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Theater topples; memories remain

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

In just 4{ hours, the 51-year-old Pasco Twin Theatre, a Dade City landmark, is leveled.

When the last efforts failed and the final phone calls were made, a giant mechanical excavator punched the first hole in the south wall of the Pasco Twin Theatre at 10:35 a.m. Monday.

It was the beginning of the end for the downtown Dade City landmark.

Four hours and thirty-two minutes later, the theater was nothing but a pile of twisted steel and busted concrete blocks.

Demolition of the 51-year-old theater _ subject of protests, pleas and petitions _ drew dozens of onlookers Monday. Some came to remember, others came to see what bits of memorabilia they could rescue before the walls came down.

Mike Ward, chosen to run the Community National Bank branch slated to replace the theater, was at the site on his cellular phone, checking with the property owners throughout the morning while demolition crews set up.

At 10:20 a.m., after City Commissioner Scott Black made a final fruitless appeal to stall the process, Hall got the word from a Carmike Cinemas attorney. The building was doomed.

Minutes later, Standard Demolitions equipment operator Tony Spino fired up his 37-ton excavator, equipped with a gaping metal claw, and swung the boom toward the theater wall.

Ada Smith, who started her career in the theater business at the cinema in 1960, was across the street to watch the first blow.

She wiped her eyes with a tissue.

"It's been strange," she said. "I keep getting up thinking I have to come down here and open the theater. I keep forgetting it's closed. It was tough to watch that first hit. It felt like it was hitting me."

Smith left a picture of herself hanging on the wall inside. Her name remained embedded in a theater wall, where she wrote it in wet concrete in 1978. "I'm going down with it," she said.

Ward, and Community National Bank president Bud Stalnaker, said they were willing to delay the demolition until other options could be explored, but pointed out that Carmike still owned the building and already had made the decision to demolish it and sell the property.

"We're buying a piece of land," Stalnaker said. "All of a sudden, we're getting blamed for tearing the theater down."

"The theater was coming down regardless," Ward said.

Ward acknowledged that the venture is off to a rocky start, but said his bank is committed to being a benefit to the community by serving small businesses and borrowers.

Dozens of spectators lined the sidewalks and parking lots around the old yellow building. They told stories about days gone by. Some angled for souvenirs.

"That was a good, old theater," said Mary Smisek, 44. "I was about knee-high when I first went in there. There's a lot of memories in there.'"

Murry Tidmore, sweating and dirty, came huffing out of the theater with time running out, hauling a set of old theater chairs.

"I'm a collector," he said. "This is a piece of Dade City's history."

Even city workers were caught up in the hurried effort to save what they could. From a cherry picker, city crews tried desperately to tug the old neon letters off the art-deco facade for preservation.

But they were bolted too tightly.

The marquee, too, was secured firmly to the old building and wouldn't budge, but bystanders were able to save the neon "Pasco" from the front when it tumbled to the ground in mid-demolition.

Job supervisor Bill Lorenzen held up the work for a moment as about a dozen volunteers dashed across the street to tug the battered sign from under a pile of debris.

The city added the sign to a collection of chairs that crews had removed last week for future use.

After a morning spent ripping down side walls and separating steel girders and tin roofing, Spino turned his mechanical claw to the facade.

At 2:15 p.m., metal met masonry as the excavator smashed into the towering front and the first letters in "Theatre." Neon tubes popped and smashed on the ground.

At 2:20 p.m. the metal frames of the double doors in front groaned against the weight of falling concrete. Glass shattered. Chunks of concrete spilled onto the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes later, with a grinding screech, the marquee slid to the ground.

At 3:07 p.m., concrete block and rubble was all that remained.

Spino wheeled the lumbering machine on its axis and rumbled off the pile.