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Jazz Bakery finds new home in Culver City

The former Helms Bakery mainstay will occupy a new building adjacent to the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Late 2012 is set as the club's reopening date.

January 14, 2011|By Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times
  • The Scott Colley Quartet performs at the Jazz Bakery in May 2009.
The Scott Colley Quartet performs at the Jazz Bakery in May 2009. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

In a major step toward the return of the Jazz Bakery, the itinerant jazz venue has found a new home in downtown Culver City and is moving forward with ambitious plans for the space.

This week the Bakery, which has been homeless since 2009, has seen the convergence of two key elements that began coming together last summer. The first was a $2-million seed grant from the Annenberg Foundation, and the other was an agreement with the Culver City Redevelopment Agency, which approved the club for exclusive negotiation rights to develop a vacant property at 9814 Washington Blvd., on the same block as the Kirk Douglas Theatre, one mile from its former location.

"It's just all kind of incredible that it's happening, who would've thought?" said the Bakery's president and artistic director, Ruth Price, who had targeted a return to the Westside practically from the moment the club lost its lease at the old location. "And it turns out they wanted us. A lot of places had been calling me about coming into their area, and some of them were very appealing, like downtown L.A. But that's not us."

While the news marks the end of a long journey for a club that has been part of the L.A. jazz scene since 1992, it also marks the beginning of another. Price said that a concerted fundraising effort now lies ahead to move forward with the club's new design, which is still pending final approval before construction can begin. The club has targeted the end of 2012 for its return.

Since losing its lease at the Helms Bakery complex shortly after the death of philanthropic landlord Wally Marks Jr., the Bakery has remained a vital presence in Los Angeles by hosting a series of "Movable Feast" concerts that brought jazz to venues around the city. Price said these concerts would continue.

If all goes as planned, the Jazz Bakery's new life will begin in an auspicious fashion. In a layout that Price said was partly inspired by a recent "Movable Feast" held at Pasadena's Boston Court, the new Bakery will be spread over two stories in a 10,000-square-foot space, with a 200-plus capacity main space with balcony seating on the second floor and a smaller room with just over 70 seats on the first floor. Referring to the new addition as "the black box," Price believes the space will give the club greater booking flexibility and allow for two shows to be held on the same night.

In addition to enhancements to the performance spaces, the club also hopes to be more of a daytime presence with a larger lobby cafe and wine bar, a dedicated art gallery and long-term plans for what Price called a "virtual museum" for West Coast jazz. Discussions are also underway to ensure the club includes free or reasonably priced parking.

Moving into downtown Culver City, the Bakery will join a vibrant neighborhood that includes trendy bars and restaurants, a bustling gallery scene and the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a new neighbor that Price considers a collaborative arrangement.

"Without sounding absurd, it's kind of like a mini-mini Lincoln Center," she said, referencing the giant New York City performing arts complex.

Though current plans include a number of changes and improvements, Price stressed that key elements of the Bakery's identity will remain unchanged. The club will still operate as a nonprofit, and its longtime policy of keeping refreshments separate from the performance space will continue, in contrast with the traditional food and drink minimums that are a part of many jazz clubs.

Price wouldn't get into specifics as far as how great a fundraising goal still lies ahead, but she said the end result will give the Bakery a greater sense of permanence than ever through owning its building. While getting to this point was a lengthy journey and many hurdles lie ahead, she's hopeful about the timing for the club's rebirth.

"If we're lucky, we'll come right back in when people are a little less scared about money," Price said. "Maybe we were out of the main business when it was at its darkest. At least I hope so."

chris.barton@latimes.com

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