By Helena Hunt, Staff Writer
Although investors have hopes to renovate the former movie theater and nightclub built in 1945, the 25th Street Theater is caught in a tangle of legal and ownership disputes.
Only a distinctive green sign remains to show the 25th Street Theater’s past as a celebrated Waco theater and nightclub. Since its closure in 1993, the theater has sat empty. According to Larry Holze, director of municipal information, the city does not have the funding to renovate the theater. A private investor must be the one to come forward to restore it. Despite efforts to preserve the theater, legal disputes have allowed it to remain derelict.
“It is in very bad shape,” said Holze. “Theoretically it should be in line for demolition.”
Waco businessman Trey Concilio is at the forefront of efforts to restore the theater and prevent demolition. However, legal quandaries have prevented him and his fundraising project, Save the 25th Street Theater, from making progress. After a report run by KWBU in 2014 stating that Concilio would soon be able to begin restoration, the media made little mention again of his project.
“We have deliberately tried to keep somewhat of a low profile over the years as we have dug through the legal issues that have been tied to the 25th for the last 22-plus years,” Concilio said.
Bill Foster, former owner of the block adjacent to the theater, commented on these legal issues. He said the theater was operated by ABC Theaters, and later the nightclub was owned by Richard Olsen and his son Richard Keiffer. After Keiffer was killed in Dallas in 1993, the ownership of the theater passed to his father.
“[Olsen] could care less about it,” Foster said, “It’s in a quagmire, I guess.”
Sale of the property by Olsen is complicated by the fact that he shares the property with another, now deceased, owner. Olsen evidently cannot sell the theater to an investor like Concilio because it is held under another name than his own.
Holze said if renovated, the theater would be preserved as a piece of Waco history and again become central to the city’s culture.
Holze recalls visiting the movie theater as a child. From 1945 to 1982, he said Disney movies attracted throngs of young audiences and the premiere of the first Star Wars movie in 1977 brought a large crowd to the theater.
As The Lariat reported in 2007, the movie theater closed in 1982 and reopened as a nightclub in 1986. High school and college students flooded club, which played 80s New Wave and punk bands like the Lightning Seeds and X. A Facebook page dedicated to the theater features comments by former club-goers who express their hopes that it will one day be restored.
Barbara Bridgewater, president of the Sanger Heights Neighborhood Association, said she would like to see the theater turned back into a gathering place for Waco residents. Like Concilio, she said members of the neighborhood where the theater is located have been prevented from assisting in renovations due to the ownership disputes.
“We really don’t want the city to tear it down,” Bridgewater said. “We would love to have some Spanish-speaking films, to have local theater and we’d love it to be used.”
Despite the difficulties surrounding the theater, Concilio said he is remaining hopeful.
“It’s been a long passionate journey for our group, and a longer journey still awaits us,” Concilio said.