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Historic Fairfax High auditorium may soon gain a wider audience

April 14, 2009|Catherine Ho
  • The 1920s auditorium and rotunda are all that remain of the original Fairfax High campus, which was modernized in the 1960s.
The 1920s auditorium and rotunda are all that remain of the original Fairfax… (Ann Johansson / For The Times )

For decades, Fairfax High School's auditorium has played host to student theater and concert productions.

But the historic 1924 auditorium, with a Spanish-style rotunda that is an architectural touchstone in the Fairfax neighborhood, could soon play a larger role in the community.

The city of West Hollywood is exploring a possible partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District that would allow the theater to be used as a performing arts center.

Under the proposal, the city would help fund lighting, sound and acoustic renovations for the 1,400-seat auditorium. In return, the facility would host nonprofit arts organizations that now perform outside the area because of a lack of large-scale venues, said Andrew Campbell, cultural affairs administrator for West Hollywood.

"It's going to be a benefit for the school, the students and the community, as opposed to being this huge institutional edifice that sits in the center of the city," Campbell said.

The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Master Chorale could be among the groups that use the Melrose Avenue space, he said.

The partnership would be part of L.A. Unified's Joint Use Development Program, which pairs schools with cities, nonprofit groups and other agencies to support capital improvements, officials said. Since its inception in 2002, the program has launched 33 projects at 111 campuses. Last year the ICM talent agency helped pay for improvements to Dorsey High School's auditorium and in turn hosts performance clinics for students.

The joint use program is not aimed so much at bringing in new revenue for schools, but rather to make campuses centers for the community, said Ana Lasso, program director.

"It's another way for Fairfax to open up its doors to Melrose and the West Hollywood community," she said.

The Fairfax auditorium is an attractive venue because it has its own parking, a large stage and substantial seating. It also has a popular location at Fairfax and Melrose avenues.

Built in the 1920s, the auditorium and its rotunda are the only remaining parts of the original campus, which was largely torn down in 1966. The auditorium was later named after DeWitt Swan, one of the school's first vice principals.

Fairfax High already has a partnership with the Melrose Trading Post, a flea market held in the school's parking lot every Sunday. Part of the proceeds, which can total up to $100,000 a year, goes toward sports teams and student clubs, school Principal Ed Zubiate said.

"We're reaching out to the community trying to build relationships," Zubiate said. "It's about how we can take care of each other's needs."

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catherine.ho@latimes.com

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