El Portal Struggles to Recover From Quake : Funds: If federal money comes through, theater repairs are expected to resume in January. Benefit 'builder's bash' is planned.


Workers have toiled day after day and more than $1 million has been spent, but that grande dame of a building, the El Portal Theater, is still not ready for her close-up.

More than 21 months after the Northridge earthquake dealt a $3-million blow to the El Portal, scattering asbestos, cracking walls and shattering chandeliers--repair work at the Depression-era movie house is at a standstill, as it has been since late July.

Indeed, much work has been done to the three-venue theater. A $1.5-million Small Business Administration loan allowed the Actors Alley theater company to renovate the 49-seat Storefront Theater, retrofit the historic building and restore the ornate facade to state Office of Historic Preservation standards.

Meanwhile, the 350-seat Pavilion Center and the 99-seat Circle Forum each await a ceiling, new utilities and a floor before a projected fall 1996 opening.

Construction should begin again in January, as far as Actors Alley Managing Director Bob Caine knows.

"Right now we don't have control of our destiny, and until we do, it's hard to tell people" the date the theater will open, Caine said. "I wish that the unresolved areas would be resolved . . . so we can begin building again."

About 14 months ago, Actors Alley requested Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to repair the 69-year-old theater, which was two weeks away from its grand opening when the temblor hit.

It appears that FEMA will cover the remaining $1.5 million necessary to open the crown jewel of the NoHo Arts District, Caine said, but Actor's Alley has not received a confirmation from the agency.

Pasadena-based FEMA spokeswoman Vallee Bunting said the agency is still processing the Actors Alley application.

So Caine and building consultant Steve Rothman have created a piecemeal strategy for keeping the building afloat, including the SBA loan, applying for a Community Redevelopment Agency bridge loan and fund raising. Lots of fund raising.

The Actors Alley performing company is hosting a "builder's bash" Saturday to supplement the expected federal relief money.

The event will include a barbecue, comedy, music, dancing and celebrity photo booths. Actors Ed Asner, Beverly Garland, Lee Meriwether, Dyan Cannon, Sally Struthers and Harry Hamlin and musician Kenny G. are scheduled to attend.

In another three to five months, the company will embark on a capital campaign, seeking assistance from arts patrons. The bash and patron tours will show theater-goers the building's progress and potential.

"The building really got slammed," Rothman said. "It looked like England after the blitz during World War II."

These days, the asbestos, cracked plaster and glass shards are gone. "Now it looks like a clean blitz," Rothman joked.

Through it all, Actors Alley has put on three shows a season, sometimes in tents, other times in the Storefront.

"This is going to happen. We haven't stayed with it this long, with this kind of tenacity to give up," Caine said.

"Unless another earthquake hits," he added: "Then we'll get the message."



The "builder's bash" fund-raiser for the El Portal Theater will take place from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday at the theater, 5269 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Admission is $35 and includes dinner and entertainment. For reservations or information, call (818) 508-4200.

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