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Santa Ana: An Emerging Mecca Of Cultural Arts

May 14, 1985|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

ORANGE COUNTY — Last fall, in its quest to become a major municipal patron of the arts, Santa Ana announced it had a few big projects in the wings--from a new home for the Orange County Pacific Symphony to plans for new ethnic-art galleries and small theatrical facilities.

At a recent reception to plug its new Visitor and Cultural Events Center, a downtown-based information bureau, city officials reported that a number of projects are getting under way.

Topping the list, they said, is the Orange County Pacific Symphony venture. This month, the orchestra's association will begin a $250,000 renovation of Templo Calvario, a downtown structure to be leased from the city. (The city Redevelopment Agency gave final approval to the leasing arrangement last week.)

The orchestra, now based in Fullerton, is to use the three-level, 25,000-square-foot ex-church building for offices, rehearsals, classes and chamber-scale concerts. Once the new base is established, the Pacific Symphony expects to bring other Orange County arts organizations--including the Pacific Chorale--into the project and make the structure one of the county's major arts headquarters.

"We're really quite excited about this (city) partnership. Santa Ana is traditionally the center of the county. It is a central location that is ideal for our offices," said Keith Clark, the orchestra's founding music director, whose organization now uses a 900-square-foot office in Fullerton and has to hold rehearsals at various other sites.

The orchestra is expected to move its office to Templo Calvario in June and begin its rehearsals there later this summer, Clark said.

In another key downtown move, the city has completed negotiations to purchase the historic Yost Theatre for about $600,000. Under that plan, the city is to convert the Spanish-language movie house into a performing arts center for the Rancho Santiago College's drama and dance programs and for other proposed tenants. The theater is to be reopened as an arts center in about 14 months.

The reason for all this cultural action in Santa Ana's old central sector is all too evident. Not only is Santa Ana seeking to build a big sports complex and woo additional large office, shopping and hotel developments, but the city also wants to rival neighboring Costa Mesa as a cultural mecca.

With the Orange County Performing Arts Center, South Coast Repertory Theatre and Pacific Amphitheatre within its boundaries, Costa Mesa has widely proclaimed itself as "The City of the Arts."

"We see no reason why Santa Ana cannot be another arts hub. We have resources that we have only begun to tap, and a diversity of cultures that no other city in the county can match," said Mayor Daniel Griset.

Added City Manager Robert C. Bobb: "Our game plan is to show people that this community, too, has a commitment to the arts that is as strong as any other community in the Southern California region."

None of the Santa Ana projects, city officials acknowledge, are on the scale of the Orange County Performing Arts Center--the $65.5-million, three-theater complex now under construction in South Coast Plaza Town Center and set to open in fall, 1986.

(In the mid-1970s, Santa Ana had considered a plan for a similar multi-theater complex, to be built next to the Santa Ana Stadium downtown or near the Fashion Square shopping mall in the upper Main Street corridor. But that plan never got past the feasibility-study stage and was dropped in 1979 when Orange County Performing Arts Center backers chose Costa Mesa as their site.)

Instead of one huge complex, Santa Ana's cultural master plan calls for a string of small centers throughout the central sector. These would include the conversion of old, little-used structures into art galleries, drama and dance facilities and small historical museums, plus the creation of arts-themed pedestrian plazas.

As a sampler of what the city has in mind, a potpourri of events at various city sites have been announced. These include outdoor concerts to be presented May 16 and 23 on a now-vacant downtown site at 4th and Ross streets.

On June 13, "Orange County Latino Artists" will lead off a three-program series of art exhibits. The others will be "Women in Art" June 20 and "An American Indian Experience" June 27. The sites are still to be announced.

On the cultural back burner, city officials said, is a proposal to form the city's first arts commission. Expected to be named this year, the commission is to include arts supporters from outside the city.

Another venture under study is in collaboration with the Santa Ana Unified School District. The city is doing a $10,000 feasibility study on how to upgrade the district's Santa Ana High School Auditorium and make it an independently operated concert hall. (The 1,600-seat downtown auditorium has been a local venue for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Orange County Pacific Symphony and others for years.) The city is expected to make its formal recommendations this summer.

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