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Community News: Southwest

WEST ADAMS : Damaged Theater to Raise Curtain Again

March 06, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

Lula Washington has choreographed some pretty fancy footwork in her career, but the daily efforts to continue her business after it was devastated by the recent earthquake have lately required all the creative energy she can muster.

"It's been pretty crazy," Washington said. "I've had to get through a lot of red tape. But at least now I know I can get funds to rebuild."

Washington's L.A. Contemporary Dance Theatre was one of hundreds of businesses that sustained quake damage, but one of the relatively few in Central Los Angeles forced to close its doors. After a month of appealing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for aid--she was initially turned down--Washington said she is now assured of grant money once FEMA officials assess the damage.

The problem, she said, lay in the fact that disaster relief officials consider arts organizations "nonessential." Her battle to qualify for a FEMA grant drove her to enlist the help of Councilman Nate Holden, Rep. Maxine Waters, Assemblywoman Gwen Moore and others not directly involved in the arts, who vouched for the studio's importance to the local community.

"Lula's not only an arts institution in the community, she runs a viable business that people benefit from in a lot of ways," said Moore spokeswoman Joy Atkinson, who cited Washington's theater as crucial to an after-school arts program recently launched by Moore's office. "The types of programs she runs are absolutely essential to the growth of the community."

The theater, owned by Washington and her husband, Irwin, occupies two floors of studio and performance space in an industrial-style building at 5179 W. Adams Blvd. The 14-year-old nonprofit theater is known for its wide range of low-cost dance and tumbling classes for youth, and for its professional troupe that tours nationally.

But everything came to an abrupt halt Jan. 17 when the Northridge temblor shifted the studio roof, knocked out a back supporting wall and cracked several other walls. The damage was enough for city inspectors to red-tag the property, and Washington is awaiting the results of a stress test that will determine if the studio can be salvaged or whether it must be razed.

In the meantime, Washington was left in an operational lurch. Classes for the studio's roughly 400 students were suspended, as were rehearsals for the youth and professional companies' upcoming performances. Washington was determined to continue with rehearsals for company performances, some of which were booked a year in advance. The next one is scheduled for April at Occidental College.

"We felt really bad about all of the kids calling every day asking: 'When are you going to open?' " Washington said. "But we had to get on somehow with rehearsals. That was the most critical thing."

With virtually no emergency or reserve funds, the Washingtons began hunting for a building that could donate rehearsal space. The search proved exhaustive but yielded three sites: the Colburn School of Performing Arts on Figueroa Street, the Los Angeles Theatre Centre in Downtown, and the Crossroads School in Santa Monica. Both the youth and professional companies are rehearsing, and classes for the youth company began last week.

Washington said FEMA has agreed to cover 90% of rebuilding costs, which could be more than $200,000. Washington, who staged fund-raisers for years before buying the property in 1989, said she is prepared to roll up her sleeves again to raise the balance of the rebuilding costs.

"I want to stay right here in the community," she added. "People have told me: 'This is the perfect chance to relocate in Culver City or Santa Monica.' But the greatest need is right here."

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