SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 26, 2013

Warwick marquee won't be restored

Sign at former Marblehead theater 'beyond repair'; replica being created

By Jonathan Phelps
Staff writer

---- — MARBLEHEAD — The iconic Warwick Theatre marquee is not returning.

While developers explored the idea of restoring and reattaching it to the new complex, the old neon sign could not be salvaged, according to David Groom, co-owner of Groom Construction.

The new development will include offices, retail stores, a restaurant and a movie theater. It is expected to open in late spring.

The marquee, which was made by the same company as the famous Citgo sign outside Fenway Park, had deteriorated since the theater closed in 1999.

“We had experts look at it, and it is beyond repair,” Groom said. “So we are making a replica.”

Groom said the new sign cannot include neon letters because of town regulations.

“I think we are going to great lengths to come up with a replica that is true to the original as much as possible,” Groom said.

The old sign is in storage and being used by a sign company for reference in designing and building the new sign.

The theater was a mainstay in town from 1917, when it opened, until it closed decades later. The building was torn down in the fall of 2011 to make way for the new development. Many considered the marquee a landmark, a sort of “Welcome to Marblehead” sign for people traveling through downtown.

“We are disappointed that the developer chose not to restore the original marquee,” said Michael McCloskey, director of the Warwick Theatre Foundation. “Whatever the reasons, I’m sure the developer looked at it carefully.”

The foundation worked for many years to save the original building but was unsuccessful. The group also tried to lease the theater space in the new development but couldn’t reach a deal.

McCloskey said he hopes the sign ends up being used somewhere else in town. For example, there is collection of antique signs in the basement of Abbot Hall.

McCloskey, who is also the chairman of the Design Review Board, said several proposals have been shown to Town Planner Becky Curran. He said the group is working to revamp the town’s sign bylaw, which could include nonconforming uses like neon lights.

Tom McNulty, whose family had owned the theater since 1922, said the marquee was installed in 1948 after the building underwent extensive renovations. The sign had a red, orange and pink hue to it, he said.

He declined comment for this story.

Many of the second- and third-floor offices at the new development are already occupied, and contractors are now working on finishing up the interior of the first floor.

Groom confirmed that Palmers Restaurant, which opened in Andover in 1995, is opening a second location at Warwick Place. The company will also operate a cafe and movie theater in the complex.

The sign is expected to be a capstone to the development, which is expected to increase commerce in the upper downtown.

“We want the sign to go up when we are virtually ready to open,” Groom said.

Staff writer Jonathan Phelps can be reached at 978-338-2527 or by email at jphelps@salemnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at JPhelps_SN.