The owners of Fort Worth’s Berry Theater have applied for a demolition permit, ending any hope that the historic building would be restored.
Berry Theater has sat vacant for years despite multiple preservation efforts. Fort Worth’s city council approved a tax incentive in 2019 to help refurbish the building. At the time, Berry Theater LLC planned to spend $1.8 million to renovate the building and use it as an event space, reported Fort Worth Magazine.
Instead, Mission Travis Mercy assumed ownership of the property in 2021. The company also purchased three lots adjacent to the theater, per the Fort Worth Report. The faith-based charitable organization, also called Mercy Clinic, provides free health and dental care to uninsured adults in the 76110 and 76104 ZIP codes.
Mercy Clinic founder Rebekah Naylor grew up in Fort Worth and had a connection with Berry Theater.
“I remember Berry Theater,” she told CBS News. “I mean, I went there. So I very well knew the history and its role in this neighborhood and all of that. And so I understand the feelings, and yet we’re in a different time and unfortunately in these decades, the building was not maintained.”
Mercy Clinic filed a permit request on Tuesday to raze Berry Theater and allow the land to be used for something different than intended. As previously reported by The Dallas Express, the efficiency of building and demolition permitting in Fort Worth bolstered the city’s ranking in a development survey, putting it above Dallas, which has struggled to provide efficient permitting services under City Manager T.C. Broadnax.
The original plan left the theater intact, but a recent evaluation revealed that restoring the theater was too expensive. New plans for the property involve demolishing the theater and building a new health center on the lot, per Fort Worth Report.
Fernando Peralta, chair of the Hemphill Corridor Development Collaborative, was surprised by the plans for the theater.
“I am really sad to hear about that because that is an incredible building with a lot of history,” he told Fort Worth Report. “I hope they do reach out so we can help them inform the community about this.”
The theater, which opened in April 1940, has 682 seats. It opened under the name White Theater but changed to Berry Theater in 1961, per Fort Worth Magazine.
Doug Sutherland grew up in Fort Worth and remembered the theater during its heyday in the 1940s and 50s.
“It was a true neighborhood theater with little parking — many walked,” Sutherland told Fort Worth Magazine. “Our family of four would walk in evenings every month or so to see whatever was showing for the A/C and stop at Modern Drugs on the northeast corner [of] Berry and Hemphill for Coke or [a] banana split.”