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Arts Plaza Copper Curtain Is Unveiled to Mixed Reviews : Thousand Oaks: The $150,000 artwork, a collection of skinny strips, hangs from the complex's east wall.

September 01, 1994|CONSTANCE SOMMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thousand Oaks took the wraps off its copper curtain Wednesday morning.

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Where scaffolding once cluttered the blank, peach-colored east wall of the new Civic Arts Plaza, a $150,000 tumble of skinny copper strips fluttered slightly in the breeze.

The spectacle nearly left resident Mark McGee speechless.

"That's it, huh?" McGee, an engraver at Thousand Oaks Trophies, said as he regarded the curtain from a sidewalk across the street.

He put his hands on his hips. He cocked his head to the side.

"Oh. Well. It . . . ah . . . it's all right," he said after a few moments. "I mean, I guess the idea of it's good, but how many people are going to know what it is? Does it look like a curtain?"

Civic Arts Plaza boosters certainly hope so. When they gaze on the hanging collection of 2,016 copper bands, they see more than merely artwork. To Councilwoman Judy Lazar, the 50-foot by-60-foot curtain is the symbol of the entire $64-million complex. It represents to motorists zipping by on the Ventura Freeway the glittering artistic performances that will soon be underway inside, she explained.

"You know--'The curtains go up,' " she said. "I think the curtain stations it, provides a real significant focal point as you are driving along the freeway.

"What other city can make a statement like that?"

Well, Gary Sturzenbecher isn't sure it is a statement. The owner of the Rhineland Deli, across the street from the Arts Plaza, has watched construction workers assemble the curtain for weeks. He wondered what would emerge from under the scaffolding. On Wednesday, to his surprise, he learned they had finished.

"I thought it was going to be a sign," he said with a sigh, looking at the curtain from his restaurant's patio.

Sturzenbecher likes the idea of the Arts Plaza, but thinks the building itself resembles a spaceship.

"From this angle, (the curtain) doesn't look like anything," he said. "It's just a big blob."

A deli customer, Lisa Gasser, agreed.

"Is that supposed to be artistic?" she asked. "It looks unfinished."

For her part, Gasser says the entire Arts Plaza "reminds me of (Men's) Central Jail, like you see on TV, where O.J. stays."

But Linda Tomlinson, a secretary at Farmers Insurance Group on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, said the curtain improved the building's Spartan exterior.

"I like it, actually," she said. "It's something different. It makes it an attractive civic auditorium." But her jaw dropped when she learned what it cost.

"It's not that pretty," she said.

Mayor Alex Fiore insists that the residents of his city are judging the plaza's architecture--including the curtain--too hastily. Wait until the lawn is planted and the trees are standing, he urges. Hold off on judgment until the chain-link fence surrounding the construction site comes down, he says.

"Too often, people give reactions to things like this before it has a chance for maturity," he said. Fiore added that he received 20 calls on Wednesday about the copper curtain--19 were from enthusiastic admirers.

Besides, he said, the curtain "is artistic, and artistic elements are subjective."

In the subjective opinion of Steve Rubinstein, the president of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce, the curtain is the best thing that's happened so far to the plaza's severe, boxy facade.

"Don't get me wrong," he said. "I'm the Civic Arts Plaza's biggest fan. But as much as I like the Civic Arts Plaza, it doesn't fit where it is. It is just a big box that overlooks the freeway.

"This makes the box look better."

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