It was the summer of 1992. We were punk rock slacker vegans who lived on brown rice and rode bikes everywhere. One night during our usual wheelings around the city, we stopped in front of the Huntridge Theater. Something was different.
“I thought this place was, like, a Mexican movie theater or something.”
“How come it says Apocrypha on the marquee?”
“I dunno. Sounds cool. Let’s check it out.”
Flailing on stage was a brawny mass of hair, biceps, bandanas and blazing guitars: power metal band Apocrypha. Transfixed, we squeezed in among the seething mass of head-banging stoners and obediently submitted our ears for a nightlong rite of cleansing aural brutality. (Turning his guitar into a molten wand of pure shred that night was guitarist Tony Fredianelli, who’d later go on to play for alt-rockers Third Eye Blind.) At the end of the show, the band tossed out vinyl copies of their album. Its cover art featured an evil sorcerer in his candlelit study, contemplating a mysterious scroll. Yeah: Apocrypha was that kind of band.
Rock ‘n’ roll inside a crusty old moviehouse? Little did I know I was witnessing the birth of an era — well, an era by Vegas’ humble cultural standards, anyway — and inaugurating a ritual of my youth. For roughly the next decade, the cavernous theater hosted hundreds of rock concerts, from Gwar to Lindsey Buckingham to Green Day to the Beastie Boys — not to mention local acts, community gatherings, art shows and film festivals. In a town tuned to shiny adult pleasures, the Huntridge offered something for teens besides playing Mortal Kombat in Commercial Center or getting drunk in the desert to caterwauling three-chord punk bands.
Historic Huntridge Theatre? I guess so. But historic implies a self-conscious stateliness the Huntridge happily scoffed at in its rock ’n’ roll adolescence. I admired its refusal to be precious about itself (particularly in a city that really would do well to embrace some preciousness about its own history). Sure, the building was accepted on the National Register of Historic Places; the state shoveled preservation money into it over the years — perhaps more out of pity than pride. But the highest purpose was use the damn thing. Out came the orchestra pit, which made more room for the mosh pit. And who had use for seats when this was a place for dancing? Out, too, came the seats. The Huntridge strayed far afield from its heyday of film premieres and Hollywood stars hamming it up in the ticket booth — which is perfectly fine. The venue’s evolution is an ad hoc, shirtsleeves version of what preservation wonks call “adaptive reuse.”
Now a trio of entrepreneurs dubbed Huntridge Revival, LLC is hoping to reopen the venue after nearly a decade of disuse (page 13). They’re new-generation urbanites whose big-ticket plan has inspired kudos from longtime locals and downtown cognoscenti — and sour gales of criticism from skeptics who are acting like some alien mothership is coming to suck up the building with a tractor beam, making off with their memories.
Will Huntridge Revival recapture the glory of the Huntridge? Will they respect the legacy? God, I hope not. I hope they do better. Maybe in its next incarnation, the Huntridge can be a neighborhood anchor and another jigsaw chunk of cultural development downtown — one a healthy distance from an East Fremont district that is, for both better and worse, evolving from crack alley to culinary hotspot to corporate investment vehicle at warp speed (page 64). The Huntridge’s era as a first-run movie theater is a fading footnote. Its stint as a raw rock venue was sweaty, dirty, smoky — and a perhaps necessary phase that’s now over. Keep that gorgeous tower, but let’s ditch finicky, arthritic fogeyism that denies an interesting proposal a fair shot. This thing sounds cool. Let’s check it out.