Zoning permit gives legs to a dream

🕐 4 min read

Ever since Amy McNutt was a film student at the University of Southern California, she has been enchanted by art films.

So regularly, she and her filmmaker husband, James Johnston, make the 60-mile round-trip trek from Fort Worth to Dallas to partake of the unique offerings at the Angelika Film Center or The Magnolia in Dallas.

“I love movies,” she says. “Movies make me happy.”

So, it’s no wonder that her long-time dream is to open an art house cinema that will show art and foreign films in Fort Worth where there is limited access to that type of filmmaking.

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McNutt, who has already proven her ability to carve out a niche in the competitive restaurant market with Spiral Diner, may have just received the ticket to making her dream come true.

The Fort Worth Planning and Zoning Commission granted a zoning request March 14 to sell alcohol for on-site consumption at the historic Pinkston building in Southeast Fort Worth’s up-and-coming Evans-Rosedale neighborhood.

Originally built in 1921, the Pinkston building has been expanded and repurposed over the years but was mostly used as a mortuary and was commonly referred to as Pinkston Funeral Home.

By 2016, the building had seen better days and “needed some love,” said Jennifer Neil Farmer, who bought it with her husband, Robb Farmer, who own F5 Design Build.

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With years of experience in design, construction and commercial development, the couple has focused on adaptive reuse. The Pinkston building was exactly the type of project that fit their goals.

The Farmers had cleared out the interior of the building at 821 E. Terrell St. and were pondering a mixed-use development in the space. Additions to the original building are at 808 and 816 Kentucky Ave.

The building was built by Dr. R.A. Ransom and Dr. Lee Gresham Pinkston for their medical practices.

Both were among the first black physicians in North Texas. Pinkston was also a publisher and political activist, who opened the Pinkston Clinic Hospital in 1927, the only clinic to serve blacks at that time, according to zoning documents.

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Pinkston and his son owned and operated Pinkston’s Funeral Home for decades. G. Pinkston High School was named in his honor, according to the documents.

A mutual acquaintance helped connect the Farmers to McNutt and Johnston in December.

For McNutt, who has been searching in earnest for about six years for a suitable spot for an art house cinema, this space represented a viable possibility for her imagined Citizen Theater.

The Farmers met with neighbors about the revitalization project and received resounding support for the theater. Approval from Planning and Zoning moves the project to City Council on April 3 for approval.

But that is just the first of many steps involved in getting this project moving.

“It’s a baby step,” McNutt said. “But it’s great and very exciting.”

McNutt and Johnston were pioneers in the historic Southside neighborhood when they relocated Spiral Diner to Magnolia Avenue in 2004 and settled in as residents and business owners.

McNutt’s search for a landing spot for Citizen Theater has always been defined as “a cool neighborhood with cool people,” she said. But the problem has always been parking, which has foiled her plans time and again.

The Pinkston building doesn’t have that problem. The Farmers’ property includes plenty of space for parking.

The two couples have yet to form any concrete plans for financing or how their partnership would work since they only begin discussions about three months ago.

But Jennifer Farmer said a movie theater is a perfect use for the Pinkston building because it is clear from the façade that a theater once operated there.

“The Pinkston is an early example of a mixed-used development,” she said. “It had a physician’s office, a barbershop and a theater.”

The 12,000-square-foot building is big enough to accommodate one auditorium, so an addition would be needed to add several more auditoriums.

“We see building an addition that would be the perfect marriage of old and new in this neighborhood,” Farmer said.

If the plan doesn’t work out, the Farmers will revert back to their plans for a mixed-used development. If the theater does move in, it’s still possible a café or other small businesses could move into another part of the space, Farmer said

While McNutt is reluctant to get too far ahead of herself, she already imagines Fort Worth’s first full-time art film house to be a place for to enjoy an alcoholic beverage, some nibbles and watch films that seldom show in these parts.

“There will be popcorn and some healthy vegan snacks,” she said. “And candy, of course.”

For McNutt, who had no restaurant experience when she founded and built a successful vegan restaurant that now also has locations in Dallas and Denton, it’s not hard to imagine that this dream will eventually come true.

“I created Spiral Diner because I am vegan and there was no place for me to eat out,” she said.

Seeking immediate access to the kind of films she loves is sort of the same as creating a restaurant for access to food she enjoys.

“I’m hopeful this will be it,” she said. “It would be perfect.”

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