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Heritage Panel Pays Landmark Visit to Church : Preservation: Officials look at a former theater that nearby homeowners want declared a monument. Church members want to sell it instead.


Members of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission went to church Wednesday, but not to pray.

The commissioners paid a quick visit to the former Valley Music Theatre in Woodland Hills, which is a Jehovah's Witness assembly hall. The panel inspected the facility in response to the wishes of homeowner activists who want the 25-year-old dome-shaped building preserved as a historical monument.

The homeowners' tactics resembled those of a group of Studio City homeowners who unsuccessfully tried last year to get the commission to declare a carwash at Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards a historical monument. In both cases, the homeowners' aim was to prevent large projects from replacing the buildings.

The Woodland Hills Homeowners Assn. fears that the former music theater, built as a showcase for Broadway-style musicals in 1964, will be torn down and replaced by apartments or condominiums. At least two development firms have shown interest in purchasing the property, according to the office of Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the area. Commission President Amarjit S. Marwah, Vice President Takashi Shida and board member Reynaldo Landero were briefly escorted through the facility by church board member John Genovese and attorney Michael J. Kron, who represents the church. The commissioners asked several questions about the history of the facility and its present operations but did not closely inspect the building.

Genovese told the commissioners that it had become too expensive to heat the 2,900-seat theater and that parking space was inadequate for the current membership. He said church officials had purchased property in the Santa Clarita Valley and were planning to move operations there.

Marwah said the five-member board will consider whether the building should be designated a landmark at its Feb. 14 meeting. "We have to see more history and do more research before we make a decision," he said. "We would like to hear both sides."

Kron and Genovese said the building does not deserve monument status.

In applying for the designation, leaders of the homeowner group said the building should be saved because it resembles the Pacific Theater Cinerama Dome in Hollywood.

The sprawling theater operated for years as a theater-in-the-round. Before the Music Center went bankrupt and was sold to the Jehovah's Witnesses in the late 1970s, entertainers such as Robert Goulet, Mitzi Gaynor and Art Linkletter performed there, according to homeowner leaders.

If the auditorium receives monument status, it would be the youngest official landmark in Los Angeles, replacing the 22-foot-tall Tower of Wooden Pallets, built in 1951 in the back yard of a Van Nuys home.

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