Officials consider selling naming rights, increasing fees to pay for AC in Lanterman Auditorium

For anyone interested in legacy shopping in La Cañada Flintridge, a prime opportunity could be coming up in the near future: City and school officials have begun to discuss the possibility of offering naming rights to the city-owned Lanterman Auditorium.

City Manager Mark Alexander broached the topic in a July 27 meeting of the Joint Use Committee, a body that considers properties and holdings used by both municipal entities as a way to raise funds for an air-conditioning unit.

“Is the school district committed or obligated to keeping that name?” Alexander asked La Cañada Unified School District officials. “Because that might be one of the few alternatives for raising the money needed to do this.”

For years officials with the city and LCUSD — the latter of which used to own the auditorium even after its Foothill Intermediate School was closed in 1983 due to declining enrollment — have grappled with granting resident and user group requests for an HVAC system at the sometimes-stifling Cornishon Avenue facility.

City estimates place the cost of a unit at around $375,000 — a steep price considering the auditorium generated $171,665 in revenue during fiscal year 2015-16, according to the 2016 manager’s report of city activities.

Both parties acknowledged that previous efforts to identify grant funding or potential rebates from state and regional agencies had been exhausted, and that the full cost would have to be paid by the city.

One option considered for recovering the cost was increasing fees charged to community groups who use Lanterman Auditorium. A staff report highlighted different scenarios.

For example, if the city approved a $5-per-hour increase to the current $75-per-hour rehearsal rate, along with a $7.50 hourly increase to the $100 hourly performance rate, it would take 62.75 years to recoup the cost of a new HVAC system.

If the city charged $90 an hour for rehearsals and $120 per hour for performances, it would take still take nearly 22 years to recover $375,000.

“It would be somewhat challenging for the city to front that much cash,” administrative director Carl Alameda said at the meeting.

By contrast, a donor interested in naming the auditorium might be motivated to pay for the right, Alexander said.

“There might be someone within the community who, as a community gesture or [seeing] they’d get the recognition, might be interested or willing,” he continued, clarifying he didn’t have anyone in mind.

La Cañada Unified representatives said they would look into the history behind Lanterman Auditorium’s name and report back.

Meanwhile, one local historian weighed in.

Tim Gregory, an archivist for the city’s Lanterman House, said he’d be sad to see the auditorium lose its historic name.

“For over 50 years it’s been called the Lanterman Auditorium,” he said in an interview. “The city has to weigh whether they want to keep their history or raise the funds.”

But what is the history behind the former Foothill Intermediate School auditorium? Gregory located documents indicating Jacob Lanterman — the city’s founder and grandfather of former state Assemblyman Frank Lanterman — was the true namesake.

An article published by the La Cañada Flintridge Historical Society in 1979 says the naming of Lanterman Auditorium was approved by the school district governing board “memorializing the fact that J.L. Lanterman was one of the men who, on April 22, 1882, filed a petition with the Los Angeles Superintendent of Schools requesting the establishment of the La Cañada School District.”

But according to an article published in the July 2, 1964, issue of the La Cañada Valley Sun — three years after the June 9, 1961, dedication of the new building by a nascent La Cañada School District — the name was recommended to the district by the La Cañada Chamber of Commerce and Community Assn. Board of Directors, for the the contributions of the founding Lanterman family and its constituent members, rather than paying direct homage to Jacob Lanterman.

“The seven attending directors felt the name was appropriate for the community-used building since it represents both the pioneer Lanterman family, which founded La Cañada, and one of its members prominent today, state Assemblyman Frank Lanterman, who has been the community’s ‘watchdog’ in Sacramento for 14 years,” the article read.

No article detailing the board motion approving the naming could be found in Valley Sun archives, but an article published on Oct. 22, 1964, references a back-to-school night event for Foothill Intermediate being held in “Lanterman Auditorium.”

Gregory said he hoped if the building’s naming rights were sold, there’d be some way to keep Lanterman Auditorium’s past alive for future generations.

“I’d recommend, if there isn’t one already, putting a plaque somewhere in the building letting people know it was once called Lanterman Auditorium — to preserve the idea of the name,” the archivist said.

sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine

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