Claremont Insider: Padua Theatre Open for Business

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Padua Theatre Open for Business

The Padua Theatre reopened last weekend after being closed all winter and spring for earthquake retrofitting and other renovations. The remodeling work is being done by Arteco Partners, the same company that completed similar adaptive reuse projects with the Pomona Fox and Claremont Packing house.

The Daily Bulletin's David Allen took a tour of the theatre last week and spoke with Jerry Tessier, one of Arteco's principals. Allen described the renovations in his column:
Tessier's Arteco Partners spent $4 million and five months doing seismic strengthening, adding fire sprinklers and alarms, replacing every inch of plumbing and wiring and bringing the buildings up to code, including handicap accessibility.

Vintage elements such as wall sconces and tables have been repaired and the original theater screen featuring a map of Mexico is in place - although Tessier couldn't find the right rope to pull to show it to me.

The theater interior is quaintly rustic, with poured-in-place concrete walls and an exposed-beam ceiling of hand-chiseled wood.

The interior can be configured for banquets or performances, and photo opportunities for weddings - fountains, benches, a gazebo - dot the complex.

Another addition is a broad terrace overlooking the Claremont Wilderness Park. It offers a breathtaking view of rolling hills and canyons.

Allen also wrote about the theatre's history with characteristic irreverence:
Padua used to be an artists' colony and the theater grew out of that tradition. For most of the theater's active life, a troupe called the Mexican Players, sponsored by Herman and Bess Garner, put on productions to introduce Southern Californians to Mexican dress, songs and culture.

Sounds a bit corny to our modern sensibilities, but in its heyday Padua was popular and surprisingly well known.

The Garners owned a good deal of the land around the theatre and sold off lots to people like Millard Sheets, Milford Zornes, Albert Stewart, Harrison Macintosh, and Betty Ford, area artists who all built homes and studios on the long hill where the theatre sits.

David Allen also informs us that Claremont Heritage has sold 250 tickets to a fundraiser tonight at the theatre, a fitting location for the local historical society whose offices are located in the Garner House in Claremont's Memorial Park.

Claremont Heritage and amateur historian Judy Wright have been the primary force behind the deal with Arteco, just as they were the main forces pushing the ill-conceived Claremont Trolley. Judy has written extensively about the theatre and the Garners, whom she has elevated to the highest pedestal within the Claremont founders pantheon.

Wright and company have made much of the painstaking care and attention to detail employed in the theatre's restoration, though as is Judy's wont, she's employed a good deal of revisionism. For instance, Herman Garner would almost certainly have disapproved of things like the 4,000 square foot terrace addition or the serving of alcohol. Garner was a strong supporter of the temperance movement - recall that Claremont itself was a dry town until the late 60's.

Claremont Heritage's nostalgia for the theatre's Mexican Players also ignores the fact that when Garner founded his artist community it had explicit written prohibitions against non-whites owning property. That's right, it was segregated (a little secret Judy would rather not discuss).

Sure, the Garners' temperance and the racial attitudes were products of their era (major league baseball was still segregated at that time), but one cannot pretend to be a historian without documenting all of the history, even the parts that make one uncomfortable.

That said, if you didn't shell out $89 for a ticket to tonight's Claremont Heritage Gala, David Allen says you have several upcoming opportunities to check out the refurbished theatre. The Claremont Chamber of Commerce will have their mixer July 8 and there will be an open house July 12 from 5pm to 8pm.