RACINE — From 1928 until the 1980s, the Park Theatre, 3015 Washington Ave., showed movies like “Mommie Dearest” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Now, the building sits crumbling, cluttered and vacant.
City of Racine Chief Building Inspector Kenneth Plaski ordered the building be razed because “the structure had deteriorated structurally to the point where the building was no longer safe to be inhabited.” Demolition won’t begin for several months likely, because the courts still need to review the order.
Plaski reported that the building’s exterior is in disrepair. At Monday’s Landmarks Preservation Committee meeting, a photograph was shown depicting visible holes in the roof of the theater.
“That didn’t happen overnight,” said Don Schumacher, a member of the committee. “It’s taken a few years to get to this point.”
The committee accepted and filed Plaski’s order. It doesn’t have the power to stall or speed along the process.
The building is also rife with plumbing and electrical violations, according to the inspector, and there has also been an “accumulation of feces in the basement level resulting (in) related odors emanating from the building at the sidewalk.”
This accumulation is the result of a pipe back-up, resulting in 5 inches of raw sewage filling the basement.
There is also “pigeon excrement over the entire theater area,” according to Plaski.
In August 2017, Plaski ordered a list of 24 repairs and inspections needed to make the building habitable again. He reported that none of them has been complied with in the last 11 months. The building’s owner, John Apple, ignored orders to repair the building, according to the city, resulting in the raze order.
Looking through the former theater’s glass doors, piles of antiques can be seen filling the lobby, including two safes, a barber chair, at least 10 cash registers, several lampshades, a trash bin full of aluminum cans, several human figurines and a smashed smoke detector. One of the more-than-two-dozen violations Plaski laid out was a lack of functioning smoke detectors.
Apple has until Aug. 3 to contest the raze order. If he doesn’t, the courts can decide the fate of the historic building. If the building is condemned and razed, it will be Apple’s responsibility to pay for it.
On Monday, Plaski told the Landmarks Preservation Committee that Apple owes more than $1.7 million in back forfeitures and tax delinquency, in addition to $57,000 owed to the Department of Revenue and $45,000 to We Energies. The Park Theatre is valued at only $108,000.
In June, Plaski told Apple that the building was no longer suitable for human habitation. However, a tenant of Apple’s claims she was unaware of the issues.
Neregin Paynes-Ramsey is the owner of the Regime Hair Studio, located in the same building as the Park Theatre. A wall separates the salon and the cluttered theater lobby.
“I really didn’t know this was going on with Mr. Apple,” she said.
Paynes-Ramsey said that she didn’t know there was any risk of the building being condemned until she was ordered to vacate in June. She asked the Landmarks Preservation Committee for an extension on the order to vacate, but the committee is not legally able to fulfill the request. That’s up to the courts.
According to City of Racine Building Department documents, the building is supposed to be vacated by all tenants by Wednesday. The Regime Hair Studio is the only occupant, although there are empty apartments on the second floor above the lobby.
Paynes-Ramsey claimed that more than $4,000 was spent on electrical work to make her salon functional, even though the building as a whole is now condemned.
Members of the Landmarks Preservation Committee discussed ways prevent situations like this.
Committee member Pippin Michelli inquired if there were ways to help owners maintain their properties.
“Public money is not the answer,” fellow committee member John Monefeldt said. “It (the raze order) probably should’ve been issued some time ago.”
The theater was built in 1928, and Marcus Corporation purchased the building for $50,000 in 1981, after which it was renovated and renamed Park Cinemas 1 & 2, because the theater had two screens. It closed in 1987 and hasn’t shown another movie since.
The property was sold four times between 1987 and 2006, when it was acquired by Apple.
It was once recommended to the National Register for its Mediterranean Revival architecture but was never added. The building is not considered a landmark by any local or national entity.
This isn’t the first time the city has taken a building from Apple. He once owned a building at 410 Main St., which he used to store antiques.
The building was considered blighted and condemned in 2002, for which Apple was compensated $197,000 in 2005. It now houses Not Your Parents Basement Gaming Lounge.