Roseway Theater will be torn down after fire

Roseway Theater Ruin

By Sam Swindler | The Rose Cityian/Rose City Live

An Aug. 6 fire collapsed the roof and destroyed the interior of Rose City’s Roseway Theater, yet somehow its iconic marquee with its center neon rose survived. On Saturday, that neon rose, along with two neon signs that spell ROSEWAY, were the last pieces salvaged from the burned remains of the 1924-built theater.

In the coming days, the front wall of the neighborhood movie house, located near the intersection of N.E. Sandy Boulevard and N.E. 72nd Avenue, will be demolished and owner Ed Wood has now said he won’t rebuild.

The two men who saved the last pieces of the Roseway are Tony Hawkoswki, who’d done fabrication work on the signs, and David Panko, owner of the National Neon Sign Museum in The Dallas, where the pieces will be displayed.

“I definitely think it’s worth saving,” Hawkowski said. “It’s an icon, and we had until Monday to get it out of here or they’re going to crunch it.”

Hawkowski rented a boom lift to reach the back of the front wall – pretty much the only piece of the theater still standing since demolition has begun – and access the neon signs atop the marquee. He and Panko removed two ROSEWAY signs, and the red neon rose at the center.

Panko hopes to fabricate a replica marquee awning and – pending approval from the city of The Dallas – install the neon signs on the outside of his museum.

“If you picture in your head a historical theater, a lot of times you’re picturing the marquee,” Panko said. “It’s a very iconic storefront, and if that’s the only piece that’s being saved, it’s a classic thing to save.”

As they worked to remove the signs from the 24-foot-long marquee, passersby stopped to ask the men if they knew the plans for the site.

“I hope it’s not apartments,” a jogger commented before sprinting off.

Across the street, Olivia Penmanship, owner of Olivia’s hair salon, took photos of the sign removal with her iPad. She hoped a restaurant would move into the space, and figured the site’s days as a movie house were over.

“Is a theater even viable now?” she asked.

Without the vintage charm of the building, the answer is no.

Wood, the theater’s owner, purchased the 350-seat, single-screen movie house in 2008. At the time he took on a renovation project to restore the building’s Art Deco decor and upgrade its projection and sound equipment. He hired Panko, working with his company to fabricate new open-faced neon lettering spelling out ROSEWAY across each side of the marquee, as well as update the neon rose that had long stood at the marquee’s center.

Now, Wood is donating those signs to Panko’s museum.

“It’s great that he wanted it and it can wind up at the sign museum and can have another life onto its own because over the years we’ve battled to keep that thing alive,” Wood said. “It’s been hit by a truck, I think, three times. It’s gone through the wringer, so we’re happy to have it survive.”

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the theater itself.

“We really tried to see if we could keep it going,” Wood said. “I just would be, financially, a lunatic to take that on.”

Wood was in Los Angeles when the fire occurred, determined by fire inspectors as originating with a faulty electrical outlet.

“I’d heard it was a total loss, but by the time we got there, all the walls were still standing and I hadn’t been inside it yet, so I’m like, OK, the walls are there. We can rebuild it,” Wood said. “Of course, the next day I went inside and was like, oh wow. The whole roof has collapsed and everything is pretty much either full of smoke, full of water, or crushed by the roof.”

Still, Wood hired an architect and contractor, hoping he could resurrect the Roseway. But by September he’d heard from a structural engineer. The remaining walls, constructed with unreinforced masonry, could not remain under city code. If he wanted to rebuild, he’d have to tear down everything and start over.

“What are you gonna have once you rebuilt it? We’re a 1924 single-screen movie theater. You kind of lose all that character and charm,” Wood said. “Then, also, just the sheer price of everything is shockingly expensive these days.”

Wood said he’s still interested in staying in the movie theater business, and is looking at investing in another theater out of state. As for the Roseway site, the entire lot will be taken down to gravel and Wood plans to list it for sale.

“Hopefully we can find something that can be a positive to the neighborhood,” he said. “I care for the neighborhood. I would like it to be something beneficial for the neighborhood, but for me personally, I’m just trying to close this chapter and move on.”

In addition to the marquee, five vintage stained glass pieces miraculously survived the fire. One was stolen while the theater was still fenced off after the blaze. Three, depicting logos for movie studios RKO, MGM and Paramount, will go to the Hollywood Theater, Wood said.

The last piece, featuring the name “Roseway,” which once graced the theater’s front doors, will go to the National Neon Sign Museum to be displayed with the rest of the salvaged marquee.

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