Are Liberty Theater's days numbered?
Can an old showplace survive in a popular downtown, or will the asking price for the Liberty 1 & 2 Theaters mean it is destined to be cleared for something else?
That's what community leaders and others in Libertyville are trying to determine as the 1.17-acre building and property is on the market for $3 million as a "redevelopment opportunity."
Opened in 1937 as the single-screen Liberty Theater, the movie house has been a constant in the small-town fabric for generations of residents. A young Marlon Brando was an usher, and it was the site during World War II of the world premiere of a movie starring Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan.
The real estate listing prompted Mayor Terry Weppler to get ahead of the matter, as he sometimes is asked why the village didn't prevent something from happening.
"Here's your chance if you love the Liberty Theater," he posted on Facebook.
"Unless a historian or someone who cares about Libertyville history purchases the property it will be gone forever," he added.
Weppler said Monday the operator couldn't make enough money and returned the property to the previous owner. He said he would help anyone with an idea, but the theater is not a village responsibility.
"If it's not run as a theater privately, what would the village do with it?" he said. "That's not fair to the taxpayers."
Scott Dehn managed the business before taking over as operator in early 2012. A movie fan and operator of the McHenry Outdoor Theater, Dehn invested about $130,000 to modernize the Liberty with digital equipment.
"It's not going badly at all, but when you take into account a mortgage for $3 million, it's tough," he said.
"The hope is there's someone who will come forward to say, 'I've got the resources to keep it going.' That's why I went to digital. That's what I'm continuing to do here (and) hoping for a miracle."
He said it will remain open for the foreseeable future.
The listing mentions: the location 700 feet from the Metra station, commercial district zoning, 170 feet of Milwaukee Avenue frontage and 305 feet depth along Newberry Avenue as highlights.
Neither the listing agent nor a contact provided by Dehn could be reached Monday to discuss the situation.
Jim Moran, a former village trustee and officer with the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, said the theater is important to downtown and thinks there is potential for its continued use.
"I'm trying to see what kind of flexibility there is with ownership to come up with creative ideas," he said. "With the right investors and right changes, I think it could be done."
He said he was in the fact-finding stage.
"If this is already a done deal, there's no point in putting together a group to try and save it," he said.