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Operators Propose a Make-Oover for the Wiltern

Venue * Clear Channel Entertainment is seeking applying for a permit to make an estimated $2 million in changes in the orchestra seats to allow dinner service.

August 22, 2001|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES THEATER WRITER

Operators of the Wiltern Theatre have proposed an interior revamping of the 2,200-seat hall that would replace seats on the orchestra level with tables and chairs and add a kitchen to enable dinner service. The cost of the make-over is estimated at $2 million.

The historic Art Deco-style theater at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles is primarily a pop concert venue, with occasional gospel musicals, comedians, dance and special events. Alan De Zon, operations vice president of the Wiltern's leaseholder, Clear Channel Entertainment Los Angeles, said the new configuration would allow a 1,200-square-foot dance floor to be erected in front of the stage, increasing the hall's versatility. Alcoholic drinks would be served inside the hall, as well as at the lobby bars.

The type of programming at the Wiltern is not expected to change, De Zon said. "It will not be a nightclub open seven days a week. It will still be name-talent-driven."

According to data fromprovided by trade publication Pollstar, bookings at the Wiltern increased in the late '90s, from 19 performances in 1997 to 39 in 1999 and 36 in 2000. The magazine's list includes pop artists, comics and dance, but it does not include gospel musicals and private events.

"There is room to grow," De Zon said, referring to the gaps in the Wiltern's calendar. L.A. rock band Tool performed at the Wiltern for two nights last week, and the next scheduled event is two nights of monologist John Leguizamo, next Wednesday and Sept. 1. Although five nights are currently booked in September, nothing is scheduled in October.

By including dinner and drinks along with the entertainment, the Wiltern will appeal to a wider spectrum of the potential audience, Clear Channel wrote in its application for a conditional-use permit, filed with the city.

In addition to the possibility of enhancing the Wiltern's regular bookings, the changes could attract more private parties, De Zon said.

The Wiltern, built in lavish Art Deco style in 1931, has been a city-designated Historic-Cultural Monument since 1973 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy--an organization that was born in 1978 partly in reaction to a proposed demolition of the Wiltern--said the Clear Channel proposal "doesn't run afoul of any preservation standards." The seats that would be removed are not the originals, he said.

In a letter to city officials who will consider the Clear Channel permit application, Bernstein wrote that "it will be crucial to ensure that the rake of the orchestra level remains intact," that "the scale and materials [are] compatible with the historic architecture," and that the changes are completely reversible by future owners or promoters.

Although the rake will be changed by the installation of tables on tiered terraces and the dance floor, this won't be problematic as long as the changes are reversible, Bernstein said, citing similar changes at the Mayan Theatre in downtown L.A.

De Zon said, "There will be no structural or decorative changes. ," he added. "We're not touching the beauty of the building."

Although the proposal must go through a public hearing before approval, De Zon said he hopes to open the newly configured Wiltern in 2002.

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