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Support El Portal

October 15, 2000

Things haven't exactly been easy for El Portal Center for the Arts, North Hollywood's vaudeville and silent movie hall turned playhouse.

Just as the old movie palace was about to reopen in 1994, it was upstaged by the Northridge earthquake. Six long years of repair and restoration passed before it opened its doors in January.

More recently, it suffered a staffing shake-up when its board of directors declined to renew founding artistic director Jeremiah Morris' contract.

But restored movie palaces do have second acts, as El Portal has proven. The theater not only has completed a successful first season--four productions at the 390-seat main stage, as well as four in a 99-seat space--but finally received a long-delayed grant to help finish renovations.

The money--$750,000 from federal community development block grants administered by the city--will pay the bills for meeting federal codes that require access for the disabled in the auditorium and backstage, including an elevator.

El Portal officials are still awaiting a final, $400,000 installment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which became involved after the earthquake and paid for most of the reconstruction. And as any theater aficionado knows, the money worries won't stop there.

Still, its directors are optimistic. Two of next season's four productions have attracted sponsors. And fund-raising auctions and a telemarketing campaign for new subscriptions are expected to bring in at least $500,000 to fund the new season.

The restored 1926 theater, with its original bas-relief sculptures and proscenium arch, is seen as the anchor of a revitalized theater district in North Hollywood. But more than that, with its ambitious community outreach program, art gallery and eclectic programming, it has the potential to be a focus for the San Fernando Valley

So if you've ever complained about the Valley being stereotyped as a cultural wasteland, now's the time to support a major theater close to home. With the community's support, El Portal can have a third act and a fourth--and the Valley can have a lively cultural center.

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