Motown founder Berry Gordy, Mann Theatres, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and several other public and private donors have given $3 million to the African American Unity Center to help turn a quake-damaged church into a community arts center, officials said Monday.
Under the ambitious plan, the damaged Presbyterian church building at 53rd Street and Vermont Avenue will become a facility offering a stage for live performances as well as a retractable screen for exhibiting first-run films. Curtis Owens, executive director of the Unity Center, said his organization also intends to provide an educational component for people to study aspects of film, stage and music production.
Officials plan to break ground on the Center for Performing Arts on Thursday and say they hope to complete the project next year. Owens said it will cost about $5 million to make the building usable, with a seating capacity for about 450 people. He said the organization does not yet have a firm estimate for the total cost of the project.
The African American Unity Center, which was active in the area's riot recovery effort, was founded three years ago by Danny Bakewell, who is also president of the Brotherhood Crusade. The Unity Center's two social service organizations, Unity House and the Community Unity Center for Human Growth and Development, already occupy two buildings in the same complex as the church.
Owens said the project was launched through a $500,000 grant from Gordy and a matching grant from the city of Los Angeles. The group also received money from FEMA, the Small Business Administration, Hughes Aircraft, Lockheed and Jo-Bete Music, founded by Gordy, and other corporations. The Los Angeles Music Center's Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum has served as an adviser on the project.
A spokesman for City Councilwoman Rita Walters, whose district includes the Unity Center projects, hailed the new performing arts center as an alternative to gang activity for young people.
"In our whole district south of the freeway, there are close to 250,000 people who live there, and not a movie theater and not a theater space--it's a complete lack," Howard Gantman said.
"It's an area of the city where not only isn't there an abundance of public facilities, there aren't even any private centers available for young people even if their parents could afford to pay," he added.
Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas called the groundbreaking on the center "great news."
He cited former Laker Earvin (Magic) Johnson's plan to build an eight-to-12-screen movie complex at Baldwin Hills' struggling Crenshaw Plaza as another example of burgeoning interest in arts and entertainment in L.A.'s urban areas. Another arts center in the Crenshaw area, Leimert Park's Vision Complex arts center, underwent a $120,000 face lift last summer prior to the Los Angeles Festival in a partnership between the festival and actress and community activist Marla Gibb.
"It means there is a lot of attention being focused on the arts and entertainment, a prime feature of life in urban areas that needs to be developed," Ridley-Thomas said.