Groups Seek to Buy Club

Several investment groups are negotiating to buy and renovate the Variety Arts Center, a downtown vaudeville club that filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago, owner Milt Larsen said.

Four groups have offered from $2.6 million to $3.2 million for the seven-story building at 9th and Figueroa streets, Larsen said. Three of the four propose bringing in new theater and restaurant operators and keeping the club open, he said.

Larsen declined to identify the groups interested in the building, which has housed the Variety Arts Center for 11 years. Their proposals are subject to approval by a federal bankruptcy judge, who will consider the offers May 24, he said.

An earlier deal, in which a Los Angeles investor planned to buy the center and convert it to offices, fell apart when the buyer failed to acquire financing in early April.

Larsen said the turn of events has renewed hopes of saving the unusual club, which features entertainment industry archives and collectibles such as Jimmy Durante's "break-apart" piano and W. C. Fields' trick pool table.

To help pay off some of the $2.5 million owed by the nonprofit Society for the Preservation of Variety Arts, Larsen said, the club has scheduled a party Thursday night and a two-day "Vaude-A-Thon," featuring 48 hours of live stage performances, including appearances by Mickey Rooney and Anthony Newley, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday.

"It's either going to be a nice ending party or the beginning of a new era," Larsen said. "But one way or another we're going to do it up with a bang."

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