BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — Cabot Street Cinema, the theater that has provided an elegant home for vaudeville, movies and magic shows for nearly a century, is for sale.
The sale was announced Wednesday by a Boston real estate company that has been hired to market the building. The asking price is $1.35 million.
The theater is owned by White Horse Productions, a group of eight shareholders who were part of the Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Show that ran for 35 years at the theater until the death of its founder last year.
David Bull, who played Le Grand David and is the president of White Horse Productions, said the company could no longer continue to operate two downtown theaters once the magic show ended. The company also owns the Larcom Theatre, which it will retain and keep open.
“There were probably 40 to 50 people in the company when we bought the Larcom in 1984, so there was plenty of work for all of those shoulders to lean into,” Bull said. “Now it’s a different time. Maybe a dozen of us are still around.”
The announcement of the sale immediately made the theater’s fate the most important issue facing the downtown. The building, located at 286 Cabot St., includes not only the 800-seat theater but retail and office space on the first and second floors.
Mayor Bill Scanlon said he is hoping a new owner will step forward and keep it operating as a theater.
“There are no guarantees,” he said. “But I don’t think (the owners) are in any kind of desperate situation. They can seek out a buyer who can use the property in a way that’s good for the community.”
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, said she hopes a new owner can keep the theater going while bringing new retail or restaurants to the rest of the space.
In a recent survey conducted by Main Streets, Cabot Street Cinema was named the downtown’s second-favorite destination, after the coffee shops, Wallace said.
“I’m hopeful that it won’t take very long and that we can get somebody new in there to keep it going, because it is such a landmark,” she said. “It’s obviously seen as a treasure and a real valuable community asset.”
Bull said Cabot Street Cinema will remain open and continue to show movies until it is sold.
Originally known as The Ware, the theater was built in 1920 as a combination vaudeville stage and motion picture theater. Like other theaters of its time, it was constructed in a grand style with ornate decorations, a golden dome and a full balcony.
In 1976, Salem State College psychology professor Cesareo Pelaez and 17 others pooled their money to buy the theater from the E.M. Loew cinema chain for $110,000.
A year later, the group started the Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company show, an elaborate stage magic show that received international acclaim and made seven performances at the White House.
After more than 2,500 performances, the show came to an end after the death of Pelaez, who played Marco the Magi, in March 2012. The company finished out the season and held its last show last year on May 27. In November, it sold off half of its 2,000 handmade costumes.
The theater has continued to show movies and host occasional live performances. But Bull said the company will now concentrate on renting out the Larcom Theatre, which was built in 1912, eight years before Cabot Street Cinema, for shows and private functions.
Bull said the Larcom Theatre has a separate “grand salon” that is better suited for hosting functions, weddings and other events. The Larcom is on Wallis Street, a third of a mile from Cabot Street Cinema.
“As long as we weren’t going to remount the big show, it made more sense to consolidate at the Larcom,” Bull said.
Bull said the company might start showing movies again at the Larcom Theatre. The theater would have to be upgraded with digital movie projection technology.
Cabot Street Cinema is one of an estimated 250 remaining movie theaters out of 20,000 that were built in the 1920s, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2001, the organization placed “historic American movie theaters” on its list of most endangered historic places.
Asked if the Cabot could be knocked down, Scanlon said, “I suppose there’s a chance, but I’m sure they’re hopeful that somebody’s going to take advantage of the fact that there are very few communities in New England with two older theaters in the downtown.”
The theater’s owners announced the sale in their May 20 program, which came out Wednesday. In a note to “our dear friends, loyal patrons and neighbors,” the owners said they have completed their original aim of presenting a resident stage magic show “in the style and tradition of the golden age of vaudeville.”
“We now feel the time has come to relinquish our stewardship of the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre and to present the opportunity to someone else, perhaps with a new vision, to helm this worthy vessel,” they wrote.
The sale is being handled by LandVest, a Boston-based real estate company that specializes in unique properties, Bull said.