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Task Force to Hire Architect for Alex Theatre


A task force charged with determining the future of Glendale's historic Alex Theatre has decided within a few weeks to hire the same architect who guided renovation of the Pasadena Playhouse.

The architect will be charged with studying potential uses of the theater and the type of facilities needed to accommodate a wide range of productions. Those factors will determine the cost of renovating the 1925 movie house and set the stage for the city to acquire the facility, said Laurence R. Clarke, chairman of the Committee for the Arts at the Alex.

At a meeting last week of the city-appointed advisory group, members said they have reached an agreement with architect Richard F. McCann of Pasadena to develop plans to convert the Alex, at 216 N. Brand Blvd., into a cultural arts facility.

Results of the study could be ready within three months, Clarke said, far ahead of the schedule originally projected by the committee.

"We're moving along more quickly than was contemplated," said Clarke, whose committee will finally determine what to do with the Alex, the future of which has been mired in indecision for more than a decade. "We developed a consensus very early that we don't want to be another study group."

The committee in April recommended a modest renovation of the theater that would allow it to be used for a range of events, including dance and stage productions, private and corporate functions, movie filming and organ concerts. Preliminary estimates indicate that the work will cost no more than $4 million, far below earlier estimates of an elaborate expansion with costs ranging up to $15 million.

The committee expects within a month to present a report to the Glendale Redevelopment Agency showing that the theater is structurally sound. The engineering study, conducted by John Kariotis and Associates of Pasadena, found that the theater "has the structural integrity of a new building," committee member James DeMonaco said.

The structural study "obviously was a threshold issue" in moving forward with the renovation proposal, Clarke said.

The Redevelopment Agency in May authorized spending $185,000 to purchase property fronting the theater and is negotiating with Mann Theatres to purchase the movie house itself. Officials said the structural study, as well as environmental studies to determine the extent of asbestos and lead in the building, are required before a purchase agreement.

The committee's next task is to study the scope and feasibility of the renovation project, Clarke said.

"We've got to get an architectural firm involved so that we can get the project going, to begin to develop exactly what will be done with the theater and the kinds of uses it will be put to."

To assist in that, the committee expects to hire a second architect, Leon Sugarman of San Francisco, Clarke said. Sugarman, a specialist in renovation and innovative design, frequently works as a consultant for Walt Disney Imagineering, which is responsible for creating theme parks worldwide.

Sugarman recently renovated some of the Imagineering offices in Glendale and is working on Showplace Square, a design center complex in San Francisco in an industrial area that is being converted into a public plaza of furniture showrooms with restaurants and other amenities.

Clarke said the committee is working to develop "a real definitive plan on what realistically and what should be done and what the cost will be." He said the goal is to achieve a "high quality, viable product within some reasonable bounds."

The committee will recommend that a nonprofit organization, with seven to nine members appointed by the Redevelopment Agency, be formed to operate the theater. The group would be eligible to raise money to help pay the cost of renovating and operating the theater, Clarke said.

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