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Las Vegas' Huntridge Theater triggers time-machine memories

Vegas' Huntridge Theater may be defunct, but memories of punk rock and rebellion thrive
Reminiscence often begins: 'I remember my first show at the Huntridge'

When Karie Lawson looks at the set list from the band the Deftones’ 1997 concert at the Huntridge Theater here, the music isn’t what transports her back to her punk rocker days. Instead, she thinks of her first – and last – crowd-surfing experience, which ended with her face scudding to the floor.

For one glorious moment, however, she was on a human thrill ride, moving through the air 6 feet off the ground on a living conveyor belt of sweaty palms and fingers.   But en route to the mosh pit, where bodies slammed and elbows flew, the two men holding her aloft let go.

“I kind of went up and back toward the mosh pit, then down I went,” Lawson recalled. Youthful energy allowed her to spring back to her feet without any scrapes, and -- blue-streaked hair and all -- she kept moving to the band’s head-banging rhythm. Seventeen years later, the memory of that moment remains fresh.

Lawson’s remembrance is one of many collected by the Huntridge Foundation’s Memory Project, which aims to preserve and record mementos of the 70-year-old theater listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

The Huntridge, Las Vegas’ first desegregated theater, has been closed for years but is on the verge of new life as city officials and public supporters ponder financing a refurbishment.  Backers expect to need about $4 million to buy the building and another $10 million to renovate it. The foundation hopes to begin restoration by 2016.

Volunteers started the Memory Project in 2012. Now, on the first Friday of each month, the foundation invites the public to share collectibles and memories from the Huntridge’s glory days.

Among the memorabilia collected so far are ticket stubs and band posters from Suicidal Tendencies, the Vandals and Dinosaur Jr., said Dan Roberts, the foundation’s president.

Roberts says the reminiscences typically include a common  theme: “I remember my first show at the Huntridge.”

Frank DeFrancesco, manager of the Memory Project, said he was scared to death at his first Huntridge show decades ago. He was just 15 when he attended Bad Religion’s 1993 concert.

He remembered the first time he met a larger-than-life rebel who helped shape his adolescence.

Lynn “Spit” Newborn was a legend around the Huntridge. His body covered in tattoos, Newborn wore a leather jacket decorated with patches that marked him as a member of the Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice group.

“He came up to me and was like, ‘You ready for the show? We’re gonna have a good time!’”

Spit offered him a sip of beer out in the parking lot. After that, DeFranesco said, he felt genuinely cool, and proud to be accepted into the punk scene.

Two years later, DeFrancesco said he and another friend were ready to attend a 1995 show of the band the Circle Jerks when he saw on TV that the Huntridge’s roof had collapsed. No one was seriously hurt, but he considered it a close call and stayed home.

He missed a free concert. The band set up in the parking lot and played for fans, collapsed roof or no.

Oral histories of people like DeFrancesco and Lawson are crucial to the Huntridge project.

Lawson, who still lives in Las Vegas, says the Huntridge’s shows were a rite of passage for her and other young rebels, who made the theater their regular haunt. But until the Deftones’ concert, she had never been swept off her feet – at least not literally.

She and a friend had made their way down toward the stage. “The two guys that were standing on either side of me kind of gave each other a nod,” she said, “and up over the crowd I went.”

Crowd surfing wasn’t her only memorable adventure at the Huntridge, she said. Her “first official boyfriend kiss” took place during a New Year’s Eve concert there in the early ‘90s.

That experience was a lot easier on her face.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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