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Backs Arts Center : Group Urges Razing of Alex Theatre

November 12, 1987|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | Times Staff Writer

Despite recommendations by preservationists that the Alex Theatre be saved, a group of Glendale business leaders this week urged that the historic cinema be substantially rebuilt as a performing arts center.

A privately funded report presented to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday suggested that the 62-year-old movie palace serves an "essentially minor function as one of several aged" film theaters on Brand Boulevard which have questionable future longevity.

The business group, called The Glendale Partners, proposed instead that the ornate neo-Greek arcade entryway to the theater be preserved, but that the 1,500-seat movie theater be replaced with a new facility.

'Vanishing Stock'

That view is in conflict with a position paper issued by the Glendale Historical Society last year which stated that the Alex is "part of a quickly vanishing stock of significant community features" and should be preserved as a movie house. The historical society argues that there is no need for a performing arts center in Glendale.

The Alex is one of six theaters along Brand Boulevard which the historical society says constitutes a movie theater district. However, owners of all six have said they would prefer to relocate to a multiplex facility elsewhere in Glendale.

James Sheehan, president of Mann Theatres Corp. of California, which owns the Alex, said that the single-screen theater is too large and outdated to be profitable. He said last year that he would rather trade the landmark to the city for a new multiscreen movie house in the downtown district.

City officials for years have been pondering whether to save the Alex, convert it to an arts center or build an arts center elsewhere, such as at the site of the aging Glendale Civic Auditorium. Earlier studies have concluded that the stage at the Alex, originally built in 1925 for vaudeville, is too shallow for live performances. The studies also found that the stage cannot be expanded because it backs up to Maryland Avenue.

Alternatives include tearing down the Alex and building a new 1,200- to 1,500-seat performance auditorium plus a 250-seat small theater, city officials said. The facility could be built to accommodate both Broadway shows and musical productions. Consultants have suggested that the columned entryway be saved and converted into an arcade with shops and restaurants.

Conversion Backed

The Glendale Partners, formed in February to offer voluntary guidance on improvements in the city, endorsed the conversion proposal. Their report to the agency Tuesday concluded that the range of cultural and artistic facilities in Glendale is "less than adequate."

A survey by the group's private consultant found that there is a "strong consensus" in town that the Alex site is better suited to a performing arts center than a cinema, according to the report.

The report also questioned the historical society's recommendation that the cinema be saved, saying the proposal is "based on an overly emotional attachment" to the theater and ignores practical considerations.

John Hedlund, chairman of the partner's cultural arts subcommittee, prodded the agency to move ahead on acquiring and converting the theater. Hedlund suggested that the Glendale Development Council, a group of corporate, business and city leaders formed several years ago to promote Glendale throughout the nation, lead a fund-raising drive for a new center.

Upon receiving the report, Carl W. Raggio, redevelopment agency chairman, said "there is a hunger" for new a new entertainment center in the city.

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