Here’s a controversy worth keeping an eye on: The Tower Theatre for the Performing Arts is an iconic building in Fresno, California. Built in 1939, the theater is home to the Fresno Film Festival and on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the center of a very diverse and LGBTQ-friendly community.
Soon, it’ll become a church.
Adventure Church plans to purchase the building as part of its own expansion, which is controversial only in part because it’s part of the Foursquare Gospel Church, which promotes faith-healing, speaking in tongues, and opposing LGBTQ rights. One local journalist referred to that purchase as akin to “the Republican Party buying the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and transforming it into an indoor shooting range.”
Making matters even more complicated, the Sequoia Brewing Company sued the theater saying they had first dibs on purchasing the place if it ever became available, but that the theater’s owners and the church conspired against them to conceal the sale. On Thursday, a judge ruled against the brewing company.
The judge rejected these claims, citing evidence provided by Tower Theatre Properties that it did give Sequoia Brewing notice of the pending sale and the option to buy it.
The judge also pointed out that Sequoia Brewing’s owners had not demonstrated that they had the ability to purchase the property before the sale, and the church had said it would be willing to sell part of the property to Sequoia Brewing after it gets ownership.
The lawsuit itself is a separate issue, but since it appears that the church will be able to go through with the purchase, barring any appeals, there are looming questions about what that will mean for this area. What happens when the hub of an LGBTQ-friendly part of town becomes anti-LGBTQ?
Those with group Save the Tower Theatre say the sale will impact the district, which prides itself on inclusivity.
“If this is going to be converted into a church it is not going to attract the same diversity of people,” said Jaguar Bennett with the group.
It’s not just about beliefs. What about the bars near the theater? The group says they could lose their liquor licenses because they’d be too close to a place of worship, which could be prohibited by local zoning laws if the area’s current “commercial use” designation is changed to one that accommodates churches. Bennett and others are calling on city officials to make sure that reclassification doesn’t occur.
The church hasn’t explained publicly why it needs this space when it clearly has the money to go just about anywhere, but it’s not hard to speculate. If the sale goes through, then the community may well become a ghost town (which would hurt all those businesses) or a place of constant protests due to the infusion of Christian bigotry into an area that used to bring people joy.
(Image via Wikipedia. Thanks to Izra’il for the link)