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COVER STORY : Pavilion's Fate Takes Center Stage

March 03, 1994|KEN ELLINGWOOD

It's impossible to miss, though you might wish you could.

The closed Venice Pavilion--widely considered a Venice Beach eyesore--is drawing attention again as local groups debate what to do with the 33-year-old former theater.

While the coalition of businesses and residents sponsoring a boardwalk renovation plan support demolishing the city-owned pavilion, a group called the Venice Arts Mecca wants to restore the 600-seat theater. The year-old group would raise the nearly $1 million for renovation, then use the building for a day-care center, community theater, cafe and arts bazaar.

The project would provide art classes and job training for young people, supporting itself through sales of its artwork and products. Proponents say the pavilion could fill a dire need for affordable theater space on the Westside.

"It doesn't have to be on the boardwalk, but it's already there," said Bingwa Thomas, a 41-year-old actor who founded the art group. "It suits the needs for any group."

The pavilion's fate is among the thorniest issues on the beach. Some neighbors see the bunker-like structure as a hopeless white elephant. Past disagreements have deadlocked proposals to save it, tear it down or replace it with a skating area or aquarium.

City recreation planners are studying what it would cost to save or demolish the building, and plan to seek proposals from other nonprofit groups. No deadline is set for a decision on the pavilion.

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