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Simi Actors Reopen Church for Short Stand : Old Structure Serves Troupe as Temporary Stage

February 26, 1988|RENE ROMO | Times Staff Writer

Ken Gilkison's dream is that members of the Simi Valley Theatre Guild will someday walk the stage of a $10-million to $13-million performing arts complex next to City Hall.

But, for now, a Methodist Church built in 1924, boarded up and unused for the last two years, will have to do.

When the non-equity theater group was told last summer that it could no longer use the Boys and Girls Club for its usual slate of three yearly performances, Gilkison, executive director of the guild, thought of using the church for his company's production of "Carnival," which opens tonight.

"I've been in Simi Valley since 1960, and in my lifetime, I went to church there, I went to elementary school there and I went to Indian Guide meetings there," said the 34-year-old securities broker. Since the building has stood vacant, he said, he has had "a dream of using it . . . in some manner. Now it's coming to fruition."

The guild will occupy the block-like building, once a mortuary, with the imposing plaster pillars for only one production. After that, it will attempt to use the city's old train depot.

Although the church's ceiling is covered with hand-painted scenes of angels and other heavenly motifs, and seating consists of carved oak pews, "It was never a very churchy-looking building," said Pat Havens, director of the Simi Valley Historical Society. "It was more like a courthouse or something."

The exterior is a weathered gray, the grounds are badly in need of weeding and the 1920s art glass windows--similar to stained--are covered with plywood to prevent vandalism.

Still, Gilkison says he does not believe the building's forlorn appearance will discourage Simi Valley's theatergoers.

"The building's in really good shape," Gilkison said. "The building has been in Simi Valley since anyone here can remember, and most people haven't seen the inside. For the most part, the general public will be curious to see what the inside looks like."

Gilkison, along with other members of the guild's production crew, have constructed a stage 28 feet deep and 30 feet wide, to be illuminated by hanging lights. They are preparing to paint the inside of the edifice, registered as a historic landmark in Ventura County.

The church's owner, Bob Mitchell, president of an equipment rental business, agreed to let the guild stage its show in his building in order to stimulate interest in the property, which is on the market for $950,000. He said his mortgage payments are $6,000 a month. He is charging the guild $1,000 a month.

"In Simi Valley, there aren't many buildings that have the capacity to hold a theater, and that is one of the remaining ones," Gilkison said. "I asked Mr. Mitchell, and he was agreeable. There wasn't any point in looking further.

"But we are still looking for a home."

Simi Valley's only performing arts center would appear to be a long while in the offing. A 1986 vote on an advisory ballot measure showed 60% of Simi Valley voters wanted a municipal auditorium to be built, but only 36% were willing to pay for construction. Proponents of the arts center estimated the cost of construction at $60 a year per household over 10 years.

"That's peanuts," said Gary Seaton, a member of Citizens United for a Better Simi Valley and the representative for the Mitchell Co., which is selling the church. "Everybody spends that much in a weekend."

"Carnival" will be performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through March 20. Sunday matinee starts at 2 p.m. For ticket information call (805) 527-8904 or (805) 584-2061.

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