MONTEBELLO — Local arts enthusiasts and city officials have joined forces to embrace a symphony orchestra and choral group as Montebello's own, and there is talk of reviving plans to build a cultural arts center in the city.
Members of a committee to support the Philharmonia Pacifica met for the first time early last month and decided to raise $30,000 to stage three concerts before the end of June, said committee Chairman William A. Elledge.
"This is just the start," Elledge said in a recent interview. "We're going for the long-term goal where we'll have a symphony like Los Angeles."
Operated Out of Home
The committee, which includes Mayor William Molinari and Alex Esquivel, the city's manager of human services, wants to establish the Philharmonia Pacifica as Montebello's resident performing arts group.
Composed of a 54-member orchestra and a 60-member chorale, the Philharmonia Pacifica is run out of the Montebello home of music director Sergio Corona and performs in churches, public auditoriums and area schools.
It is Corona's dream to grow and stage more performances for the cities of Montebello, Pico Rivera, Commerce, Bell Gardens and Monterey Park and the East Los Angeles community. Corona said more local residents would attend concerts if they didn't have to venture into downtown Los Angeles, Orange County or other outlying areas to listen to a symphony orchestra.
"Sometimes psychologically it is far enough and detached enough that they won't go," Corona said. "If they have their home-grown product they become enthusiastic."
Corona formed the Los Angeles Chamber Ensemble in 1980, then in 1984 incorporated the nonprofit orchestra and choral group and changed its name to the Philharmonia Pacifica. Most of the performers are in their mid-20s to mid-30s, and some are university students.
The musicians and singers receive small honorariums. Guest performers have included opera singer Delcina Stevenson.
The Philharmonia Pacifica was born out of the need for local musicians to practice their art and the difficulty of joining one of Southern California's established orchestras, Corona said.
"It all started with some of the frustration that some of us have experienced with trying to do something with our training," said Corona, who also is music director of the Park Avenue Christian Church in Montebello.
"In organizing, we would kill two birds with one stone by allowing the community (members) to practice and by bringing quality music to the community. We want to present an alternative to what we have now commonly on the airwaves."
The committee has established the intermediate goal of raising $100,000 annually to pay for six full-blown concerts each year, four performances by the group's string quartet, four performances by its brass ensemble and four concerts at the city's summer festival, said Elledge, who also is chairman of the Board of Directors of the Southland Art Assn.
The Montebello-based Southland Art Assn. stages workshops for youths, puts on exhibits and has an annual arts festival.
The long-term goal of the committee is to establish a $2.5-million endowment to support the Philharmonia Pacifica, Elledge said. The committee will seek donations from local citizens and businesses ranging from $25 a year to $5,000 for a lifetime membership, he said.
But for now, the orchestra still needs an office and a place to practice.
Arts Center Is Goal
Montebello has offered use of the city's Senior Citizens Center, which seats about 300 people, said Esquivel. And Esquivel said the city would have no problem finding office space for the orchestra.
Ultimately, city officials and Corona would like to see Montebello build a performing arts center on city-owned property that is home to the Taylor Ranch House on the northwest corner of Lincoln Avenue and Montebello Boulevard.
The Southland Art Assn. has its headquarters at the aging house, which also contains various meeting rooms used by civic organizations.
In the early 1970s, the city planned to raze the building and construct a performing arts center in its place, but Proposition 13 and declining city revenues killed the proposal, officials said.
High on Priority List
Original plans called for an arts center with a 100-seat theater, a gallery display area and meeting rooms, said Al King, director of parks and recreation for the city. The 12,000-square-foot center would have cost the city about $700,000 in 1979.
"We don't really have a true community center in Montebello at this time," Molinari said. "It would allow for musical productions, maybe a little theater. It's something that's high on my priority list as far as city facilities are concerned."
Corona said he has made preliminary contact with a local folk ensemble and ballet schools with the hope of bringing additional performing groups into the Philharmonia Pacifica.
"We're trying to incorporate all that, if possible," he said. "It has been our dream to have our own (performing arts group) where our own people can have the freedom to come and express themselves, whether it be through theater, through dance, through music."