Selling historic Balboa Theater in Newport Beach stirs hopes of revival

The Balboa Performing Arts Theater, a longtime community fixture on the Balboa Peninsula, would be sold to a Costa Mesa developer for $1 million under a proposal the Newport Beach City Council will consider Tuesday night.

The council voted in April to enter a nine-month exclusive negotiating agreement to work with Lab Holding LLC, the company behind The Lab and The Camp in Costa Mesa, on a proposal to rejuvenate the 88-year-old theater building, which has been vacant for years.

The agreement was intended to give the city and Lab Holding time to finalize a plan and negotiate a sale of the city-owned property to Lab, which proposes to update the Balboa Boulevard venue and maintain it as a theater.

Lab Holding is proposing to restore the theater’s original architecture, including the marquee, which likely would reflect the 1920s wrought-iron style. The venue is proposed to have a cafe that would open to the street, a small stage for live music and a second stage for private events. The live-music stage would have an indoor pub but no seating.


The theater, built in the late 1920s during a time when building codes were limited, needs significant work before it is safe to reopen, officials say.

The building is considered “structurally deficient,” according to a city staff report. It also needs new plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems.

The city bought the property in 1988 for $480,000. The theater fell on hard times and was shuttered in 1992.

Since the theater’s closure, some residents held out hope that it would again entertain the masses.


The Balboa Performing Arts Theater Foundation launched a fundraising effort in 2010 to renovate the building with plans to transform it into a 320-seat multiuse venue featuring musical acts, dance and theater performances, films and performing-arts education. But the fundraising did not prove fruitful.

In 2014, the city proposed turning the theater into a fine arts center, offering exhibitions, movies, live performances and workshops. But it was difficult to find widespread support for a city-run theater, council members said.

Fry writes for Times Community News.