Theater Design-RFA:Los Angeles

An Architectural Journey

When Ronald Frink (Ronald Frink Architects) first met with Gilbert Cates, Producing Director of the Geffen Playhouse (and renowned producer of the Academy Awards), he had no idea this meeting would lead to the complete redesign and renovation of one theater and the full design of another adjacent, smaller venue.
As with most civic projects, the design architect is grist for a multitude of opinions from staff, board members and patrons. In the end, the current Geffen Playhouse, along with the smaller 120 seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater is another vibrant venue for theater goers on the westside of Los Angeles, as well as the greater LA area.
Originally, the structure was built as a Masonic Club. As time progressed, it was sold to Donald and Kirsten Combs, who, along with their architect, A. Quincy Jones, planned the conversion of the building into an innovative mixed-use facility which housed the 498-seat Westwood Playhouse in the ballroom and the Contempo Furniture and Textile Showroom in various other rooms of the building.
In 1993, The Geffen Playhouse Company was formed by Gilbert Cates, and with the support of generous donors, the property was acquired and gifted to UCLA with the proviso that the facility would be used into the future as a live theater.
Like so many buildings constructed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, this one was in need of major help. In order for the theater to expand its repertoire, the physical building needed to also upgrade and expand. In summary, the scope of the project included the adaptive re-use and substantial renovation, modernization, seismic strengthening and historic restoration of the original building, while introducing a completely new space for a small theater, actors green room, star and chorus dressing rooms and administrative offices.
As with any historic structure, important aspects and elements were restored and maintained. Existing stonework, both on the interior and exterior was preserved and restored. Also, various cornice decorations, decorative columns and ornamental concrete medallions were restored and protected during demolition of non-historical elements. Existing hardwood floors, wrought iron, and light fixtures were also cleaned and restored.
Patrons attending performances prior to  renovation might think the architect, simply, cleaned and redecorated the interiors of the older structure. However, the entire interior space, with the exception of historical elements, was reworked and, in part, excavated; the architect complying with the mandate to improve audience site-lines, while creating a demountable stage with a new understage to support a wide range of productions requirements, such as traps, cross-overs and special effects.
The whole journey, from discussions through completed construction, took several years. And while many patrons have fond memories of the old auditorium,  those and many more will enjoy productions at The Geffen Playhouse far into the future as a result of the beautiful restoration, renovation and addition by Ronald Frink and team, including contractor, Morley Builders.
Hollywood luminaries, such as Annette Bening, Laurence Fishburne, Chris Pine, Mary Steenburgen, Dana Delaney, Alan Cumming, among many others, have performed on one or the other of the Geffen Playhouse's state-of-the-art stages. The Geffen, with its accompanying Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater provides the Westside of Los Angeles with two exciting performance spaces.

Above all, thanks to the vision of Gilbert Cates, The Geffen Playhouse's Board of Directors and the architect, Ronald Frink, the Geffen's renovation and expansion has protected a significant historic and cultural resource in the city of Los Angeles, while giving to the city a very special place for theater.

Below: From deomolition through completion - The Geffen Playhouse and the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater


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