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Sorting Out Ash Grove's Delicate Delinquency

May 20, 1997|RICHARD CROMELIN

With its prime location on the Santa Monica Pier, its intimate, music-sensitive ambience and a name that's legendary in the Los Angeles folk field, why is the Ash Grove in such a financial bind that Pete Seeger is playing two benefits to help bail it out?

The club--housed on Melrose Avenue from the late '50s until a fire closed it in 1973--is nine months behind in the rent it owes the city of Santa Monica, which operates the pier.

Owner Ed Pearl, who periodically tried to reopen the club over the years, was enthusiastic when he secured a 10-year lease on the pier location. But construction problems forced costly delays, leaving the operation undercapitalized when it finally opened last July--too late to benefit from the pier's busy spring-summer season.

Pearl also found it hard to adjust to the '90s concert business. "I was truly unaware of the prices and the kind of agentry that is involved nowadays," he said. "That makes it a very high-risk, high-stakes guesstimate every time you book somebody.

"I also hired older Ash Grove acts that simply didn't draw--Jack Elliott, Ian Tyson, Maria Muldaur. It's just a different world. . . . My antennae are 20 years old, and now they have been considerably sharpened and the operation has been considerably sharpened."

Pearl said the Ash Grove, which can accommodate up to 400 fans, fell behind in its rent partly because the club had to unexpectedly pay for improvements and partly because creditors other than the city applied more pressure.

Santa Monica officials issued an order to pay or quit this month, and are currently meeting with club representatives in an effort to establish a recovery plan. "I remain optimistic that a remedy will be achieved and they can retire this delinquency relatively soon," said Jeff Mathieu, the city's director of resource management.

Pearl said the Seeger concerts could raise up to $30,000, and that negotiations with a new investor are in progress.

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