The 4th Avenue Theater was acquired by Peach Investments in the 2009 foreclosure sale. Peach invested heavily to maintain and repair the aging structure while researching viable renewal options. These efforts included water intrusion repairs, mechanical upgrades, and a new roof membrane to slow deterioration, while keeping all utilities and services active on an unoccupied building.
The structure had 40 years of deferred maintenance and the problems quickly escalated. Building officials and certified inspectors have discovered serious and insurmountable code compliance issues that are considered potentially dangerous in the event of a cataclysmic event. Specific violations related to accessibility, evacuation, fire and life safety, heating/HVAC/electrical/plumbing systems, and structural/seismic issues. Environmental contractors were hired to mitigate various levels of hazardous materials such as asbestos, sealants and lead. Even in 1989, the municipality declared the theater building a dangerous building. Subsequently, a detailed inspection report issued on November 14, 2006, documented all the faulty elements of the property, and initial cost estimates to restore the building were too much for interested parties to bear.
Another serious problem was discovered recently when planners for the 4th Avenue Signage and Lighting Improvement Project discovered that the facade elements of the 4th Avenue Theater building were encroaching on the sidewalk right-of-way. and that the basement encroached farther beyond the underground property line about 15 feet into Fourth Avenue.
The municipality has no right-of-way encroachment agreement with the owners, and would require the void where the existing basement is located to be backfilled. Without the basement, the structure will not seismically support the facade of the building.
Over the years, Peach has explored many “adapt and reuse” methods in converting the existing building to a new use, but none were economically feasible as a stand-alone project – even a potential partnership with a utility operator. world restoration known for repurposing “old” buildings. Shortly after retaining ownership of the property and as part of its initial due diligence of the acquired “historic” property, Peach engaged and worked with an esteemed historic preservation consultant (with presences across the United States ) to examine the building, its historical significance and integrity. while exploring redevelopment opportunities based on examples across the country. They also explored how best to capture and preserve key aspects of historic buildings such as the art deco-inspired look we associate with 4th Avenue itself and the Old Theater.
As the report states, “Total demolition of the 4th Avenue theater building would be a loss. But the economy has been playing against this theater since the 1960s. Its reality has been the same for 40 years while the building has suffered the ever-increasing weight of deferred maintenance. His future has always been to have a viable income stream. In this sense, the decision on his future was made a long time ago. Ultimately, no viable reuse strategy was found and demolition was recommended.
Peach recognizes the affinity some have for the 4th Avenue Theater building. He also knows the history of repeated false starts and failed ventures to keep this building alive. It also recognizes that a single-complex, 1,000-seat movie theater or performance venue in downtown Anchorage is not a viable option, as was proven in 1989.
We recognize that the best way forward would be to incorporate as much of the significant historical features of the existing building as possible into a new development project. This strategy would generate funding and revenue and allow the most character-defining elements to be retained.
There have been a variety of historic preservation projects across the country that have succeeded in achieving this goal to varying degrees defined by the particular circumstances of the site.
In order to prioritize the preservation work necessary to document, protect and remove artwork, light fixtures and other special features of the building, we used the expertise of the National Park Service, Heritage Documentation Programs (HDP), to get advice on documentation best practices with the goal of including the building in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).
The Historic American Building Survey is the nation’s first federal preservation program, launched in 1933 to document America’s architectural heritage. It is a permanent file, kept by the Ministry of the Interior, consisting of photographs, detailed architectural drawings and written historical reports. To date, most of this information has been collected. A high-definition laser scan of the theater building, both exterior and interior, was completed along with photographic documentation using current federal historic preservation standards for long-term visual storage which includes the use of black and large format white.
When complete, this information will become part of a national database housed at the Library of Congress, where records of more than 40,000 historic sites are maintained and are available to the public without copyright in hard copy and via the Library website.
Peach remains committed to a vigorous effort to salvage and preserve portions of the distinctive interior features of the lobby, mezzanine, and murals. In addition, a project to remove, preserve and crate the interior artwork was completed. Namely, the two large Alaskan history murals flanking the stage, the curved Denali relief in the lobby, and the wildlife panels near the staircase, have been treated in such a way that they can be restored and reinstalled in a later development. Custom crates were designed and built for each unique artwork and were fully documented and stored offsite in a secure location. The removal and restoration was carried out by a local professional artist and team.
Besides the murals, other salvageable interior aspects of the theater have been removed from the premises, classified and stored so that they can be incorporated into future design where possible.
Items include but are not limited to: stars and light fixtures/chandeliers hanging from the theater ceiling, wooden doors and hardware, interior “4th ave” sign, aisle signs, sectionals stairs and ramps, etc. items of built interior will occur under the direction of the company certified to handle hazardous materials in the event that further corrective action is required.
The building we pass is not the building many remember from the past, nor the authentic representation of the original version. It has not been inhabited for nearly 20 years. In order to bring the “theatre” building back to life, there is a need to reimagine it as part of a larger development: the type of new development that will honor and celebrate the rich history and diverse architecture of the unique contexts of the city center of Anchorage while breathing new life and creating a safer, vibrant neighborhood where investment is long overdue.
Starting this week, a certified contractor will be on site at Block 41 to conduct and complete the required environmental remediation and demolition activities. This will include evaluating and removing the “4th Avenue” lettering on the marquee sign (both sides) as well as other aspects of the facade. Although the condition and removal challenges of the current panel are not yet fully understood, development plans include recreating a marquee panel with modern materials using current measurements, design and color palette of the panel as a guide. The future display or use of the marquee sign will be determined after assessing its condition and finalizing the design of future signs. The plan is to maintain the street-level definition of 4th Avenue and allow reconstruction of the distinctive Art Deco facade.
Over the next few weeks, the community can expect to see security fencing installed and crews working hard on the next steps in hazmat mitigation and recovery of any remaining items. These actions will pave the way for the redevelopment of a downtown Anchorage neighborhood that will serve as a catalyst to create a better and safer place for our families and visitors. We are excited to be part of a new downtown.
Derrick and Terence Chang are co-owners of Peach Holdings, the LLC that owns the 4th Avenue Theater. Peach Holdings, LLC, is a privately held, family-owned company located in Anchorage currently leading a $41 million+ renovation of the former Key Bank Plaza at 601 Fifth Ave. in downtown Anchorage.
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