The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which has been in the planning stages for a decade and a half, finally will begin construction on its Beverly Hills site next month. After roughly two years of construction, the center will open its doors in 2013, organizers say.
Ground on the parking lot was broken last March, but this April's construction start will be the first work on the center's theater space itself, which will include the extension of a well-preserved 1930s former post office on North Canon Drive. The center is named for its largest donor, the TV Guide heiress.
FOR THE RECORD:
Performing arts center: An article in the March 5 Calendar section on the new Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts said that the center's environmental review and parking garage bogged down the project. The article should have said that the approval process for the garage slowed down the project. The garage construction was on time. —
The Annenberg Center will offer performances of "theater, music, dance, small operas and professional children's theater," says Executive Director Lou Moore, founding managing director of the Geffen Playhouse. "Coupled with that, we're going to have a children's theater school for serious-minded children," including residencies in which students work with visiting artists.
Instead of expanding the Italian Renaissance-style post office itself, architect Zoltan Pali of Culver City's SPF:architects, has designed a separate 500-seat theater with variable acoustics. The Goldsmith Theater will connect to the 1933 building with a glass stairway leading to the theater's lobby. The center will include a sculpture garden and an indoor-outdoor bar.
The post office, which includes Works Progress Administration-style murals, will be kept largely intact and will house the administrative offices, classrooms, a cafe with some outdoor seating, dressing rooms, and a flexible 150-seat studio theater that will accommodate performances and rehearsals.
"Where you bought stamps," Moore says, "will be our ticket office." (The post office's Grand Hall will serve as the center's lobby; the Goldsmith will have a lobby of its own.)
The dream of an arts center for Beverly Hills goes a long way back. The Beverly Hills Cultural Center Foundation was formed in 1994, when hopeful city dwellers united to envision a performance hall in a city long associated with the movies. Much of the current board came together a few years later.
Plans for the center have ebbed and flowed over the years. In 2006, the center's organizers announced two years of construction that would be followed with a 2009 opening.
"We had to do an environmental impact review and that took us 21/2 years," Moore says. The center also worked with the city for a parking lot, now nearing completion. The underground garage — due to open in the fall — will accommodate city workers and visitors by day she says, and arts patrons at night.
The review and the garage bogged down the project more than the slumping economy. "Our fundraising slowed like everybody else's," she says. "We're on the same course as other nonprofits. But there's still a deep-rooted belief in the project. And we've recently seen it begin to pick up."