Weekend Effort to Get Sekrit Theater Up to Code
East Austin venue forced to clean up or close down
In September, the Chronicle wrote about Beau Reichert's Sekrit Theater, an Eastside community hub under fire from both a neighboring subdivision and the city ("When the Sekrit's Out," Sept. 2). Reichert, an artist and native Austinite, bought the two-acre property on Perry Road in 2007. What Sekrit Theater eventually became, he said, was completely accidental.
Reichert said he bought the property to build the art studio of his dreams – which still hasn't happened nearly 10 years later thanks to problems with city Code Enforcement. Instead, Reichert built a giant projector screen so he could watch his sizable film collection together with friends. Additional structures started getting built on the property. Others were left over from previous property owners.
The structural growth brought Reichert both joy and stress. Friends from a nearby neighborhood began coming to the theatre with their kids on Saturdays to watch movies. Local creatives not only frequented the space but also told people outside of Austin about Reichert and his sanctuary. The Sekrit Theater became a niche household name – which made neighborhood code complaints only increase. There were parking issues, curfew violations, and accusations that Reichert was using his property as a commercial venue – a charge he denies. Austin Police got involved, showing up at the property, though he's yet to receive a citation. By the fall, stress had Reichert breaking out in hives. He embarked on a trip to clear his head. When he returned, so did his problems with city code.
This past weekend, Reichert led a last-ditch effort to bring his property into compliance. Volunteers, including some from the bordering SOL Subdivision, spent three long days clearing brush, removing possible fire hazards, and hauling away Reichert's precious building supplies. "They're not worth the stress," Reichert explained before climbing onto a Bobcat skid-steer and dismantling a shed he doesn't have the time or resources to fix.
One volunteer, David Brown, said he's only known Reichert a couple of months but that he decided to spend his birthday clipping brush because the Sekrit Theater represents all the things he loves about Austin. "If there's a problem, we're resourceful," he said. "We can fix it. Isn't that the Texas attitude?" An SOL homeowner who signed on to help said she doesn't "understand how it got to this point. It's just sad. This is an amazing artist and guy who has good intentions. All he wanted was to bring the community together."
A representative at Austin Code Enforcement confirmed Reichert's claim of no citations, but said he has "one pending notice of violation related to 'duty to maintain property in sanitary condition.'" The department met with Reichert and his attorney on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and said it will schedule a follow-up sweep to confirm each of the outstanding complaints have been resolved. Weddings, Reichert said, will continue to be allowed because they are a "religious ceremony."
Reichert said the worst part about his troubles with Code Enforcement is that the community he feels he created at the theatre is now largely absent. "It used to be everyone talked to everybody, and we had our dinners over here," he said. "We had a bunch of birthday parties. Everyone knew what everyone was doing. All summer, it's just been like, two or three people come on Saturday. It's kind of depressing now. And it's certainly not a lot of fun for me anymore."