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Arts Center Falls to the Wrecker

June 23, 1988|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The star performer brought a 68,000-pound skip loader on a flatbed truck. The producer brought a video camera in her van.

The script had taken more than two years to write. It took a mere 1 1/2 hours to play the drama out on a pad of concrete beside Riverside Drive.

It was the last scene of Act II of the city-operated Los Feliz Performing Arts Center. Act I had been long and happy. For nearly 25 years, the familiar wing-roofed theater near Los Feliz Boulevard was used for musical productions of amateur and professional dramatists, children and the elderly.

Arson Fire 27 Months Ago

Then it was damaged beyond repair in an arson fire 27 months ago.

Kathy Herbert, the center's coordinator and drama coach, recorded the fire on her video camera.

Soon after, she declared it her goal to photograph the demolition of the building as the conclusion of a cycle in its history and then to record the beginning of Act III, when a new building would rise to take its place.

Resolution came begrudgingly. As the charred timbers stood untouched, except by graffiti artists who climbed a chain-link fence, the city process faltered. The city put the $9,000 job to bid in December, 1986.

The successful contractor, Mike Blair, said he waited six months for the go-ahead, while the city waited for money to be moved into the account that would pay him.

He reported for work in September, only to find asbestos in the shingles. A second contract for about $50,000 was bid to remove the asbestos.

That finally done last month, Herbert again waited while gas lines to the building were capped. She got word that the job was to be done last week.

But Blair said he didn't have a letter from the city allowing him to start. He got it Thursday but didn't have the skip loader ready.

At last, she got a call Tuesday morning. She drove from her job at Barnsdall Park and arrived in time to see Randy Christian, driver of the skip loader, take his first shot at the long graceful beams that supported the roof.

There was noise and dust. The beams splintered. Christian drove the tractor, like a tank, up a pile of fallen wood, raised the bucket 10 feet over his head and tugged at the roof. In sections, it snapped and fell.

"It's just wonderful," Herbert said, seeing beauty even in the mauling of a building. The curtain is down on Act II. But it's going to be a long intermission.

The city's Department of Cultural Affairs has proposed building a larger theater, of 400 to 500 seats, on the ashes of the old one, just down the street from the illustrious Mulholland Fountain.

"We feel a need for a mid-sized theater for small theater and dance companies that don't have a facility," said the department's general manager, Rodney Punt.

$5-Million Cost

However, its cost is estimated at $5 million, Punt said. As a less costly alternative, Councilmen John Ferraro and Mike Woo want to buy the historic Los Feliz Theatre on nearby Vermont Avenue and convert it into a performing hall. Neither proposal has yet progressed to the stage of serious study.

"We're still working with the councilman on examining which of the two or other alternatives would be feasible," Punt said.

Meanwhile, Herbert found hope as well as beauty in the demolition scene that had been her fixation for more than two years.

"This is a very joyous day because there is some progression going," she said.

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