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Earthquake: The Long Road Back : Theatre Group Makes Plans to Repair El Portal : Landmarks: Actors Alley seeks funds to fix $1.5 million in quake damage to the NoHo arts district anchor.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Facing more than $1.5 million in estimated damage to its earthquake-hobbled home at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood, Actors Alley Repertory Theatre has begun to seek money to repair the structure and keep the theater organization operating.

At the same time, concerns persist about how soon the facility--the linchpin of the ambitious NoHo arts district, the first of its kind in the San Fernando Valley--will be operational.

In one indication that the company is not planning to close or go into hiatus, the group is moving ahead with plans to announce its 1994 season.

“And we will find a temporary venue before we reopen at the El Portal,” said Actors Alley artistic director Jeremiah Morris.

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On Wednesday, Actors Alley was close to securing a Valley-based venue for its March 1 opening of Peter Lefcourt’s play, “The Audit,” and a late March opening for James Thurber’s “The Male Animal.”

Another indication that the show would go on was the unanimous decision by Actors Alley’s 23-member board of directors Jan. 27 to accelerate what had been originally planned as a five- to six-year fund-raising plan. The nonprofit organization is immediately applying for a loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while raising between $30,000 and $40,000 from private sources for the current season’s immediate needs.

The maximum FEMA loan for which the group is eligible, said Actors Alley managing director Robert Caine, happens to be $1.5 million--the approximate repair cost for the El Portal.

Neither the company, which subleases the building, nor the main leaseholder, El Portal Partners, carried earthquake insurance, Caine said.

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Caine did not anticipate problems in securing the full loan, despite demands for far larger government loan amounts from such institutions as Cal State Northridge, the Los Angeles Coliseum and other key public facilities.

Until the quake, the former vaudeville house and cinema, built in 1926 at 5269 Lankershim Blvd., had been undergoing $300,000 worth of redesign and restoration, and was “95% ready” for the early February reopening, said site project manager Terry Evans.

The temblor’s force brought most of the theater’s ceiling crashing to the floor. Richard McCann, architect of the El Portal face lift, said that although the fallen ceiling did not damage the newly designed “arena” stage built inside the auditorium, it did release a large amount of asbestos throughout the building and the lobby area, while damaging some of the auditorium’s decades-old decorative wall art, loosening the large chandelier, and twisting and pulling apart the theater’s old electrical duct work. The building’s south and east facades were also damaged, McCann said.

A complete assessment of interior damage cannot be made until the asbestos is removed, which is expected to cost $275,000 and take four to six weeks.

Over the long term, officials don’t expect the El Portal to open for another year to 15 months. Caine said this factors in five or six months of repair work and an equal amount of time for fund raising.

The quake’s effect, which was also seriously felt at another key NoHo arts district theater, American Renegade Theatre, “is certainly a setback,” said Fred Bower, chairman of the NoHo art district committee. “Actors Alley’s presence at the El Portal is an anchor of the district. But I would term it a knockdown, not a knockout.”


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