The Bowery Theatre Finds There’s Room at the Inn

There are love matches in corporate heaven, says Lee Julien, the Kingston Hotel partner who lobbied fellow investors to provide the Bowery Theatre a new space.

Julien calls the relationship between the theater and the hotel “synchronistic, almost a miracle. We bought the hotel about 90 days ago. It all came together at the same time.”

It began when Julien inquired about arranging parking for the hotel with John Howard, the president of Ace Parking. Howard, then president of the Bowery’s Board of Trustees (he’s since been succeeded by Richard Madsen), brought the plight of the homeless Bowery to Julien’s attention. Julien had pursued a doctorate in theater at Stanford in 1969, before he dropped those studies to go into real estate. The Kingston had a space; the Bowery needed one. Julien was interested.

But could he persuade other general partners that it made sense to loan a space, worth $3,000 a month, rent-free--and underwrite utilities costs of roughly $400 to $500 a month? The hotel had a history of bankruptcies and foreclosures under its former name, the Executive.


It didn’t hurt that the major investor was another theater buff, Malcolm Kingston, chairman of the West Coast drive to raise money for the restoration of the Old Globe Theatre in England. Kingston came to the opening of the Bowery’s “Italian American Reconciliation” and liked it well enough to give Julien’s idea the thumbs-up.

The Kingston Playhouse was born.

“The experiment to see whether private enterprise can support the arts and still benefit is an interesting one. A lot of people will be watching to see if it works out--me among them,” Julien said with a laugh.

His partners “want to see some benefit,” he said. “There is a benefit in supporting the arts, of course. We’re having an increase in food and beverage sales. The possibility exists that we may experience an increase in room sales eventually. I’d like to promote our hotel as a theater hotel.”


But the best part, said Julien, who joined the Bowery’s Board of Directors last week, is that 20 years after the doctorate he never got around to writing the dissertation for, he has found a way to reunite avocation with vocation. He can see the benefits for the Bowery, which just announced its first full season ever, beginning with “What the Butler Saw” in September and ending with “Teibele and Her Demon” in March. And he appreciates those less tangible but still rewarding benefits for himself.

“It’s proof that you can finally do what you love to do,” he said.

Whither the San Dieguito Playhouse? The 31-year-old community theater just lost a succession of spaces, from its old home at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where it had to strike and rebuild its stage every year around racing season, to a site at the La Paloma Theater, where it had to strike and rebuild its stage before and after each of La Paloma’s daily movies. Now the St. John’s Catholic Church in Encinitas has given it a building, but with a catch. The group must find a space to put it on; the 44-by-80-foot site has been sold to a developer. Escrow could be settled by the end of July.

“Community theater is an endangered species,” said Norma Payne, president of the playhouse’s Board of Trustees. Given the rising price of land, most theaters must be underwritten to survive, she explained. Community theaters, which produce non-professional shows with all-volunteer staffs, often find it hard to compete with professional theaters for funds.


“We’re on the City Council agenda,” said Payne, who hopes to be producing “Painting Churches” and “A Christmas Carol” this year.

“All we are asking for is somewhere we can move the building. We would be responsible for maintenance. If we could find a donor, we would be happy to name the theater after him.”

PROGRAM NOTES: The Ensemble Arts Theatre has passed the critical point in its fund raising for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe ’89, Aug. 13-Sept. 2. But it has raised enough to take only one of the two shows it initially planned on: Sam Shepard’s “Angel City.” Ensemble Arts plans to produce the second play, “Water Music,” by UC San Diego playwright Michael Erickson, in November in San Diego, and has scheduled “Angel City” for a Sept. 28 opening here in a yet-to-be announced location. Among the Edinburgh-bound is Linda Libby, the longest-playing member of the “Six Women With Brain Death” cast. She left the ensemble Sunday after starting with the show in October, 1987. . . . Paul Harter, a real estate investor in Los Angeles, moved to Coronado with his wife, Ione, four years ago. This year, he gave a deferred gift valued at $1.2 million to the Old Globe Theatre. The money, according to the Globe, will be used to help provide rehearsal and creative space for artists and staff; to establish long-term support for a variety of programs, including the University of San Diego Master of Fine Arts program and Teatro Meta, and to help retire the $500,000 deficit incurred as a result of the Festival Stage fire. Recently, the Harters donated more than $4.75 million to the Zoological Society of San Diego. . . . The Sunday matinee performance of the La Jolla Playhouse’s “Dangerous Games” at the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts will be interpreted for the hearing-impaired. Deaf actress Freda Norman will give a free pre-performance discussion at 1 p.m. Holly Boursier and Norman’s husband, Rico Peterson, do the signing. Twenty-five discount tickets will be available to the hearing impaired at $8 apiece. The TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf) number is 534-0351. . . . The military audience is up for the La Jolla Playhouse production of “Nebraska,” the Keith Reddin play about the servicemen who baby-sit missile silos. The playhouse finds that a large number of people are asking for those $2 military discounts. . . . The Old Globe Theatre will begin selling tickets to the general public Sunday for the American premiere of “Brothers and Sisters,” the Maly Drama Theater production that may well be the highlight of the San Diego Arts Festival in October. The tickets may seem pricey at $75 to 125, but the two-part, six-hour epic drama about Soviet lives, loves and backbreaking labor under Stalin’s iron hand, should not be missed. Next week, the tickets will be advertised in the L. A. market. . . . Josefina Lopez’s touching, semi-autobiographical play, “Simply Maria: Or the American Dream,” winner of the 1988 Young Playwrights Competition at the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Company, has been scheduled for broadcast from 4-5 p.m. Sept. 17 on KPBS-TV (Channel 15).