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January 26, 2011

Warwick Theater: The sequel?

Plans give new hope to group that wants to reopen cinema

MARBLEHEAD — When a group of determined Marbleheaders banded together with the idea of reopening the town's storied Warwick Theater, it seemed a forlorn hope, the sort of thing that only happens in the movies.

Now, thanks to an exciting plan to develop the block where the Warwick is located, the Marblehead 20/20 Foundation is readying a proposal that would have first-run movies showing in town once again. And some knowledgeable people think the idea will have genuine box office appeal.

Meanwhile, the project by Marblehead developer Eijk van Otterloo will replace the Warwick structure and two other buildings besides in favor of a modern complex devoted to commercial and business interests.

"We have been fortunate," Town Planner Becky Curran said, "that people are willing to invest here in this economy."

The 20/20 Foundation, a group of community leaders interested in downtown improvements, had originally sought to save the Warwick building, closed as a theater in 1999. Long since used as a gym by the now-departed YMCA, its interior has lost its seats and screen. Moreover, said the foundation's Michael McCloskey, it's begun to betray the fact that it was built in 1919.

"The building was just used up," he said. "The old theater wasn't very attractive."

Thus, the foundation has adjusted its plan. Instead of saving the building, they want to locate a theater in van Otterloo's structure. McCloskey hopes to offer a proposal for two screens featuring luxury seating and food service. The building will fall, but the developer has agreed to save and incorporate both the facade of the Warwick and its iconic marquee.

"I'm very pleased to see that," McCloskey said. "That was very unexpected. ... We're happy the facade will stay, and the marquee is very important." Better still, he added, the developer is open to the idea of including a theater and is waiting to see "a seating plan" and "a business model."

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