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HB High auditorium renovation and addition embraces the old and new

The 1926 Auditorium features Lombard Romanesque Revival Architecture

Construction restoration work on the 83-year-old Huntington Beach High School (HBHS) Darrel Stillwagon auditorium and bell tower and a new performing arts classroom addition was recently completed. Located on Main Street and Yorktown Avenue in Huntington Beach, the auditorium was one of the first buildings constructed on the high school campus in 1926, and the school was the first permanent high school in the Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD).

The $9.6 million HBHS performing arts project was funded through the $238 million HBUHSD Measure C modernization and expansion program encompassing school facility improvements at six high schools in the district. McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. of Newport Beach served as construction manager for the project which entailed construction of a new 9,200-square-foot performing arts classroom building and courtyard as well as extensive renovations of a 27,000 square-foot, 600-seat performing arts auditorium and bell tower. The project also included renovation of outdoor walkways and an outdoor amphitheater on the auditorium’s south side.

The auditorium and bell tower are listed with the County of Orange as Historic Site #36. Designed in the Lombard Romanesque Revival Style, the facility’s original architect was Allison and Allison of Santa Ana. The HBUHSD, McCarthy and PJHM Architects collaborated closely with Roberto Pellechia, the project’s conceptual designer who conducted extensive research on the Lombard Romanesque Revival style. Pallechia worked with the project architects to maintain the historical integrity of the structure while incorporating a more decorative aspect to the interior and adding modern conveniences and infrastructure for functionality.


“The goal of this project was to modernize while respecting the building’s history, character and landmark prominence for both the school and the community,” said project manager Anson Rane of PJHM Architects in San Clemente. “The auditorium, with stately arched openings, a high vaulted ceiling and elaborate classically inspired detailing throughout, is truly one of a kind for a school facility.” 

A color palate primarily of burgundy, gold, black and egg-shell was used on the walls, stage curtains, flooring, molding and trim to recreate the original interior design. New decorative architectural wall elements were added around the stage arch and on the walls to enhance the Lombard Romanesque Style. Accessibility improvements such as passenger lifts, ramps and updated restrooms were also incorporated. Interior renovations included mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades, new theater seating and new finishes such as paint, carpeting and porcelain floor tile. Several interior design elements were restored including large wall display areas with ornamental molding, lobby and stairwell light fixtures as well as 10 cast iron chandeliers in the auditorium. Additionally, two community rooms located off the front lobby were renovated for classroom instruction and community use.

Although the auditorium was restored to its original 1920’s glory, state-of-the art technology has been hidden behind the scenes to enhance performances and support performing arts and theater production classes. The auditorium’s modern sound system and infrastructure features conduit and back boxes to support new video projector screens, speakers, video monitors, spot lighting and sound and mixing boards. New wall mounted flat screen monitors will be displayed in the lobby to broadcast live performances and advertise upcoming events. Heating and air conditioning systems were also cleaned or replaced.

Extensive interior structural upgrades included reconstruction of the 65-foot wide by 45-foot high proscenium arch that frames the auditorium stage. The reconstruction work entailed demolition of the existing lath and plaster structure and rebuilding the arch with new steel beams and metal stud framing tied into the existing concrete walls. The new arch was then finished with plaster to match the existing interior finish.


“Uncovered during the demolition stage, reconstruction of the arch posed one of the project’s most significant challenges,” said McCarthy’s Assistant Project Manager Paul Brown. “The main challenge was working with the architect and structural engineer to create a design that would meet new code requirements while maintaining the look of the original architecture.”

Exterior upgrades of the auditorium included a new clay barrel tile roof and replacement of existing windows with a modern glazing system. Additionally, the north entrance was enclosed to meet accessibility codes and the roof drainage system was reconfigured. The new design of the north entrance features large arched windows and glass doorways emulating the original open-air architecture.

“Ornate precast concrete spires and other exterior architectural elements were restored, however, a lion gargoyle, which sits atop the entryway roof and watches over the grand facade of the auditorium, remarkably needed no repair,” said McCarthy Project Director John Staff.

Restoration of the 125-foot tall bell tower with a functional clock required extensive scaffolding and protective netting to keep birds out during cleaning and concrete repair. A new copper finial was placed atop the bell tower, and the auditorium and bell tower’s concrete and plaster exterior skin was restored.

The new Performing Arts classroom addition features a black box theatre and two new dance classrooms. The one-level structure is attached to the back stage of the auditorium and shares dressing rooms and restrooms with the auditorium.

“The classroom building was constructed simultaneously with the auditorium renovation to effectively maximize construction funds,” said Staff.

The HBHS auditorium renovation and addition project is part of an overall campus modernization program at the high school. In addition to the auditorium and performing arts classroom, completed work includes a new maintenance building, fine arts classroom conversion and a new classroom building mechanical yard and SCE Electrical System upgrades. Current modernization work entails renovation of the Cap Sheue Stadium with final construction details being completed over the summer. Future modernizations will be conducted on the math and science building, music building, general classrooms and the school parking lot.

The HBHS projects are part of McCarthy’s contract with Huntington Beach Union High School District which includes planning, preconstruction, bid activities and management of scheduling and construction for the district-wide school facility modernization and expansion program. Additional modernization projects have been or are being conducted at Edison High School, Fountain Valley High School, Huntington Beach High School, Marina High School, Valley Vista High School and Westminster High School.