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Gaslamp Theatre to Be Renamed in Honor of Key Benefactor Hahn

January 28, 1988|NANCY CHURNIN

SAN DIEGO — Goodby, Deane Theatre. Hello, Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre.

The Gaslamp Quarter Theatre was to rename its year-old 250-seat theater at 444 4th Ave. Wednesday night in a ceremony at the theater. Kit Goldman's name may not have been in the title, but it would have been a moment that was clearly as sweet to the co-founder and managing producer of the two Gaslamp Quarter Theatres as to anyone else involved.

With one bold stroke of the marquee, Goldman put behind the sour aftertaste left by the theater's initial identification with Charles Deane, the original major donor who had given his name and pledge of $250,000 to the then-new theater, only to withdraw his name and all but $60,000 of his pledge amid accusations of mismanagement aimed at Goldman and her husband, Dan Pearson, who oversaw the $1.6-million building project.

That began the conflicts between the Gaslamp and Deane. The theater conducted an audit of disputed construction and outfitting expenses in which Deane claimed Pearson had overcharged the theater to the tune of $140,000. A later fiscal review that was accepted by the Gaslamp board established them as coming in $17,000 under budget.

The charges, according to Goldman, are "ancient history," but the office of David Herring, the lawyer representing the Gaslamp, reported that though there has been "no recent communication" on this matter, "the issues are not completely over and done with."

At the same time, the renaming, the result of almost a year's worth of coaxing by Goldman to get permission from her largest longtime benefactors, Ernest and Jean Hahn, to let their names be publicized, was a way of giving credit to people who had given her support right from the beginning.

While Goldman tried to deflect distinctions between Deane and the Hahns, her effusiveness on the subject of the Hahns betrayed her very strong feelings on the subject of the two givers. It is not just the money, she stressed, though the amount that the Hahns gave in combination with the money they solicited from others--"close to half a million"--was clearly substantial.

"After what we went through, it's a pleasure to have such solid, handshake kind of people to work with. They (the Hahns) are the ultimate kind of supporters. They don't get involved unless they trust what you're doing.

"Ernie has always been there to offer advice, counsel and support," she said, leaning her elbows forward on an office table and putting an emphasis on the word "support" that seemed to translate into "encouragement."

That emphasis reflects a special relationship that Hahn maintains with the Gaslamp. Although it is not unusual for the multimillionaire San Diego Horton Plaza developer to give, as he has to numerous organizations including the San Diego Symphony, the Lyceum Theatres, the Old Globe and various art and development projects across the country, Hahn, speaking on the phone from Orlando, Fla., Monday, did concede: "I haven't been as close to them as I have to this particular theater. Geographically, it's located where I have an interest." One of the things that Goldman thinks won Hahn's respect for her organization was the Gaslamp's commitment to establish itself in the heart of the decayed downtown area. "He calls us the Marines," she said. "We were down there in the trenches keeping the hostile forces at bay."

It's a quote which, when repeated to Hahn, made him laugh.

"She's quite a gal," he said, referring to Goldman. "She's aggressive in a very friendly way, and she gets a lot done. It's been a labor of love helping her get started.

"It's a unique little theater. I call it Off-Broadway on 4th. To build it in a metropolitan area is something in itself. To put it in a totally blighted area of San Diego is unique. Most people wouldn't invest dollars that far south. I don't think anyone would have given her a chance of getting it done. (But) to create more waves of vitality that keeps the redevelopment happening in the marina area is the best move. I've had a feeling that all of us should do what we can to encourage growth south of Broadway."

Hahn, however, made it clear that while the downtown aspect of the theater was a personal draw, there is an issue of general need for the arts that appeals not only to him but also to the the other donors in town.

"I think they feel somewhat as I do. What if nobody gave? Art is a very important part of the fabric of life. I think it is just as important as having a fire department and police department and sweeping the streets.

"Why do you eat desserts? You don't need them. You like them and they're part of living. I think people get hungry for drama and music, and anyone who has the ability to give should give. There are people who can't afford to and they shouldn't be denied the fullness of life.

"When the symphony stopped, it sobered people up to the fact that the symphony could stop. There has been enough tragedy to show that cultural things cannot exist on the ticket prices people pay. Tickets cover two-thirds of the cost of theater. The rest has to come from donations. People enjoy these things, and they want them to be part of their life."

Hahn acknowledged that "there is a lot of giving that is given from a certain amount of vanity" and said it was his very discomfort with that idea that made him resist Goldman's request to name the theater after him and his wife for almost a year.

"Jean and I have never really given for that purpose. We do remain anonymous with nine-tenths of our giving. The rationale given to Jean and me is that because we've been involved that maybe it will be an encouragement to other people to give more support to the downtown."

That, ultimately, seems to have been the point on which Goldman's battle to honor the Hahns was won.

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