The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 1, 2013

Lawsuit targets theater

Boro wants owner to raze or stabilize building in Gallitzin

GALLITZIN — An attorney representing Gallitzin Borough Council has filed a civil lawsuit asking Cambria County court to intervene in a long-running dispute over a massive brick building that once hosted traveling Vaudeville groups and some of the first talkie movies.

Claiming that the condition of the historic Victoria Theater is in violation of the borough’s nuisance ordinance, the lawsuit contends that the structure is a potential hazard to the welfare and safety of people walking on the sidewalk or driving on Jackson Street.

The action is coming at no small expense to borough taxpayers, said Irene Szynal, borough secretary and longtime member of the Gallitzin Area Tourist Council.

“We have to hire a professional engineer to evaluate the building,” she said. “Just because we think it will cave in any second, we can’t go by that.”

Located a few hundred feet from the historic Gallitzin Tunnels, a popular tourist attraction for this small town, and located just up the mountain from the Horseshoe Curve,  the old theater was once the pride of the community.

Today, shingles routinely fall from the roof and there are areas that appear ready to fall in, Szynal said.

The filing by borough solicitor David Consiglio of State College marks the second time council has attempted to force theater owner Jeffrey Sprouse to demolish or significantly stabilize the building.

Attempts to reach Sprouse were unsuccessful.

Council took Sprouse to court in 2002, and in 2004 a Cambria County judge issued an order saying that he couldn’t force Sprouse to make the building beautiful, but he did want to see steps taken to stabilize it.

The theater owner did attempt to stabilize the massive roof, but little else, Szynal said.

Today, the sidewalk and other areas around the building are roped off with yellow police tape to keep people away.

The owner has attempted to remove a number of items from the interior, Szynal said.

In the petition for court action, Consiglio asked the court to issue an order directing Sprouse to demolish the building at his own expense. He also asked that the owner be ordered to pay legal and related fees incurred by the borough in seeking the legal action.

Not only is the theater a haven for rats and other vermin along with birds, but it is also “harmful, dangerous and offensive to the public,” Consiglio wrote in the petition.

The structure also constitutes a potential fire hazard and is causing debris to be scattered on property of nearby landowners.

That is what can be seen, Consiglio maintains. There are increasing concerns that the inside of the structure is rotted by water damage and has missing or rotten roof supports.

Sprouse apparently has been in touch with the borough, advising council that he is obtaining quotes for the razing of the structure.

“But after months of such indications defendant has failed to accomplish the razing of the property,” Consiglio wrote in his 27-page petition.

An Internet search shows the Victoria is one of the last 10 original brick theaters in the country.

Stretching a quarter of a block, it was built in 1919. Historical records show it caught fire in 1921 and hosted its first talking movie in 1929.

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