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The City Council will be asked next week to declare the Mohawk Theater unnecessary municipal property so the requests for proposals can be sought.

Bernard Will Seek Proposals for Historic Mohawk Theater

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The Mohawk Theater's marquee has been a beacon of hope, an assurance that eventually its siren call of neon will once more draw crowds to the downtown. 
But the hard facts are that the theater's been closed for more than a third of its 81-year lifespan.
It's a landmark that's bedeviled three administrations and outlived several organizations hoping to revive it. It's been a constant in every mayoral election and a question for every council candidate. During that time, the amount of money required to restore the theater has only grown.  
Mayor Thomas Bernard, the third mayor to deal with the city-owned property, has decided the public sector has taken it as far as it can go: Next week he'll ask the City Council to declare the theater as excess municipal property and put out a request for proposals.  
Bernard said on Wednesday he'd been impressed by the initiative taken by a local grassroots group to brainstorm ideas for the structure last year. 
"It doesn't necessarily have to be the government and if there's a private sector idea, whether it's anything that came out of those conversations, I'm not looking to advantage any particular project," he said. "I want to change the conversation. ...
"Even if the result is not viable at least we can't say then that nobody has done anything." 
For too long the conversation has been every couple of years, people ask, "what do we do with the Mohawk?"
It's a question that's been difficult to answer. 
The E.M. Loew moviehouse opened in 1938, during Hollywood's golden age, but competition from cineplexes and the changing way movies are distributed contributed to its closing in 1986. A short-lived effort to bring movies and performances there ended in 1991 and the city purchased it two years later and put on a new roof to ensure its stability. 
The 1,250 seats were ripped out, the stylish art deco hunting scenes taken down, the concession stand removed and the balcony blocked off in preparation of a restoration effort that fell apart before it even began. 
Some work has been done over the years to stabilize the lobby, repair the marquee, and add on an adjacent space and do facade work. But the question of what to do with the shell has been limited by the lack of dressing rooms, storage and stage to use it as a performance space, the funding to make anything happen and an entity to take charge.
And while there might be a deep sentimental attachment to the Mohawk in some areas, it's not true for a generation that has no memories of the Mohawk or for the newcomers to the city. The Mohawk has, in a sense, become the mythological unicorn — a legend no one has quite figured out how to capture.
Still, says Bernard, beyond the emotional link, "there's the durable idea that your performance venue, your cultural space should be on Main Street. ... 
"I do agree it's too good a space to be vacant and it's too good a potential anchor for Main Street to be vacant."
City Council President Keith Bona, a Main Street merchant familiar with the ups and downs of the Mohawk, said on Thursday after the mayor's address that his take was that the city would be looking for new ideas that could be sustainable. 
"Where we've got to be careful ... is we don't want it to be a parking garage," he said. "This may have more conditions than most things I can remember the city putting up for an RFP. ... I would still like it to be a theater in some form but that might not be its future."

Tags: Mohawk Theater,   municipal property,   RFP,   

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'My Favorite Year': Vintage Laughs

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
I wish that I were reviewing one of the several movies about this pox upon our house that are certain to be made when the horror is deep into our rearview mirror. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.
Oh, that we had a swashbuckling hero like Peter O'Toole's Alan Swann in director Richard Benjamin's "My Favorite Year," about the early, comically innocent days of television, to swoop down just in the nick of time and save our republic.
Like our country, the aging, Erol Flynn-like matinee idol, after a sordid dalliance in unmitigated greed, is sorely in need of redemption. Unfortunately, almost everyone but Mark Linn-Baker's Benjy Stone, the novitiate writer on King Kaiser's variety show, a fictional paean to Sid Caesar's "Show of Shows" where Swann will be this week's guest celebrity, has lost faith in the tarnished star. Thus, to continue the plucky metaphor, you might accept that Benjy, who dropped out of college in favor of the new medium's pioneering excitement, represents America's better angels.
He remembers Swann from his glorious silver-screen representations, and when the show's bigwigs contemplate dismissing yesteryear's leading man, now too often drunk and tardy, Benjy volunteers to "babysit" him. The thought is that just as it's far too early to drop the curtain on our experiment in democracy, surely the still handsome headliner has some glory left in him.
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