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Laguna Playhouse Sets Stage for Second Theater : Expansion: Former bank building, several miles south of its downtown venue, is bought to house professional productions.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite Southern California’s current economic slump, the Laguna Playhouse is purchasing a building several miles south of its downtown main stage to establish a second theater for professional productions.

A new season could be launched as early as next summer, a top playhouse official said Tuesday.

The 74-year-old community playhouse, which currently offers a five-play season on a $1.2-million annual budget at the 418-seat Moulton Theatre, has agreed to buy a former Bank of America branch at 32356 Coast Highway in South Laguna.

The playhouse has long sought to establish professional credentials by adding a second stage for more adventurous contemporary plays.

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Richard Stein, executive director of the playhouse, said the free-standing building would be renovated into a 250-seat theater for productions to be staged under a union contract with the Actors’ Equity Assn.

“My hope would be that we could open our first show there within six months,” Stein said. “But that may be a little optimistic in terms of remodeling the building.”

Whenever the first season does begin, he said, it will have four plays and one musical and would add roughly $400,000 to the playhouse’s current budget.

Stein said he was “not at liberty to discuss the purchase price” of the bank building, which has roughly 7,300 square feet and sits on a 42,644 square-foot lot (including a parking area).

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But he noted that renovations would require “a minimum of $500,000,” according to a preliminary estimate, and that the playhouse anticipates having to raise a total of $3 million in “a reinvigorated capital campaign.”

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If the purchase of the property goes through as expected, the playhouse expansion would be the culmination of plans initiated during the boom years of the mid-'80s, when theater officials first undertook the capital campaign.

By 1990 they had raised $870,000 toward acquisition of a second site. Of that amount, Stein said, the playhouse now has $725,000 in cash (including a $500,000 grant from the Harry and Grace Steele Foundation).

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In 1988, three years after expansion beyond the Moulton was envisioned, the playhouse began lengthy negotiations for a 20-year lease on the General Telephone Building in downtown Laguna, but the negotiations fell through.

The board of directors of the playhouse, which is the county’s second-largest theater company, decided in the fall of 1990 to renew efforts to find a second site.

At that time, Stein said he thought it would take three years to develop a second facility.

Stein said projections call for 1,900 subscribers to the second stage’s inaugural season; the playhouse has 7,723 subscribers for the season at the Moulton.

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The bank building would be the first real-estate owned by the theater company since it sold its original theater at the tail end of the Great Depression.


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