Palm Beach Theater Wins in Court

Posted on: August 23rd, 2007 by Margaret Foster

The owner of the 1957 theater closed its doors in 2004, citing economic reasons. (Palm Beach Theater Guild)The place to be seen in Palm Beach, Fla., hasn't been seen in three years, but a group that wants to reopen the Royal Poinciana Playhouse is making headway.Supporters of the glitzy theater—which include actor Christopher Plummer—won a victory this summer, when a judge ruled that the 1957 building must be maintained and operated as a theater.

Owner Sidney Spiegel, who wants to raze the Royal Poinciana Playhouse to make way for a hotel, has appealed Palm Beach County Judge David Crow's June 10 decision.

"We felt euphoric," says Patrick Henry Flynn, president of the Palm Beach Theater Guild, one of the plaintiffs, along with the town of Palm Beach. "We're delighted because it's helping our fundraising amazingly. That will increase our bargaining power."

Spiegel deeded the use of the theater to the town in 1979 as a performing arts venue in perpetuity, and that agreement is still valid, Judge Crow ruled.

The town's landmarks preservation commission designated the 878-seat theater a landmark in January.

In May, the guild got look inside the dark theater. The National Trust's Southern Office gave a grant to the Palm Beach Theater guild for a feasibility study, or business plan, of the theater. That study literally opened doors, Flynn says: The town council demanded that the group be allowed access to the building on May 22 for a full inspection.

"It needs work, but it's still within our budget," Flynn says. It will likely cost about $2 million to restore the Regency-style playhouse, he says. The guild's goal is to secure a long-term lease on the building, restore it, and reopen it as a theater.

"The town council has been very supportive, but as it moves into a another pitch battle, it's a new political situation," Flynn says. "We have to remind the community of their own values. There is nobody in Palm Beach that doesn't want the theater or doesn't want performing arts. If they are aware of it, Palm Beach will be very generous."

Read more about the Poinciana on Preservation Online >>

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