Theater’s Fate Must Await Impact Study

Times Staff Writer

It will be months before the fate of the earthquake-damaged Whittier Theater is decided, pending the results of a court-ordered environmental impact report required before demolition or restoration can proceed, city officials say.

The 1930s-era film palace is considered a historic building, and state law requires the city to determine what effect demolishing the theater would have on the area’s cultural and civic environment.

The city and property owner Peter Doerken unsuccessfully argued in court that the theater was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act because earthquake damage had turned the building into a public hazard.

Request for Study


After the city spent about a month studying what type of report would be required, Doerken was notified last week to prepare a limited study “focusing on the issues of concern, such as the historical aspects and alternatives for saving the building,” said Whittier Planning Director Elvin Porter.

Doerken could not be reached for comment.

Such a study would take a few months to complete, Porter said, and would have to pass inspection by city officials before being submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Warren Deering. Porter said he did not know how much the study would cost.

Doerken, who bought the theater in June, 1987, and planned to restore it, later proposed leveling the theater to build a $14-million shopping plaza. That plan was being considered by city officials when the Oct. 1 earthquake damaged the theater and the city declared it unsafe.


The city had issued a demolition permit and Doerken had bulldozers on the scene in November when the theater received a last-minute reprieve from Superior Court Judge Warren Deering. The court action was sought by the Whittier Conservancy, a historic preservation gr1869967392developer who might want to restore the theater.

Michael Sullens, the group’s president, said one developer is considering the project but city officials are not willing to discuss restoration proposals with developers.

“We really cannot recruit the developer until the city makes its move,” Sullens said, calling the environmental impact report “a smoke screen” to conceal the city’s lack of interest in restoring the theater. “They’re just trying to save face,” Sullens said.