published Monday, July 16th, 2012

Restaurateur renovates Mars Theater in LaFayette

Gary Lovelady, left; Curtis Johnson; and Dexter Suttle take down a ceiling inside a vacant building on Chattanooga Street in LaFayette, Ga., on Friday. Michael Lovelady recently bought the Mars Theater and seven vacant buildings at the intersection of Chattanooga and Villanow streets and is renovating them.
Gary Lovelady, left; Curtis Johnson; and Dexter Suttle take down a ceiling inside a vacant building on Chattanooga Street in LaFayette, Ga., on Friday. Michael Lovelady recently bought the Mars Theater and seven vacant buildings at the intersection of Chattanooga and Villanow streets and is renovating them.
Photo by Alyson Wright.

RENOVATING MARS

Anyone with old photos of LaFayette's Mars Theater or the adjacent commercial buildings can call Michael Lovelady at 404-915-6939. A Facebook page has been set up to track progress at the site under the heading "Mars Theater District Inc."

If you have a photo of the old Mars Theater in LaFayette, Ga., Michael Lovelady is dying to see it.

He's hoping to hang a re-creation of the long-missing marquee over the front doors again as part of a renovation he's started at the theater, which burned in 2011, and the adjoining strip of vacant commercial buildings on Chattanooga and Villanow streets.

The trouble is, no one knows exactly what the old marquee looked like.

"We're trying to find any kind of photos we can," said Lovelady, who declined to say what he spent to buy the property.

He already has received inquiries from potential tenants for the buildings, which have seven storefronts.

A climbing and caving outfitter may move into the old theater and use the two-story structure -- the only one on the strip -- to house an indoor climbing wall, Lovelady said. Climbers and cavers flock to Pigeon Mountain and other sites in Walker County, yet the nearest outfitter is in Chattanooga, he said.

Other potential tenants are a women's boutique, an insurance business and a real estate office, he said.

The Mars Theater closed in the '60s, Lovelady said, and the building morphed into the Mars Glove Mill.

"Putting it back to a theater wouldn't be feasible," he said, because of modifications made when the building was used as glove factory. For example, the glove factory removed the theater's sloping floor.

It should take 30 days to fix up the facade of the commercial strip of buildings, which Lovelady has dubbed the Mars Theater District. He's going to gut the interior and rebuild it based on tenants' specifications.

He also plans to add parking because a lack of it helped lead to the strip's demise, he said.

Lovelady made his mark in historic preservation in LaFayette by renovating an old hardware store on the square into One Eleven, an upscale restaurant that opened in January.

"Historic preservation has always been something that I like doing," he said. "It's kind of a passion. I love my hometown."

City Councilman Andy Arnold is happy to see Lovelady renovate the buildings because Arnold likes the way One Eleven turned out.

"That'll be fun to see how he does," Arnold said. "I'm looking forward to what he's going to do with that."

Although it's been on the decline for years, the theater's area of town near the railroad tracks once was the heart of LaFayette, Lovelady said. About 1900, businesses in the area started migrating to the town square, which was on U.S. 27/Georgia Route 1, the main highway through town.

Lovelady plans to anchor his strip of buildings with an English pub-style restaurant serving such meals as fish and chips, shepherd's pie, burgers and chicken wings. The restaurant should be open in 60 to 90 days, he said.

"That's going to be the anchor business that gets things kicked off down there," he said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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