Avon Theatre compromise is rejected

The battle over the fate of the Avon Theatre building in South Bend is back to an ‘all or nothing’ affair.

A proposed compromise to save part of the building before tearing down the rest has been rejected.

The building will either remain standing or fall entirely and the South Bend Common Council will make the final decision.

Originally called The Strand, the theatre opened in 1926.

Now, the piece of history is falling down one piece at a time. Today, fingernail sized pieces of terra cotta were lying on the sidewalk in front of the building, but back in August, a piece weighing eight and a half pounds hit the pavement.

“10 to 15 percent of all those pieces that you see up there are loose, and are no longer attached to the building and could fall at any time,” said Director Don Napoli of the St. Joseph County Public Library.

Napoli made an offer to gently take down the terra cotta face of the building and preserve, before knocking down the rest of the structure to clear a path for the construction of a new downtown library branch.

“The commission just flat refused to do it,” said Catherine Hostetler, Director of the South Bend St. Joseph County Historic Preservation Commission. “They said we are not in the business of obtaining relics, we are here our mission is to preserve the historic built environment of the City of South Bend and St. Joseph County.”

At a meeting on Monday night, the Historic Preservation Commission board voted 4-to-1 against the proposed compromise.

“Each one of these movie palaces was unique, so once one of them goes into the landfill, you lose it for good,” said Hochstetler. “Anything can be saved as long as you have the funding so it’s really a money issue.”

According to Napoli, renovating the Avon would cost well over $2.5 million. “Their answer is, we don’t demolish buildings we preserve them, okay, well who pays for that? They’re not going to pay for it, the city’s not going to pay for it, and the library’s not going to pay for it.”

Napoli says the building has been vacant since the 1970’s so there has been plenty of time for any interested developers to step forward.

Napoli says the library bought the building in 2007 and made no secret that its only plan called for demolition.

The South Bend Common Council could settle the matter at its meeting on Monday October 22nd. If the council decides that the building must remain standing, it would be standing in the way of the library’s expansion plans.

Although those plans won’t be carried out until 2019, the library has spent more than $1 million buying other properties on the block.

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