Bob Baker Marionette Theater aims to carry on after founder's death

Bob Baker Marionette Theater aims to carry on after founder's death
A 2008 photo shows Bob Baker in front of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater near downtown Los Angeles. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Leaders at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater said that the company has no plans to stop presenting shows following the death Friday of Baker, who founded the beloved organization in 1962.

But the company still faces long-term uncertainty due to property development and persistent financial difficulties.


Baker, 90, died at his Los Angeles home after an illness. A veteran puppeteer whose career took him into the movie business, Baker created the marionette company near downtown L.A. to present shows for students as well as adults.

The theater is currently performing its holiday production of "The Nutcracker" through early 2015 and has two road companies plus a solo traveling show.

"We're booked solidly for December. We're keeping our heads down and doing our work," said Greg Williams, a longtime friend and collaborator of Baker. Williams said that Baker had stopped performing a few years ago due to age and illness.

The traveling shows are performed mostly at private events around Southern California. The staff at the theater consists of about 12 people, including performers and administrators, according to Danny Gonzalez, the theater manager.

He said "The Nutcracker" features six marionette artists performing the holiday classic.

"We're just going to keep chugging along as we have been," said Gonzalez. "This is our busiest time of the year. December is always awesome."

The theater has faced financial difficulties for years, and in 2013, the company sold its building to property developer Eli Elimelech. In 2009, the theater had been designated a historic cultural landmark by the Los Angeles City Council.

The Times reported last month that Elimelech is planning to build a mixed-use complex that would envelop the marionette theater's building. The theater company's lease is set to expire in March, after which it will transfer to a month-to-month agreement.

It remains unclear how the marionette theater will fit in with the developer's plan for the block.

"We would like to keep it going," said Williams. "There's nothing like it in Los Angeles, Southern California, or anywhere."

Many of the company's creations now belong to the Bob Baker Family Trust, which was formed to preserve his legacy. The trust includes Baker's library, recordings and other documents and objects related to the marionette theater.

Twitter: @DavidNgLAT