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Panel Recommends Alex Theater Be Made Into Glendale Arts Center

February 28, 1991|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A newly formed 21-member advisory committee on the Alex Theatre agreed Tuesday that Glendale should push forward with plans to acquire and renovate the historic 1925 movie house into a top rank cultural arts facility.

In its first public session since the committee was named in January, members asked the Glendale Redevelopment Agency--which consists of the five-member City Council--to outline guidelines for developing a master plan to save the Alex.

The agency laid down only two basic rules: that the Alex should stay where it is at 216 N. Brand Blvd. and that every effort should be made to incorporate the famed Fox Lanterman theater pipe organ as an integral part of the facility.

Beyond that, Councilman Carl Raggio said, the committee "should start out by blue-skying it"--considering every possibility for developing a viable arts center in the heart of Glendale's redevelopment zone, including making use of the property around it.

"The bottom line has always been that we are going to save the Alex," said agency Chairwoman Ginger Bremberg. "Your job is to figure out how."

The answer to that question has remained elusive for more than a decade. Various organizations in the past had squabbled over whether the 66-year-old theater and its neo-Greek architecture should be preserved as a single-screen theater, converted into a performing arts center or largely demolished to make way for a new arts facility.

Mayor Larry Zarian said he appointed the committee--a diverse group that includes some former rivals--to come up with a final answer.

After years of study that produced multiple, conflicting reports on the potential use of the Alex, Zarian said Tuesday that he wants "to get something done. I'm not interested in writing another report."

The campaign to renovate the Alex got started last fall when Glendale began negotiating the purchase of a rare pipe organ left to the neighboring city of La Canada Flintridge in the estate of Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, who had played an organ at the Alex on opening night.

An agreement to purchase the organ, the largest and best of only four Wurlitzer Crawford Specials left in the world according to organ specialist William Schutz, was reached in January. The instrument, capable of producing the sounds of a 90-piece orchestra, is being dismantled at the Lanterman home and will be moved to Glendale for storage and renovation by mid-April, said Schutz, who is overseeing the move.

Agency members urged the advisory committee to work quickly to develop a plan for the Alex because they said accelerated development in the downtown area threatens preservation of the theater. They urged the committee, led by Glendale attorney Laurence R. Clarke, to present recommendations to the agency by the end of the year.

Redevelopment Director Jeanne Armstrong said her department will soon ask the agency to authorize seismic and other studies required before the city enters final negotiations to purchase the Alex, owned by Mann Theatres.

City officials have repeatedly warned that the city lacks the millions of dollars needed to save the theater.

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