- Associated Press - Thursday, October 20, 2016

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The owners of a long-shuttered theater in Alaska’s largest city applied to demolish the opulent vintage icon, prompting the city to hasten efforts to protect such historic buildings.

The 4th Avenue Theatre in downtown Anchorage survived North America’s largest earthquake in 1964. More recently, it weathered another threat to its existence after voters rejected a $2 million bond proposal by the city to acquire it a decade ago when it was put on the market and faced an uncertain future.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission in August began looking at the possibility of imposing a long-term moratorium on demolishing buildings, such as the theater, that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That process was pending when theater representatives applied for a demolition permit on Monday, city attorney Bill Falsey said Thursday.

The application prompted the Anchorage Assembly to adopt a 60-day emergency moratorium Tuesday after Mayor Ethan Berkowitz requested it.

“This serves as an opportunity to work with the property owners to ensure the 4th Avenue Theater regains its role as a centerpiece of a vibrant downtown,” Berkowitz said in an email sent to The Associated Press by his office Thursday.

The short pause will allow officials to decide the next step in protecting historic buildings, with the possibility of implementing such measures as including public input before demolitions are allowed to be carried out, Falsey said.

“Right now for a demolition permit, you go to the counter, you pay $150 and unless there’s something unlawful about your permit, the building official is supposed to issue it,” he said.

In the theater’s case, the permit was not issued because of an electronic flag noting the property had at least for some time been associated with a conservation easement. That prompted the notification to Falsey’s office.

Falsey said representatives of the building owners told officials there were no imminent plans to demolish the structure. He said seeking the demolition permit was taken under a mistaken belief the process was required to carry out any enforcement actions by the city.

Falsey said he’s not aware of any enforcement actions planned by the city in connection with the building. The owners have obtained a demolition permit for another of their Anchorage properties, a long-vacant hotel that is facing enforcement actions for issues including problems with its fire-suppression system.

The 69-year-old theater was purchased for about $1.65 million by Peach Investments, owned by Joe and Maria Fang of San Francisco, at a foreclosure auction in 2009. Representatives of the Fangs did not immediately respond to telephone requests for comment Thursday.

The theater was completed in 1947, designed in the art moderne style by the architect of Hollywood’s famed Pantages Theatre, B. Marcus Priteca. Over the years, the Anchorage theater was celebrated for features such as Italian marble, fluted walnut and murals of Alaska wildlife, industries and Mount McKinley, which is now known as Denali.

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Follow Rachel D’Oro at https://twitter.com/rdoro

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