An empty, faded but once-grand Fort Wayne landmark has a new owner – but whether vitality will return to the former Clyde Theater any time soon remains to be seen.
The theater in the Quimby Village shopping center on Bluffton Road, which closed in 1994 and in recent years had been the object of lawsuits, unpaid taxes and unrealized dreams, was purchased earlier this month -- for $500 – by Fort Wayne-based Even Keel Event Productions.
Rick Kinney, listed as the registered agent for the company that lists a house at 44289 Evard Road as its address, did not return several phone calls seeking comment about Even Keel's plans. Tom Bastress, president of the Quimby Village tenants' association, said Kinney has told him of “lofty plans” for the space, but Bastress said any revitalization will be an “uphill battle” because of the costs involved.
The building, which also includes several smaller commercial spaces, was one of the nation's first, largest and most-beautiful suburban movie theaters when it opened in 1950. An example of the “streamlined” architectural style, it was named for the shopping center's original owner, Clyde Quimby. But as large stand-alone theaters gave way to multiplexes, the building fell on hard times – and so did some of the people associated with it.
Seven years ago, local businessman Indalecio de Leon announced plans to convert the theater into a Hispanic-oriented nightclub and restaurant. DeLeon, who was buying the theater on contract from the Mallers-Spirou movie chain for $300,000, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove the seats, level the sloped floor and make other changes before work was stopped for lack of permits and never resumed. Some of that work “butchered” the building and caused structural issues that have since been repaired, county Building Commissioner Dave Fuller said.
Liddell Investments, which had purchased Mallers-Spirou's remaining interest, sued de Leon in Allen Superior Court and in 2009 was awarded a $208,000 judgment that went unpaid, leaving Liddell to pay back property taxes and unable to turn the theater into an under-21 club as it had hoped to do. A Liddell executive last year estimated renovations could cost as much as $400,000.
The theater's woes also affected the rest of the shopping center, since tenants are assessed a fee for common improvements and the old Clyde accounts for about 40 percent of Quimby's space. Those fees, totaling several thousands of dollars, cannot be collected from the new owner and with the now-vacant Village Bowl accounting for about 30 percent of the shopping center space, money for improvements to Quimby Village remains scarce, Bastress said.
“But if something happens (at the theater), it would help with that,” said Bastress, who operates an auto-parts store in the center.