Arts Group Seeks to Take Over Historic Auditorium

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A nonprofit arts group in the Antelope Valley has offered to purchase or lease a historic downtown auditorium from the city of Lancaster with plans to restore the building for gallery space and offices for community groups.

Members of the Antelope Valley Allied Arts Assn., a group that sponsors an annual arts festival and awards scholarships in the area, wants to take control of the two-story Memorial Hall at the southwest corner of Lancaster Boulevard and Cedar Avenue.

The hall, built in 1938 and one of Lancaster's oldest buildings, is the centerpiece of the Art Deco-style Cedar Avenue complex. That cluster of five former county buildings built between 1920 and 1938 has been recommended for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The proposal surfaced Monday night when Lancaster City Council members, sitting as directors of the city's Redevelopment Agency, met behind closed doors to discuss the possible disposition of the city-owned site. By law, the city had to identify the other party in the potential deal.

In the audience were Rich Winkler, who said he is the business manager for the arts group, and Richard Dowen, president of the Antelope Valley Heritage Foundation, who has been participating in the discussions. They confirmed the arts group wrote a letter of interest to the city last week.

They declined to discuss the financial details of their offer to the city, although Winkler said his group does have money available to pay for acquiring control of the hall. The two said they hope to conclude a deal with the city before the end of the calendar year.

Although city officials have talked in the past of wanting to sell the hall and other buildings, the arts group reportedly is more interested in leasing the hall from the city. Maintaining city ownership would make it easier for the group to seek grant funds for preservation work.

City officials bought the property from the county in 1985. That year and then again earlier this year the city tried to demolish the buildings, contending they were too costly to preserve. But loud protests by local residents stalled the city's plans.

The Cedar Avenue complex housed county government offices in the Antelope Valley until the 1950s. In August, the state Historical Resources Commission voted to recommend the complex for National Register listing. A decision from federal officials is expected soon.

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