Ripping apart Andrews Hall
RICARDO MAGAÑA of Benchmark Construction sweeps up what is left of the balcony in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center.
To the untrained eye, it might appear that Andrews Hall is being dismantled at the Sonoma Community Center, where the balcony has been demolished and the wooden ceiling beams ripped out. But it’s all part of the master plan to transform the historic hall into a dedicated theatrical performance space.
“It’s really going to be a proper theater space for all sorts of performances,” said Kathy Swett, former executive director of the center who is continuing work as a consultant on the remodel effort. “This will allow the community center to bring in things that haven’t been here before because we didn’t have the infrastructure to support it.”
Demolition on the hall began Jan. 2, and construction will be overseen by longtime center board member Jack Lundgren. If all goes as planned, the remodel should be complete by mid-May, although the center plans to unveil the bulk of the work during its popular, annual Trashion Fashion Show in April.
“That will be our first major event in the new space,” said Toni Castrone, executive director of the center.
The total cost of the remodel, which includes bringing the building into compliance with state seismic laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is around $2.2 million – although much of the work has already been completed. During the summer, the center did about $1 million of work, including upgrading the electrical systems, replacing the roof, and the ancient boiler with a new HVAC system.
“That boiler,” Swett laughed, “was put in in 1915. It started out as wood-burning, then was converted to coal, then gas. But it was still the original mechanism.”
Most of the first-phase work was done behind walls, and can’t be seen by the naked eye; phase two, which launched in January, will include a major facelift of the historic hall. The balcony was completely torn out, making way for new seats, a professional light booth and a banister that will no longer block view of the stage.
“We’ll have proper theater seats, not elementary school seats up there,” Swett said.
The decorative beams in the ceiling are gone, to be replaced by acoustic panels to improve the sound quality in the room. Professional lighting trees will frame the stage and new flooring will be laid throughout the 180-seat theater. The windows will be replaced to better insulate the space.
“We’re re-doing the windows exactly as they are now, so the look won’t change at all,” Swett said.
The biggest change will come in the front room, which will be expanded into the Rotary Kitchen to create a full lobby with a bar space to sell refreshments before shows. Outside, the center will build a box office to sell tickets, as well as mount a professional, lighted marquee.
“We’re hoping that it will be neighbor-friendly but really announce that this is a professional theater,” Swett said of the marquee.
No one is more excited for the remodel than members of the Sonoma Theatre Alliance, which has leased Andrews Hall the past three summers to bring a full season of theatrical offerings to Sonoma. The alliance has partnered with the center in designing the remodel, and plans to extend its 2013 season from four to six months to make better use of the upgraded facility. (To inquire about auditions for the 2013 season, contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
“I am pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. The changes will enable our participating companies to perform and entertain to the best of their abilities, and will enable the audience to experience the show as it was intended, with improved acoustics, improved sight lines, improved front of house experience,” said Jaime Love, executive director of the Sonoma Theatre Alliance. “I think the timing was right. There were other people in the community who had the same idea who all came together – the stars really aligned for this project.”
In addition to the alliance, the center found support from the City of Sonoma and the Sonoma Valley Rotary Club to make the project a reality. The City Council voted to give the center $2 million in redevelopment bond money, which was issued just 10 days before an order from Gov. Jerry Brown dissolved all of the redevelopment agencies in the state last year. Meanwhile, the Rotarians launched a successful $100,000 matching grant to cover the additional costs of the remodel.
“We were very lucky to have so much support from the community,” Swett said.
Phase 2 of the renovation will only include Andrews Hall, meaning the rest of the center will be open and operating as usual. The center’s popular Beervana event, set for April 6, will take place at the Sonoma Valley Veterans Memorial Building.
“It’s going to be hard to lose the revenue from Andrews Hall during the remodel,” Swett said, “but when it rises from the ashes, it will be fabulous.”
She explained that the potential to increase revenue in the new performance space by rentals and developing more special events is significant. “Now that we have our little jewel box, we need to put some jewels in it.”