Resident dancing in to save theater 

The long-running Academy of Dance could move into the city’s historic Park Theatre, rescuing the Art Moderne-style building from being turned into offices.

First built in 1947, Landmark Theatres operated the 688-seat Park Theatre between 1989 and 2002 as a home for independent and foreign films. Mayor Kelly Fergusson proposed restoring the theater, which has been shuttered for nearly five years, in March of 2006. However, owner Howard Crittendon submitted plans last summer to renovate the building for offices.

Now, Menlo Park native Andy Duncan has reached a deal with Crittendon to buy the theater as long as city officials approve Duncan’s plan to restore the building. He plans to turn it into a dance studio for the Menlo Park Academy of Dance, which his mother, Sylvia Duncan, has co-operated since 1949.

"I’ve gone to hundreds of movies at the theater, and I’m embarrassed for our city that the building is in such terrible shape," Duncan said. "I remember it having this huge arched ceiling with artwork up there, the stage, the velvet curtains. It’s really cool."

While Fergusson initially hoped that bringing art films back to the Park would inject more nightlife into downtown Menlo Park, running a movie theater there now doesn’t make economic sense, according to Duncan. However, his renovation plans would make it possible to turn the Park back into a film house if the economic climate changes.

"This is one of our signature symbols of Menlo Park, along with Allied Arts and Kepler’s Books," Fergusson said. "Right now, it’s being demolished by neglect."

The deal will also mean a more permanent home for the Academy of Dance, which is losing its lease at its current spot on El Camino Real near Santa Cruz Avenue. That’s good news for the school, which has taught hundreds of local kids how to dance during its 57-year run, according to Duncan.

Crittendon withdrew his office plans in December of 2006, according to city planner Justin Murphy.

Those plans would have required a full environmental review and approval under the California Environmental Quality Act, whereas Duncan’s proposal would require a less complicated environmental process. The Park Theatre is also eligible for historic designation, Murphy said.

"There’s still a lot of steps to go through to make this happen," Fergusson said.

Crittendon could not be reached for comment regarding the proposal.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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