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Consultants Urge Rebuilding Alex as an Arts Center

May 08, 1986|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

The Alex Theatre, a landmark movie house in the heart of downtown Glendale, should be substantially rebuilt by the city as a performing arts center, a yearlong study has concluded.

The study, submitted to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency Tuesday, suggests that a $15-million reconstruction be undertaken to preserve the entry courtyard and lobby of the theater and to replace its auditorium and vaudevillian stage with a 1,400-seat proscenium arch theater and a 250-seat theater next door.

The study suggests that reconstruction is the "ideal solution" to both preserve the unusual neo-Greek architecture of the theater, opened in 1925, and create a performing arts center suitable for Broadway productions and other live entertainment.

Theater Owned by Mann

Under the proposal, the city would purchase the Alex from its owner, Mann Theatres, as well as buildings within 50 feet south of the property. Officials of Mann said they have not seen the study and declined to comment.

Susan F. Shick, deputy redevelopment director, said the city has no immediate plans to acquire and rebuild the theater. She said the $63,000, city-financed study was conducted to determine what, if any, role the theater may have in a proposed mixed-use district in the downtown redevelopment project.

City plans call for the mixed-use district, bounded by Wilson Avenue, Lexington Drive, Central Avenue and Maryland Avenue, to include a luxury hotel, central plaza and cultural arts center as well as stores and apartments. Shick said any development of a mixed-use district is at least several years away. She said, however, that the study on the Alex Theatre provides "information we can consider in planning mixed-use projects."

Stage Too Small

David T. Staples of Theatre Projects Consultants and Thomas C. Mitze of Mitze Productions, who conducted the study, said the stage at the movie house is too small and is ill-equipped for live productions. They said existing facilities could be renovated at less cost but that this would not resolve the problems posed by the size of the stage.

The report suggests that the arts center could be operated by a nonprofit corporation, by a city department or, in what was described as the best alternative, by a city-appointed board of directors.

Mitze said it would cost the city about $250,000 a year to operate the center, that it would draw about 250,000 to 300,000 people and generate almost $3.7 million in direct and indirect revenues to such businesses as restaurants and retailers.

Members of a cultural arts study committee appointed by the City Council urged city officials to speed reconstruction of the theater.

Warren Haverkamp, a former Glendale mayor and chairman of the study committee, reminded council members Tuesday that a performing arts center was first proposed more than six years ago.

"I have only one son who is unmarried, but I have left a letter for my grandchildren. I wanted them to know that their grandfather at one time worked for a theater," said the 60-year-old Haverkamp. "At the rate things are going, I'll be dead before it happens."

But Councilman Carl Raggio emphasized that the city was only accepting the study committee's report, not acting upon its recommendations. "I don't want to send out any mixed signals that we are underwriting the costs of reconstructing the theater at this time," he said.

Alex Location Most Suitable

The study suggests that the Alex Theatre's location--216 N. Brand Blvd.--is the most suitable for a performing arts center. It found that alternatives such as converting the Glendale Civic Auditorium into an arts center or building a center elsewhere would be too costly.

A survey of Glendale residents conducted for the study found that 80% of residents prefer that the theater be salvaged if possible because of its historical value to the city. The theater, which Staples describes as "congenial, elegant and unusual," was famous as a first-run movie house where films such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" had their premieres.

The theater's exterior was substantially redone in 1940 when the entryway was covered and a marquee and box office, topped by a neon-lighted tower, were added. Staples said the theater today is "a tattered remnant of its past glory. The interior is tawdry with missing seats, frayed carpeting and dilapidated furnishings and fixtures."

$15 Million Cost

The study considers three alternatives for renovating the Alex, ranging from minimal rehabilitation, which would cost about $6 million; rehabilitation and expansion of current facilities, which would cost almost $14 million, and complete reconstruction, which would $15 million. The study calls complete reconstruction "the ideal solution."

Building a new arts center would cost more than $17 million, the report says. None of the estimates includes the cost of acquiring land.

The first phase of the study, completed 15 months ago, found that there is a "very strong demand" for a performing arts center in Glendale with a 1,300- to 1,600-seat theater. Although critics point out that theaters in Los Angeles, Hollywood and other communities are struggling to survive, Staples said a mid-size theater in Glendale would "complement rather than compete" with neighboring facilities. He said middle-income theatergoers, mainly workers and retired people, might not travel to Los Angeles or Hollywood but would attend productions in their own community.

Staples said development of a performing arts center in Glendale would not affect productions at the Glendale Centre Theatre, a small, private organization that has operated successfully for years. Centre Theatre officials said they plan to keep their quarters at 324 N. Orange St. and are not interested in moving.

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