After 76 Years, The Lakewood Theater’s Run As A Live Event Space Likely Ended On Friday Night.
The Lakewood Theater hosted what’s likely to be its last show ever this past Friday night as the high-heeled, corset-wearing performers of Viva Dallas Burlesque, a regular act on this stage for several years running now, took to the 76-year-old landmark venue’s stage just one more time.
Nestled in the heart of Lakewood, the theater has been the home to many live shows, events and film screenings throughout its history. But that all appears on the verge of change: The theater’s current tenant, Wayne Roden, will not renew his lease; in turn, the building’s future almost certainly looks to be a restaurant-oriented one, according to owners.
As the crowds filtered into the lobby for Friday’s comic book-themed affair, one persistent rumor was that an Olive Garden might be tapped to take over the lease.
“Because that’s what Dallas needs,” said Shoshana Portnoy, producer for Viva Dallas Burlesque. “More shitty Italian food.”
To be fair, much of that lobby chatter was just speculation. But one thing is for certain: There are, indeed, real-life repercussions of the theater’s closing. For one, Viva Dallas Burlesque, which has held shows at the Lakewood Theater since 2010, will have to find a new home — at the moment, the company is in negotiations to move its productions to one of two other theaters in town. Meanwhile, Paul Perez, lighting director and building manager at the theater for the past 11 years, finds himself out of a gig.
“It is going to cost me about $2,000 a month,” Perez said of the closure at Friday night’s show.
Perez’s nostalgia for the space goes beyond the lost income, however. A large portion of his life has centered around the Lakewood: He remembers seeing Joan Baez here; his father grew up seeing movies here.
“It’s been a part of everyone’s lives,” he said.
One possibility for the theater’s fate is that it’ll now be split into multiple parts: In interviews, Lakewood co-owner Craig Kinney has hinted that the theater will be renovated and rebuilt into several different spaces so it can host multiple tenants.
“Wayne has done a lot for this theater,” Perez said of Roden, the Lakewood’s soon-to-be-former lessee. “But [the owners] can triple rent by getting him out. You have to look at it from their side; they are trying to make money off this motherfucker. The last thing they want, is this decrepit theater — y’know, with burlesque within earshot of the neighborhood.”
Officially, Roden’s lease ends on February 1, but with no other events scheduled on the venue’s calendar, Friday’s showcase took on a somber tone.
“This is full circle for me,” said Donna Denise, a performer for Viva Dallas Burlesque for four years, as she recalled her memories at the theater with tears. Denise has traveled the world performing burlesque and said she compares every stage she enters to the Lakewood. “To round it out as one of the final performers is bittersweet.”
There were some more-positive aspects at this show, of course. On this final night, every one of the theater’s 800 seats were filled; the show was sold-out thanks to fans of the dancers and of the space alike. One woman in the audience said that she’d been attending the theater since it first opened in 1938.
But even while the owners say that the theater’s iconic sign and marquee will remain, one thing is clear: Things here won’t be the same.
On Friday, the Lakewood, as it has always been known, took its final bow.
All photos by Allan Hayslip.