 100 years later (from early 1920s) we're arguing the same s*** about fiscal spending, the role of government, debt financing, moral probity, etc.

At 9:10 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Which biography? I've been looking for one but they seemed a bit hard to find.

What a great find. Eccles is great. Of course he's the one who stabbed Truman in the back later-- not to ruin it for you.

But yes his take is my take on how the great depression destroyed farming and rural communities and what he new deal was really about. I've been reading another book on the gold crisis and the great ancrtodte is every morning FDR asked for the price of cotton -- he thought that was the critical commodity and if he could drive it up he'd solve the country's problems.

Your SLC hot takes are good but again we've got to contexiluze them, otherwise comes as noise. Just like Eccles we've got to drill down to the core cause.

(Hence my hot macro takes - we've accidentally created a pre-central bank system of money creation which the fed is not really in control of -- just a big dog in the corner but not the market. Eventually we have to take the ability to make money away from the banks -- move from fiat to true political money. Not going to be fun and very destructive)

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

_Jumping the Abyss_. Super well written, not quite lyrical in prose like some (e.g. Brownstoning Brooklyn, that book on the SF Waterfront by a prof at SF State, etc.).

Super well researched. Read much of the economic history of the Depression, the books by people involved, Eccles papers of course, dug into the reporting of his speeches in Utah newspapers, etc.


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