There was some life at Broadway’s Edison Theatre this month as Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal activated the space for a public meeting.

Lowenthal said she hopes her State of the Second District event — as well as another event called “Long Beach: Work in Progress” that was hosted in April by a company called Imprint — are just the beginning when it comes to seeing the long-vacant Edison Theatre put to good use.

“I know people are interested in the space,” Lowenthal said. “I’m hopeful there can be life in that theater.”

Unfortunately though, Lowenthal and city staff said there are some obstacles in the way of finding a permanent use for the circa-1917 Spanish-Baroque structure, which was formerly property of the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency. 

“We are proposing (to the state) that we would like the Edison Theatre to be retained by the city for future development,” Robert Zur Schmiede, deputy director of Development Services, explained. “Until we get the property management plan approved, our hands are tied in terms of leasing the property. People have approached us on some of our vacant sites (such as the Edison), and we do issue special event permits, but we are really not in a position where we can get a permanent tenant.”

Zur Schmiede said the the city does not yet know when the state will come to a decision about the more than 240 individual parcels that were owned by Redevelopment until the agency was dissolved last year.

In the meantime, there hasn’t been much to advertise on the Edison’s marquee. The last full-time occupant was the California Repertory Theatre Company, from 1998 to 2006. The Cal Rep signage on the building’s façade still remains, and the Edison’s name comes from a $260,000 donation from Southern California Edison to Cal Rep during that time. A former retail building, it opened as a theater in late 1998, after major renovations.

Cal Rep had planned to purchase the theater, and already had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into improving the building, but a seismic study found that the theater did not meet California State University’s code for safety. Cal Rep was forced out of the space.

Lowenthal said the theater is safe for the public, just not up to par with some of the strict codes required by state universities. And, while the city needs to wait for a decision about the former redevelopment property before either selling it or securing a permanent tenant, she said she hopes groups interested in using the space for special events contact her office.

“We were there yesterday (June 20) for the State of the District, and we wouldn’t have been there if it wasn’t safe for us to be there,” she emphasized. “The Edison is perfectly fine for varied uses. It is a beautiful site, just gorgeous, and it can be dressed up even more with just very little effort. We hope people consider it for events.”

One possible future tenant is the Garage and Alive theater companies, which have worked with the Arts Council for Long Beach in the past to try to secure an agreement to permanently lease the theater. Those efforts have been unsuccessful, but Garage co-founder Eric Hamme said he is always hopeful the theater companies — or any other theater company — will once again light the Edison’s stage. The Garage once had one performance at the Edison. And, as a former theater student at CSULB, Hamme was active with Cal Rep when it was housed there.

“The Edison is the best performance arts space of its size in the city — it’s intimate and a beautiful facility and the lobby is gorgeous,” Hamme said. “I would love to be back there again. Absolutely love to. It’s exactly what we are looking for. There’s nostalgia there… But, we cannot give up the space we have now for something that isn’t permanent.”

Hamme said that even if the Garage doesn’t get the honor of performing at the Edison again, he hopes the space is used for artistic purposes.

“It’s sad that it’s just empty,” he said. “I want to see it brought back to life. I would hate to see it go away… I would hate to see it turn into offices or something.”

For details about booking the space for special events, call the Second District Council Office at 570-6684.

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