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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Vacant Land of the Sun Theater catches fire

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The Land of the Sun theater suffered no internal damage Tuesday during a fire incident involving its external marquee.

The Artesia Fire Department (AFD) was called to the scene around 2 p.m. Tuesday in reference to a report of smoke. Artesia Fire Marshal Brenden Harvey said that when crews arrived, light smoke was visible emanating from the marquee.

“This was determined to be a working fire, and additional resources were dispatched from AFD with automatic aid from Eddy County Fire and Rescue,” Harvey said.

Firefighters used a ladder to reach the theater’s east-facing marquee and an axe to break through the signage in order to spray water directly into the area behind it. Harvey said crews were also sent inside the theater to check for spread.

“It was determined that [the fire] was isolated to the marquee with no extension to the interior of the building,” he said.

Main Street was briefly closed Tuesday for three blocks in both directions while crews extinguished the fire, which was quickly brought under control with no injuries reported. Harvey determined the cause to be accidental in nature.

Pedestrians are currently being warned to avoid walking beneath the theater’s awning for the time being in order to avoid any falling debris.

“We appreciate the Artesia Fire Department for their quick and efficient response,” said Artesia MainStreet Executive Director Morgan Fox. “It’s a relief that no fire spread to the facade, interior or other structures.”

Several Artesians noticed late Monday evening that the neon lights outside the theater were fully lit for the first time in years. The lights illuminated on their own, and it is unclear whether or not that played a role in the ensuing incident.

The Landsun previously experienced an electrical malfunction that resulted in smoke damage in March 2020, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. That was the initial catalyst behind the theater’s closure, and it has remained shuttered since. The building is currently for sale by Colliers, a global investment management company with offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

As was reported in the March 2 edition of the Daily Press, AMC — which acquired Carmike Cinemas, the theater’s former parent company, in 2016 — currently maintains ownership of the theater. Its vacancy of just over three years has, as Fox notes, contributed to the issues with and deterioration of the property.

“We see our theater with rose-colored glasses, our nostalgia coloring the reality of the Landsun’s current state,” Fox said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the theater is plagued with electrical issues, and its abandonment is not without great consequence.”

Artesia Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hayley Klein said she has been communicating directly with AMC and that the company is also concerned about the issue.

“We are and have been actively looking for solutions to what was once a beautiful centerpiece of downtown Artesia,” Klein said. “The issues with the building are significant, and there are many costly repairs to be made. It’s not a small feat, but we, along with MainStreet, the City of Artesia, and others in the community, are committed to finding a solution.”

All those involved, including Artesia residents, continue to hope that solution will involve the restoration and rejuvenation of the historic property.

“The Landsun theater is beloved,” said Fox. “Artesia MainStreet considers it to be a cornerstone of Artesia and a link to our past. Yesterday’s smoldering marquee should serve as a signal fire: The theater needs immediate attention, and more importantly, an owner who is invested in restoring the Landsun.”

Brienne Green
Daily Press Editor

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