Miles Playhouse, a Spanish Colonial-style building in Santa Monica's Lincoln Park, was heavily used by the community until it was closed in 1983 because it failed to meet state seismic safety standards.
Since then the facility, which was designated a city landmark in 1975, has mainly provided a shelter for street people who take refuge under its eaves. The few groups that occasionally use the building must sign waivers absolving the city from any legal responsibility if there is an earthquake.
But on Tuesday the City Council approved the plan to solicit proposals to renovate the old playhouse. Performing arts groups will be asked to pick up the bulk of the estimated $600,000 to $1-million tab for strengthening the building in return for being allowed to use the playhouse as a professional performing arts facility. The city will contribute up to $250,000 to the project.
The council also approved a city staff report recommending that potential investors and tenants arrange for adequate parking, provide access for community groups on a occasional basis and maintain the "architectural and historical integrity of the building."
The building's namesake, Santa Monica real estate broker J. Euclid Miles, willed $20,000 to the city for the construction of "a hall for young people" in 1925.
The playhouse was completed in 1929. The exterior of the unreinforced masonry building features plaster walls and a red tile roof. The interior has a stage, hardwood floors, wrought-iron light fixtures, a high ceiling with dark, rough-hewn wooden beams, a fireplace and a set of French doors.
It can seat about 200 people, said Dodie Mosby, a division head for the Recreation and Parks Department who scheduled events for the playhouse until it closed.
"The playhouse was used almost every day," Mosby said. "We hired people to instruct activities such as dance classes and arts and crafts. There were occasional concerts and plays. And every Friday night we held a dance for senior citizens. It is our only facility with a wood floor, which made it perfect for dance classes."
Several groups have already expressed an interest in the playhouse.
Last year, Los Angeles Theater Works, a production company that leases various theaters for its productions, proposed renovating the playhouse and converting it into a 300-seat theater.
"The opportunity to have a permanent space lets you have long-range planning," said Sara Maultsby, an associate producing director for Theater Works.
The Theater Works proposal called for using the playhouse year-round for administrative operations and rehearsals. Performances would be given 46 weeks a year with three matinees weekly and six nightly performances.
Maultsby said, however, "The interior has to be completely renovated for use. Our work is, I guess, more adventurous and we would want a space that is flexible. We just don't know, at this point, what would be retained and what would be modified."
Another group interested in the playhouse is the College of Fine Arts at UCLA. The college is seeking a replacement facility for The House, a center for performing arts that had quarters on 5th Street in Santa Monica until it lost its lease earlier this year.
The House was "a community-based dance and performing arts facility," said Tony Sherwood, director of publicity for the College of Fine Arts.
Variety of Programs
The House offered dance classes and performances, experimental films and a Monday night "works in progress" series that featured artists from the community who reserved space and "performed whatever they wanted to perform," Sherwood said.
No one from the college has inspected the interior of the playhouse so he could not say to what extent, if any, the college would want to renovate it. "We have no idea yet what the possibilities are," he said.
The Santa Monica Symphony and the Senior Nutrition office are using the playhouse. The city staff's report suggests spending $15,000 to convert the locker and shower facilities elsewhere in Lincoln Park, which have been closed for several years, into office space for the senior program.
The symphony uses the playhouse for weekly rehearsals, according to symphony board member and cellist Sheila Wells.
"We would hope that the city would be successful in negotiating for the use of Miles Playhouse for other well established civic groups," she said. "If not, we will have to look for another place to rehearse, which will be very difficult for us."
Lynne Barrette, assistant city manager, said the city will notify residents near the playhouse when plans have been completed for several public meetings on how the playhouse should be used.
The City Council must approve any proposal for the renovation and use of the playhouse, she said.