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A Bowling Alley-Bar Is Coming to the Lakewood Theater

The long-vacant historic landmark in East Dallas has finally found a tenant, just as restoration work begins on the theater's exterior.
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East Dallas’ long-vacant Lakewood Theater has landed a new tenant known for bringing bowling alley-bar combos to the Design District and Colorado.

The Advocate first reported today on a notice, posted at the theater, that “Bowlski’s Lakewood LLC” is applying for an alcohol sales and late-hours permit in the space. Public records show that company is registered to one Craig Spivey, who helped open Bowlounge in the Design District and owns a similar concept, Bowlski’s, in El Jebel, Colorado. Spivey didn’t return my messages.

But Norman Alston, head of the firm charged with restoring the historic landmark theater, confirmed that the Lakewood does indeed have a new tenant. That tenant, which Alston didn’t name, is for now apparently reluctant to publicize its plans for the theater, but Alston was happy to talk about the ongoing work to restore the exterior of the Lakewood.

Just this week an art conservator went to the theater to scrape paint samples in an effort to  determine the Lakewood’s original colors. To the casual observer, they’re not too different from the theater’s current look, Alston says, but “when you see them side to side it’s actually fairly dramatic. What looks like a tan is actually a taupe, with more blue than you would think. The ‘new old color’ will be a cream. It’s very much a yellowy cream.

Along with a return to the original paint job, Alston’s working with Kieffer Starlite in Denton to completely restore the theater’s iconic neon lighting. “They had a couple bucket trucks out there today doing a survey,” he says. “We’re looking for original tubes on the tower and on the Lakewood as we go.” Alston expects the exterior restoration to be finished within months.

The interior, which will be maintained by the new tenant, could be trickier. Neighbors will remember a few years ago, before the theater was made a landmark, seeing theater seats ripped out and tossed into the dumpster.

“The interior looks somewhat different than it did,” Alston says. “It had some fairly extensive asbestos abatement. A lot of ceilings are gone, a lot of wall plaster in a big area is gone.”

The theater screen will remain, as will the statues on the interior, Alston says. The bathrooms should remain in their current configuration. While whipping it into shape to host a bowling alley will obviously require some changes—the Bowlski’s in Colorado has more than a dozen lanes, a bar and restaurant, and an arcade—Alston says he expects the tenant to keep much of the interior intact. “We’re not going to go in and tear up a bunch of stuff,” he adds.

Alston acknowledged a concern that some neighbors may be disappointed if the Lakewood isn’t used as a theater. In recent years everyone from the Texas Theatre to Alamo Drafthouse has tinkered with the idea of moving in to the Lakewood, but nobody bit. The property owners, of White Rock’s Willingham-Rutledge Co., should be happy to have found a tenant. And neighbors should be happy to see the lights back on.

Alston specializes in historic restorations, a powerful concept in the field being the idea of “reversibility.” What was a movie theater yesterday could be a bowling alley today, could be a movie theater again tomorrow. Whatever business occupies it, the Lakewood Theater will live on.

“We’re not deteriorating or impinging on the historic integrity of the building at all,” he says.

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