Preserving the historic 4th Avenue Theatre
March 1, 2019
If you’ve lived in Anchorage, you probably know the 4th Avenue Theatre. The facade, murals, and twinkling ceiling have entranced many locals since it was opened by Austin “Cap” Lathrop in 1947, an important figure in Anchorage history who also produced the major motion picture “Cheechako,” served as a city mayor, and more.
The Theatre is a part of architectural history, as well as our local culture. It is a classic example of the unique style of American architecture called Streamline Moderne, from the American Art Deco style. It was designed by the prestigious architect B. Marcus Priteca. The interior of the 4th Avenue Theatre includes beautiful murals with iconic images of Alaska’s wildlife and historical development created by noted artist A. E. Heinsbergen.
Many local artists and craftsmen worked on the building. They say some of the murals and material had to be hauled over the Alcan Highway; they couldn’t get transport. Cap Lathrop bought trucks to haul the stuff in and the drivers were his employees.
Many of our readers were ushers or went to the movies at the Theatre. When Cap Lathrop ran it, he was very particular about keeping things pristine, and didn’t allow gum, food or drinks inside. By the time I came around, that rule had been dropped. My most sentimental tie to the 4th Avenue Theatre is that it was the site of my first date with my husband (we saw “The World According to Garp”).
The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It’s been on the Alaska Association for Historical Preservation’s list of Ten Endangered Historic Properties for several years. The Alaska Historical Commission found the 4th Avenue Theatre historically significant and a unique resource.
Currently, Peach Investments owns the building, and demolition permits have been given to assess and remediate damage from neglect and last year’s earthquake. They haven’t made public comment on their current plans for the building.
The Friends of the 4th Avenue Theatre started as an informal group hosting the celebration of the Theatre’s 70th anniversary in 2017. A new nonprofit group including many of the same members, also called Friends of the 4th Avenue Theatre, is being formed to facilitate work with the owners and other stakeholders such as the state and municipality, to preserve it. The group hopes that its nonprofit status will allow them access to grants and donations that the owners can’t get by themselves. Once they have organized and met with Peach Investments, they plan to start work on specific plans and the capital campaign.
If you’re interested in learning more, see the Friends of the 4th Avenue Theatre website at http://friendsofthe4thavenuetheatre.org or their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/895687857111852/.
Maybe you have a 4th Avenue Theatre story to share? Write to Senior Voice at email@example.com.
Cheryl Lovegreen is a founding member of Friends of the 4th Avenue Theatre.