The subway is coming to Hollywood. And the Hollywood theaters are planning to ride it for all it's worth.
Ever since it was known that Metro Rail's Red Line would be routed down Hollywood Boulevard, theater folk have fretted about what might happen to the area's theaters during construction. There was even talk that some theaters might have to close.
But that extreme possibility has now been ruled out, according to Stan Seiden, Nederlander West president, whose company runs the Pantages and the Henry Fonda theaters on Hollywood Boulevard. "Our concerns are not as strong as they were six months ago. The streets will not be as pleasant to cross as they are now," Seiden said of the projected four years of construction. But he has been assured that work will take place between midnight and 9 a.m., when theatergoers are long gone, and that there will be no serious obstacle course for theatergoers to negotiate.
Meanwhile, sometime before major construction is expected to begin next February, Metro Rail intends to open a Hollywood Theater District Information Office within its field office, across the street from the Pantages. No tickets will be sold there, but the office will offer flyers about shows, and it will be staffed by someone who is knowledgeable about the local productions and restaurants.
It's part of a plan to keep the area pedestrian-friendly during construction. The best part of this plan is that it comes with money--$27.7 million is available for "mitigation" efforts.
"The theaters can make lemonade out of the fact that the boulevard is being torn up," observed Lester Burg, assistant project manager for the Hollywood Redevelopment Project of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).
So far the best lemonade-maker among the area's theaters has been the Stella Adler Theatre and Academy, which formerly rented space at Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle--now the site of a Metro Rail station under construction. It's been a tumultuous couple of years for the organization--the theater was badly damaged by a 1991 fire, the legendary Adler died last year, then Metro Rail told the group it was time to move.
But Metro Rail paid moving costs. And the CRA helped the Adlerites find a new home and finance its renovation with a "disappearing" loan of nearly $250,000. Ten percent of the loan is forgiven each year, and if the space is still in use as a theater after 10 years, it won't have to be paid back at all.
The loan required a dollar-for-dollar match. The organization's president, Irene Gilbert, said she personally borrowed the money to make the match because she had promised the dying Adler to rebuild the theater and academy. She plans a fund-raising effort to help her pay off her loan.
Construction is now underway at the new Adler space--above the Hollywood Wax Museum, just east of Highland. John Sergio Fisher, who also designed Los Angeles Theatre Center and the renovated Tiffany Theaters, was the architect. The 65-seat "student" theater is expected to be ready for an Aug. 20 opening of a revival of the Hollywood play "The Big Knife," and construction of the academy and a 99-seat theater are scheduled to be completed by October.
But the Adler theater is hardly alone in its hope to benefit from the next few years of changes along Hollywood Boulevard. The CRA organized a Hollywood Theater Committee early this year, with representatives from a number of theaters within the redevelopment district and also including representatives of Theater Row along Santa Monica Boulevard, just south of the district. The committee meets monthly, trying to create a thriving theater district out of the many theaters in the area.
Among the projects currently on tap, said committee chairwoman Susan Obrow, are CRA-financed banners that will grace the front of every theater in the area from La Brea to Gower, from Franklin to Santa Monica. The banners will be uniform in design and will help establish the idea of a theater district in the minds of passers-by.
Street corner signs, color-coded maps and kiosks directing pedestrians to theaters are being planned. A permanent lighting display that would mark Hollywood and Vine as the center of the theater district is in the works.
The CRA has instituted a street patrol; as many as 19 uniformed (but unarmed) guards are now on duty on Hollywood Boulevard on peak theatergoing evenings, and Metro Rail spokesman Gil Saldana said his organization hopes to expand that effort to other streets, using "mitigation" money.
Although no specifics have yet been worked out, "mitigation" money may also provide some advertising funds for Metro-Rail-affected businesses, and parking subsidies for their customers. The current talk is that theater parking may be reduced to $2.