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05.02.2011
In Construction> A Noise Within Theater
Preservation takes center stage as theater group repurposes a half-demolished facility.
The new theater is adjacent to a residential complex.
Courtesy A Noise Within

The problem with hand-me-downs is that one almost always has to make alterations. The same goes for buildings, as evidenced by the case of an entirely new theater being built within the footprint of a partially demolished historic landmark in Glendale.

Just in time for its 20th season, Glendale’s classical repertory company A Noise Within (ANW) will be moving into Pasadena’s Stuart Pharmaceutical Company building, designed in 1958 by Edward Durell Stone. Stone, the lead architect for Radio City Music Hall and the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, is best known for his distinctive brand of decorative modernism, a response to the pristine clarity of International Style.

Stone’s rectangular building has a very strong horizontal emphasis and a low profile. Set back 150 feet from the street, it seems to float over the reflecting pool in front of it. A modular screen wall embellished with gold-painted brass knobs forms the distinctive facade of the building and further reinforces the shape of the structure.

ANW Theater   ANW Theater   ANW Theater
Left to right: Diagram of the auditorium with support spaces above; the thrust stage is below grade; the site plan.
 

When the building was turned over to ANW, it had already been partially demolished to make way for a subway parking garage. What remained “looked like a single story building, but was actually a two-story building,” said Sherman Oaks preservation architect Robert J. Chattel, who worked with ANW to construct the new space in accordance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

The building’s lower level once held the manufacturing plant for the company’s capsule-shaped pills. Los Angeles-based John Berry Architects originally proposed building up to four stories, but new plans were drawn with Chattel that called for building mostly downward, in order to maintain the original building’s horizontality. So rather than walking in and up, as in most theater buildings, visitors will walk in and down. The stage sits an equivalent of two stories below ground surrounded by a tiered 300-seat theater, small enough to maintain the sense of intimacy ANW has become known for.

The historic area of the building occupies 5,801 square feet. Stone’s original modular screen walls, columns, and light fixtures have all been kept intact, as well as a garden designed by Thomas Church, the highly influential modernist landscape architect. ANW will occupy the 33,000-square-foot western flank of the building. Its eastern portion has already undergone a major restoration as part of a new residential complex called The Stuart at Sierra Madre Villa.

ANW Theater   ANW Theater
Structural steel trusses take shape (left) and construction progress at the theater (right).
 

ANW will also have a rooftop addition, but it has been kept as discrete as possible, so as not to disturb the building’s profile. “The addition is actually the structural steel trusses that span the theater space,” explained Chattel. It will be stepped back, painted white and in-filled with glass between the steel members.

Past the screen wall, four glass bays, each with fixed panes and a sliding component, were restored. All new glass panes were installed and the aluminum frames on the fixed panes were cleaned. Because narrow-profiled aluminum frames hardly exist nowadays, the sliding components were custom-made to look like the original, said Duanne Kenny of Matt Construction, contractors for the project.

The remainder of the construction uses simple materials. “Lots of concrete, lots of structural steel,” said Kenny. The exterior includes glazing and exposed concrete masonry; the interior exposed concrete floors and gypsum board ceilings. The STC-rated walls and doors along with a concrete wall also help mitigate the constant noise coming from the Foothill Freeway just across the road.

The existing elements also presented another challenge in construction. It “made for a very tight construction site when erecting the steel,” said construction architect Mark Giles of DLR Group WWCOT, one of the contractors. But the team seems to be managing well. Construction has progressed quickly since its groundbreaking last July and should wrap up sometime in the fall.

Whether in design or construction, simplicity has been the dominant theme at ANW. After half a century, Stone’s elegant design has proven timeless—an appropriate home for a repertory theater company that continues to breathe new life to the classics.

Carren Jao