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Family-Style Finale : Sneakers Replace Sequins at Civic Arts Plaza Festivities


Lovers of the arts traded in their tuxedos and sequined gowns Sunday for jeans and shorts as hundreds of families joined the finale of the three-day grand opening of the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.

In contrast to the glitz of grand-opening concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings, the Sunday arts festival maintained an exclusively low-key air.

Miller Genuine Draft replaced champagne in the outdoor bar, chocolate-chip cookies aced out miniature cream puffs on the snack tables, and Mickey Mouse took over hosting duties from a tuxedo-clad mime.

"I'm a kid person, so I prefer this," said Thousand Oaks Arts Commissioner Karen LaFleur. "Plus, I get to wear these shoes," she added, pointing to her well-used sneakers. "I hate girl shoes."

While tickets for the grand-opening concerts cost $25 to $100, most of Sunday's activities were free or very inexpensive. Visitors wandered past crafts booths crammed with paint-smeared children, a towering lion made from 10,000 aluminum cans and an art show stretching across the newly seeded lawn.

At 2 p.m., a Community Showcase in the main auditorium attracted a sell-out crowd of 1,800 who paid $5 each for their seats.

Launched with an enthusiastic rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business," the performance featured half a dozen local groups singing and dancing on the same stage that had hosted Broadway veteran Bernadette Peters the night before.

Thousand Oaks resident Dawn Feeney said she enjoyed the casual and friendly atmosphere of the arts plaza on Sunday.

"It makes me feel good that it's in Thousand Oaks."

As she spoke, Feeney scanned the ground outside the Civic Arts Plaza, looking for the ceramic tile that her 6-year-old daughter Zara had painted during a city program this summer. Zara's artwork was among the 1,500 child-decorated tiles scattered along the park's meandering walkway. The tiles were dedicated Sunday morning.

While children focused on outdoor fun, adults clustered inside the Civic Arts Plaza during an open house at the $64-million facility, which houses both the theater and a new government center. Nibbling on cookies, visitors toured the new City Hall--some with delight, some with dismay.

The stark, industrial look of several department offices at the basement level surprised some visitors. Despite city staff's effort to warm the atmosphere with plants and balloons, several residents described the exposed concrete walls as too austere.

"My first reaction is that it looks unfinished," Thousand Oaks resident Mort Tomashoff said, after glimpsing the basement, where steel support rods peek through the concrete walls.

The layout of the entire complex drew a few complaints. With so many guests arriving and leaving throughout the day, the parking garage was continuously busy and crowded.

"Getting into the place seems a little awkward," resident Bill Auda said, peering from the top of the five-story garage. "We have to go all the way down, walk over (to the auditorium) and then go all the way back up to the balcony."

To top it off, the auditorium's main elevator broke Sunday just before the Community Showcase. Patrons had to either walk two long flights to the balcony or settle for a seat in the soundproof viewing booth on the orchestra level.

Yet, each minor complaint seemed counterbalanced by lavish compliments.

Lake Sherwood resident Jennifer Lee summed up many visitors' feelings with a broad grin and a few words. Stretching out on a low outdoor wall, gazing toward the reflecting pool, Lee said simply: "I love it."

* GALA AFFAIR: Photos from Saturday night's festivities, B2.

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