Isn’t Weingarten Realty going to preserve some of the interior of its landmarked Alabama Theater as it makes the space ready for Trader Joe’s — or if that deal somehow falls through, some other tenant? Sure: The lobby and theater ceilings are being left alone, and a decorative plaster “medallion” on the north wall is supposed to remain in place — though it’ll be stripped of some outer layers. An upper section of the balcony will also stay, along with some light fixtures in the lobby. But other than those items, the entire 1939 theater space — or rather, what’s left of it after Weingarten encased the auditorium’s preserved sloped floor in concrete last year — is being gutted, according to plans drawn up for the project by Heights Venture Architects. A permit for the conversion of the historic Art Deco building to a retail “shell” was granted by the city earlier this week.
Included in the demolition: The entire front portion of the theater balcony, portions of the former auditorium’s south wall (enlarging the openings into what was originally a hallway along its side), portions of the mezzanine floor, and the storefront windows facing Shepherd — as well as all other remnants of the building’s theatrical past that had been carefully preserved in the early 1980s when the structure was converted for use as a bookstore. The large original murals that flanked what used to be the theater’s stage aren’t referenced in the latest demo or renovation plans; they were demolished when the concrete floor was poured last October.
Plans for the demolition of the theater interior similar to the current ones were drawn up and sent out to bid 2 years ago, in anticipation of the property at 2922 S. Shepherd being converted into a Staples. But after Swamplot published news of those plans, Weingarten issued a carefully worded denial distancing itself from any interior demo work. Last year, Weingarten received city approval for alterations to the building’s exterior in order to accommodate a Trader Joe’s in the space. But Trader Joe’s has yet to announce a store in that location, and no lease has been announced either. Alterations to the interior of the theater are not subject to approval by the city’s historical commission; only the building’s exterior has been designated historic.
Heights Venture’s demolition and construction plans cover the conversion of the once-grand theater space into a “cold dark shell” for future tenant improvements, and don’t mention Trader Joe’s. However, they do call for the construction of a new “corral” for shopping carts outside the west entrance. And electrical plans connected to the project — but likely to be permitted separately — do list Trader Joe’s as the client.
- Alabama Theater coverage [Swamplot]