Last night, after a long decade, we learned it will rise again in two or three years. At a town hall meeting local officials told us about the theater's long history and plans renovate it.
UM professor, Jorge Hernandez, spoke about the theater's beginning as a 1200-seat movie house. It opened on January 1st, 1927, with the silent film, "The Sorrows of Satan".
In the 30's my mom and her family enjoyed going there (probably to see cartoons and non-Satanic features).
Hernandez praised the theater exterior's Mediterranean Revival design but the interior? In his opinion it has little intrinsic value, especially since it was converted from a movie house to a playhouse in 1955.
Sadly, this conversion modernized the exterior taking it from this,
to this (Notice the removal of the sidewalk arcades and rooftop ornamentation).
This the "front" of the theater, the part that the public sees. If you've ever seen the it from the parking lot, it looks like a fat gray, aging hippopotamus with its head stuck in the "front". This huge auditorium is too big, too old, and too funky to save.
Think of the existing building as being three parts as we were shown last night,
I simplified this a bit by drawing on an envelope,
"A" is the Front Building. the part the public sees. For most, this is the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The county's much thought-out plan will not only save this but restore it so it will look like the 1927 original.
"B" is the crescent-shaped lobby. The plan will keep the footprint turning it into a lush, tropical courtyard. When the new playhouse is completed, you will pass through the garden to enter "C", the new theater.
"C" is now a huge, dead whale. There is no good reason to hang on to it. The plan will replace it with a smaller, 300-seat, state-of-the-art theater.
In north parking lot, "D" will be a parking garage, residences, and retail shops. The county's plan was created by Architectonica, a world-class design firm with its home in the Grove.
Joe Adler, the director of the "GablesStage" theater, is leading the effort to revive the playhouse and live performances in Coconut Grove. I strongly support this effort and I hope you will too.
We live in a democracy (at least for the next six weeks) where all opinions are considered. Some people don't like the plan. They say 1) the old dead whale ("C") should be restored and others say that in addition to the plan's 300-seat theater, there should also be an additional 700-seat theater.
That's a bad idea, like saying, in addition to the Grove's intimate twenty-five restaurants, we need many more high-capacity eateries with the increased traffic that comes with them.
The plan's 300-seat theater is just right for Coconut Grove.
A few other highlights:
I learned that the original playhouse was designed by Richard Kiehnel, one of the premiere architects a century ago. While he created beautiful buildings all over the country, three other of his designs are within a half-mile of the playhouse. They are (heading south on Main Highway)
The Bryan Memorial Church (now the Chabad),
El Jardin (now Carrolton School)
and the Christian Scientists Church (now a lovely, empty shell with more peacocks than scientists roaming the grounds).
We need to keep Kiehnel Row protected. It's one of the Grove's great treasures.
These three are in pretty good shape but the playhouse? It's time to bring it back from the dead. It's been kicked around too long.
We need to support the county and the GablesStage proposal. Support their efforts to give the Grove the outstanding theater complex that our village needs and deserves.