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Alternative Golden Gate Plan Includes More Than a Pharmacy

If a group of mothers from East Los Angeles have it their way, the Golden Gate Theater located on Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards would be rehabilitated to support the cultural enrichment of East LA area youth, and the old Vega Building would be rebuilt for contemporary uses like a charter school.

The current owners of the theater, Charles Company, M&A Gabaee, LP, have permits pending to retrofit the building to be used as a CVS Pharmacy, complete with a drive-thru. Rebuilding the Vega Building, however, has so far not been a part of their proposed use for the property.

(Barrio Planners, Inc.; Image prepared by Luis Vazquez)

(Barrio Planners, Inc.; Image prepared by Luis Vazquez)

In a proposal prepared by Barrio Planners Inc. for the Mothers of East LA, several alternative options for the property are explored based on reports prepared for the Los Angeles Department of Public Works, Community Development Commission, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority from 1988 to 1996. What is missing, however, is input from the property’s owners, the Charles Company, which saw the plan for the first time on Tuesday.

Before going into the meeting, Barrio Planners President Frank Villalobos acknowledged that Charles Company may not like being told what to do with their business, but said he is confident the proposal is solid and would satisfy the needs of local stakeholders. While they did not directly confer with the property owners, he said the proposal does include some of what the Charles Company wants, and much more.

Stacey Breener, Golden Gate Project Manager for the Charles Company, told EGP on Wednesday that the proposal is currently under internal review.

“We are definitely interested, but we are looking to see if it is feasible,” she said referring to Barrio Planners’ ambitious proposal.

One of the proposal’s many alternatives calls for only preserving the Golden Gate Theater’s facade; a replica of the portal at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain.

But Barrio Planners is highly recommending a more costly alternative that comes with an estimated $14 million price tag, and a much grander use for the site, but as of yet, no firm funding source.

Their plan of choice would rehabilitate the theater in a manner they claim would preserve it as a California historic building. Ideally, the site would be used to promote Hispanic cultural awareness, and possibly for showing new Mexican and Spanish language films.

The project would also focus on rebuilding the Vega Building as a mixed-use commercial and educational complex.

The Vega Building, before it was damaged in the 1987 Whittier Earthquake and demolished in the early 1990s, was an L-shaped two and three-story building, with an octagonal tower on the corner and several office and apartment spaces. It once housed a Rexall Pharmacy in the tower where Barrio Planners thinks Charles Company could locate a pharmacy if the building were rebuilt.

Under Barrio Planner’s proposal, the new Vega Building would triple the square footage currently available; it could replicate the breezeways that once lead to the theater and include a subterranean parking garage with 120 parking spaces.

Using the Fox Theater in Oakland as a model, Barrio Planners also suggests housing a new performing arts charter school at the proposed Golden Gate Theater/Vega Building Complex. The campus could be 40,000 square feet—with a middle school using 32,000 square feet in the reconstructed Vega Building and a pre-school for 120 children using 8,000 square feet.

“Both of these school programs are severely needed in our community to the extent that the Green Dot Charter School program recently occupied the former Vega building site with trailers to house the De La Hoya Animo Charter School, which serves 500 high school students,” the planners state in the proposal.

The De La Hoya Animo Charter has since relocated to a permanent facility near downtown.

Not only will the performing arts focus be in keeping with the complex’s past as an entertainment center, it could also provide much needed performance space for the large number of actors, poets and performers who call East Los Angeles home, but are disproportionately underrepresented in the entertainment industry, Los Angeles’ largest employer.

Latinos in East Los Angeles must currently go to the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles to see Spanish-language movies, musicals and variety acts.

The planners point to the success of Spanish-language television networks and high TV ratings for Telenovelas as evidence of a thriving market for the complex.

“However, many of the modern day Spanish speaking box office hits can only be seen in such places as in West Los Angles at the Arc Light Theater, or in Pasadena at the Laemmle Theaters; making them not only inaccessible to Latino audiences, but [they] fail to capture an economic market which is ignored and overlooked,” the planners wrote in the proposal.

Furthermore, the planners say actor and East LA native Edward James Olmos has commissioned them to search for a location for the Edward James Olmos Performing Arts Museum, and suggest the Golden Gate Theater could be the perfect location. Another possible tenant could be East LA native and actor Tony Plana’s East Los Angeles Classic Theater, said Villalobos.

In the proposal, the planners say the total construction cost would be $14,309,900. Barrio Planners President Frank Villalobos acknowledges the challenge given the current economy, but said they are actively seeking funding through the federal stimulus plan.

The Golden Gate Theater could qualify for the Federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as a rehabilitation project, and the parking garage construction would also create jobs, Villalobos told EGP.

Barrio Planners has approached U.S. Representatives Grace Napolitano, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina, and local business organizations for support in applying for grants to rehabilitate the theater. The planners are pursuing the Smithsonian Grant for American Treasures, Villalobos told EGP. It is unclear, however, what support the elected officials will provide.

Under this proposal, the Mothers of East Los Angeles and other non-profits could become a governing board for the Golden Gate Theater; it would be a joint venture with Charles Company having full ownership and control of the reconstructed Vega Building, Villalobos said.  What the property owner thinks about his grand plans, however, remains to be seen.

To read part one of this story, “Plans for Historic East Los Angeles Golden Gate Theater Complex Growing,” visit www.egpnews.com.