Mayor Richard Alcombright explains his hopes for the Mohawk Theater to actor Jeremy Irons and other Guggenheim Motorcycle Club members.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Actor Laurence Fishburne was clear what he thought was needed at the Mohawk Theater.
"You have to go this way," he said, pointing to the back wall, "or this way," turning to point at the front entrance.
Accessibility and the support space, Fishburne said, would be needed for a multipurpose theater.
"I think this would be a great multipurpose venue," the "Matrix" and "CSI" star said on Tuesday afternoon. "I think they just have to make up their mind to go that way and push through the back. ... It's purposefully built as a movie house, so in order to make it multipurpose for music, and for live performance and for installations, for lectures, whatever, you really need a bigger space to support all that stuff."
Fishburne and the Guggenheim Motorcycle Club were in the city to set out on a ride through the Adirondacks in memory of their late member Dennis Hopper. But club co-founder Thomas Krens hooked them into a tour of the long-closed theater in search of inspiration and ideas.
Krens, the longtime director of the Guggenheim Museum and the man who dreamed up the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, is thinking big again for North Adams in the form of a for-profit museum next to Harriman-West Airport.
"What I said North Adams needed was three big attractions to balance out the valley," he said. "Besides the airport [project], obviously the other thing that has to be dealt with is Heritage Park and another thing that has to be dealt with is this here."
It could be a monthlong film festival, or a year-round theater, so Krens thought it made sense to bring his friends, including Fishburne, Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, model and actress Lauren Hutton and "Lost's" Harold Perrineau to check out the art deco landmark.
"The main purpose for this is to shine a spotlight on it," he said. "We were passing by because it's on our route. ... we could put two and two together."
Mayor Richard Alcombright and Building Inspector William Meranti offered background on the efforts to bring the building back and how it had looked in the past. The city acquired the back part of the building in 1996 and the front in 2002.
"We would just love to have ideas," the mayor told the club.
A number of repairs have been made over the past two decades, including fixing the roof, stabilizing the structure, replacing the entrance corridor, adding on a former commercial space next to it for a future box office and rehabbing the marquee.
The mayor took the actors into the empty interior and then up to the balcony. Hutton, Irons and Fishburne were very interested in aspects of the building and how things might come together, he said.
"I think they think there's a lot of possibility in the Mohawk Theater. ... They got a good sense that this could be something quite grand," the mayor said. "You never know what happens when you bring three or four major movie stars into the city and looking at your theater, and will be interesting to see if they come back with something."
He said it was clear Fishburne was thinking bigger and in utilizing the Dowlin Block next door.
"It's certainly got a lot of potential to be a great, great venue destination," Fishburne said. "You want to have music, you want to have film, you want to have live theatrical performances, lectures and even community events here."
The club had gathered Monday night for an outdoor viewing of Hopper's legendary "Easy Rider," then planned on a quick tour of Mass MoCA with Director Joseph Thompson before having lunch and hitting the road on their BMWs in Hopper's honor.
The Guggenheim Motorcycle Club grew out of "The Art of the Motorcycle" exhibit at the New York museum in 1998 and its membership has run around 20, with Krens, Hutton, Fishburne and Irons as core members.
Krens said he would be talking about possible opportunities in North Adams with his friends of nearly two decades. North Adams is reaching a "critical mass" that he believes can not only support new destinations, but calls for investment in them.
The mayor was pleased with the interest from the Hollywood brigade and hoped they had a good motorcycle ride.
"I thought it was cool that they all saw an opportunity here," he said.
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