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Staying Afloat

November 12, 2000

After nearly five years of mounting costs and bureaucratic hurdles, the $6.5-million transformation of the Balboa Theater in Newport Beach from an aged movie house into a state-of-the-art performance space is set to begin.

The project has been in the works since 1996, when a group of residents decided to save the crumbling landmark and restore the theater to its vaudevillian origins.

"We've raised $2.5 million already," said Michele Roberge. "That should be enough to let us get started on construction."

Building permits are expected to be issued soon for the restoration of the 1927 theater on the peninsula near the Balboa Pier. Construction is scheduled to begin in early 2001 and expected to take 10 months to complete.

Currently a shell of brick walls with a sand floor, the planned 350-seat theater would feature live stage productions including musicals, concerts and plays as well as art-house films.

Plans call for the new stage and seats to be inserted inside the four walls without adding any weight to the structure. A basement dug below sea level will house restrooms, offices and dressing rooms.

Through the Years

1913 - First Balboa Theater built at 111 Main Street by J.P. Greeley

1920 - W.A. Osgood and his wife, known by the stage name Madame LaRue assume management of theater

1927 - Greeley begins construction on the Ritz Vaudeville Theater to replace burned down Rendezvous Ballroom at Balboa Boulevard

1928 - Original Balboa Theater becomes an arcade

1930s - Ritz houses a speakeasy during Prohibition.

1939 - Ritz changes name to Balboa Theater, emphasizes film

1960s - 400-seat Balboa caters to couples, social groups

1970s-80s - Briefly becomes X-rated Pussy Cat Theater. Later features midnight showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"

1992 - Theater closes doors

1996 - Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation forms to renovate, reopen theater

1999 - Theater interior gutted in preparation for renovation

2001 - Planned groundbreaking

Sources: Tom Horan; Holmes & Narver, Michele Roberge; the Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation

Graphics reporting by BRADY MacDONALD and RAOUL RANOA Los Angeles Times

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