INDEPENDENCE — Anthony Fitz reels off memories of his youth while pointing at spots in the historic Malek Theater.
“I remember sitting right down there watching ‘Empire Strikes Back.’ I remember sitting over there watching ‘E.T.,’ ” he said. “I can vaguely remember sitting up there with my mother watching ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter.’ ”
Now Fitz is asking for the public’s help to save the 73-year-old downtown Independence landmark so future generations can make their own memories.
Fitz, whose mother Jodeen bought the Malek in 1992, has started an online GoFundMe campaign in hopes of raising $150,000 to fix the roof and seal up the building at 116 Second Ave. NE, so it can be restored to its former glory.
“I want to save this to share with everybody,” he told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier. “We want to walk in here and have it look like it did in 1946 when it opened up.”
Fitz said the restoration would be a fitting tribute to Bob and Dorothy Malek, who built the 862-seat theater after a fire destroyed the hotel and former Grand Theater on the same site.
Dubbed “Iowa’s finest theater” during its Oct. 29, 1946, premiere, the Malek was renowned for its modern amenities, solid fire-proof construction and stylish architectural flourishes.
The theater was modified in 1985 to create two separate screens but shut down in 1996. While the concrete block structure of the building is solid, Fitz said, water leaks and time have significantly damaged the interior features.
The Buchanan County Historical Society helped get the theater added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, largely because of its unique architecture.
“The exterior of the theater exhibits characteristics of the Art Deco style including a central stepped tower, smooth finished surfaces of Glastone, and curved walls of Glastone and glass block,” said Camilla Deiber, a historian who prepared the National Registry report.
It was the unique appearance that attracted Jasmine White to the Malek when she first walked past the building after moving to town two years ago.
“Places like this are so rare and hard to find,” White said. “It really, really needs a shot. It needs a chance.
“I just love historic places and older buildings like this,” added White, who calls herself the Malek’s “superfan.”
The city put Fitz on notice in January to fix up the exterior of the building, and he spent money this summer replacing the glass tiling on the front. But the roof repairs are more than he can handle on his own.
The GoFundMe campaign just started last week and has a long way to go before the target is met. New seating and significant cosmetic work also is needed.
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But Fitz is optimistic the building once again will play host to movies and even theater and music performances.
“I think that Independence could benefit from it a little bit,” he said. “This is a big place. It might bring people from out of town.”