Petition Started to Preserve Edison Theatre as Performing Arts Venue

Edison BIG

Built in 1917, the Edison Theatre on Broadway in downtown Long Beach has a rich history, ranging from housing the Nippon Pool Room and Barber Shop in 1924 to its latest—and sadly last—embodiment as the home base of Long Beach State’s graduate theatre company, the California Repertory.

The tale of CalRep and the Edison is a lengthy one but can be summed up succinctly as a battle of seismic codes and neighboring properties. Since CalRep is part of the public CSU system, its seismic codes are stricter than buildings not directly affiliated with the CSU. In this sense, Edison is sound seismically; however, the American Liberty Bonds building next to it is not.

And in 2006, CalRep was forced to move out by the CSU, becoming a vagabond company that has performed at multiple locations, from the Armory on 7th to the Queen Mary. It also attempted to fight—for years—to raise enough money to get back into the Edison.

It is this last incarnation that the Edison embodied—a theatrical space—that former CalRep member, co-founder of Garage Theatre, and local artist Eric Hamme wishes to preserve. For him, it holds not just an artistic place in his heart—he was the Assistant Director for the last theatre production the Edison ever saw—but also professional attachment, as he spent his last two years in graduate school attempting to get CalRep back into the Edison.

“A few years ago the [CSULB] Theatre Department informed us that they would no longer be pursuing the Edison and that they wanted to support trying to get The Garage Theatre and Alive Theatre in there,” Hamme said.

Their first attempt at doing so was unsuccessful due to, according to Hamme, the Arts Council for Long Beach actively working with the Ford Foundation through a $100,000 grant to activate the space. When even that turned unsuccessful, Hamme and friends once again attempted to finagle their way into the Edison.

Then the redevelopment fiasco hit.

“We came very close to being successful,” Hamme said. “Then Jerry Brown shut down the RDA and the property fell into limbo between the State and the City and no one was sure what they wanted or could to do with it. That is where it stands today… Recently I received word that there are parties interested in purchasing the building and using it for non-arts purposes. I have heard the term ‘office spaces’ thrown around but I can’t confirm that.”

That term drove Hamme to create a petition that will hopefully pique the interest of Councilmember Suja Lowenthal—whose district the Edison lies in—as well as the Council as a whole to preserve the Edison as a theatre arts space. And even more pointedly, Hamme doesn’t care who moves in; he simply wants theatre there.

“We just want it to remain a performing arts venue, whoever is in there,” Hamme said. “The Edison Theatre is by far the best intimate theatre in Long Beach and I have seen, and been a part of, so many wonderful productions there over the years. With the redevelopment of the Promenade and all the new businesses there, the idea of that wonderful venue being used as office spaces frankly pisses me off.”

The petition, created September 13, has already garnered over 200 signatures, with a 271 needed.

To sign the petition, click here. 

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