Ben Fountain: Forget the Ewings — Kessler Theater is a real Dallas treasure - Dallas, TX
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member WalksfarTX
N 32° 44.966 W 096° 50.562
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Quick Description: The Ewings are back: any day now the idiots will begin filming a revival of Dallas, the further adventures of J.R. and his swaggering clan, where everything happens on the grand scale.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 10/28/2018 12:25:39 PM
Waymark Code: WMZEAG
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member saopaulo1
Views: 0

Long Description:
Dallas News Commentary by Ben Fountain

Big deals, big egos, big hair, big bosoms, big and bigger to the nth degree. For locals, that's what made the show such wicked fun, cringing and snorting as the city's most cherished cliches got abused in ever more ham-fisted ways.

If the new version is anything like the original, Dallas will stick to the city's swankier haunts, where glitz and rigorous body-sculpting reign supreme. You can bet we won't be seeing much of Oak Cliff; driving those leafy, somewhat scruffy streets, you'd be hard pressed to find the Starbucks and Pottery Barns that saturate the city's trendier spots.

What you will find is an abundance of 1920s and ‘30s low-rise buildings and the sight of — gasp! — actual pedestrians. Then there are the architectural gems that have survived despite decades of blight and neglect, or maybe thanks to neglect — in Dallas's sexier precincts, the interesting stuff tends to get razed to make way for the next big deal.

The Kessler Theater is one such gem, an Art Deco beauty that was once owned by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry, but has since fallen into disrepair. “I lusted after this property for 10 years,” says the newish owner, Edwin Cabaniss. The fifth-generation Texan worked for various finance behemoths after graduating from college in 1991, but by 2008 he was ready for a change. “I decided to make a 180-degree turn in my life and go hyperlocal.”

Hyperlocal meant buying the Kessler, by then little more than four walls and a pile of dirt. Aside from two tenants in the streetfront retail space — a beauty salon and a legal aid center — the structure had been vacant for 30 years.

But Cabaniss saw potential. By adding his wife's dance studio to the two existing tenants, he could carry the debt service and still have 80 percent of his building left for other uses. Then he discovered that the theater was grandfathered under pre-1970s zoning rules, eliminating the need for large-scale public parking, a requirement that had stymied previous would-be renovators.

“That's when I realized I could turn the Kessler back into what it once was, a performance space and community gathering spot,” Cabaniss said.

He persuaded a veteran music promoter named Jeff Liles to be artistic director. Liles, a sleepy-eyed Dr Pepper addict with grizzled blond dreadlocks, had just returned to his native Dallas from Los Angeles, but he was skeptical. “As far as I could see, live music was pretty much dead in Dallas,” he says. But Cabaniss finally won him over.

Now, 15 months after opening, it's hard to picture the cavernous pigeon roost that the pair started with. The main performance space has been restored with a sprung-maple floor, a wraparound balcony and unobstructed sightlines from every seat. The lobby and bar feature sleek Art Deco lines, and the three-story glass-brick facade gives off a cool, come-hither glow.

At night the Kessler offers live music; during the day, 200 children come through every week for dance classes, guitar and piano lessons and gymnastics, and at 8 a.m. on Sundays the Church of the Cliff holds services.

The original tenants have been joined by a surveillance equipment company and an independent bookstore. The theater has had a spillover effect, too: In the past year, seven businesses have opened within 100 yards of the Kessler, including a barbecue restaurant, a grocery store and a vintage clothing boutique.

Meanwhile, Big-Deal Dallas continues to struggle. The vast plan to renovate the Trinity River area with parks and a billion-dollar tollway is going nowhere fast. Budget pressures are chipping away at the city's plans for a trio of “marquee” bridges, and the Riverfront Boulevard “gateway” project is looking DOA.

Who knows — maybe the Ewings can bring some of their big-deal magic back to Dallas once again. In your dreams. Meanwhile, for a slice of real life, there's always the Kessler.

Type of publication: Newspaper

When was the article reported?: 6/1/2011

Publication: Dallas Morning News

Article Url: [Web Link]

Is Registration Required?: no

How widespread was the article reported?: regional

News Category: Entertainment

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