Playhouse façade to be updated


The Laguna Playhouse will get a facelift. 

Plans for the updated exterior were approved by the City Council at the August 7 meeting. Approval had been recommended by the Planning Commission. 

“It will be a definite improvement,” said Commissioner Anne Johnson. 

The Laguna Playhouse is believed to the oldest continuing theater operation on the West Coast. It was established in 1920. The Moulton Theater inside the Playhouse opened in 1968 and was named for Nellie Gail Moulton who contributed to the funding for the project. 

It is home to the Laguna Dance Festival, the Youth Theater, and in the past to Laguna Concert Band and “Lagunatics” performances, as well as other theatrical productions. 

Laguna Beach owns the 1.3-acre site, but leases it to the Playhouse, which is an annual recipient of Business Improvement District funding from voluntary hoteliers in Laguna. The theater was awarded $240,000 this year and also has received a matching grant from the City for up to $250,000 for four years for a total of $1 million.

One of the goals for the matching grant was to determine whether or when to undertake a capital improvement plan to renovate the theater. 

The proposed building update includes the replacement of the existing textured stucco with a smooth finish, lowering the front screen walls, additions to the metal canopy, landscaping and new signage and color palette programs. 

Playhouse facade to

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Laguna Playhouse is the oldest continuing theater operation on the West Coast

Council approval of a conditional use permit required the commission recommendation to permit improvements on the canopy to exceed the 18-foot height limit in the Civic Arts District. The canopy, as approved, will stretch 26 feet above the adjacent grade. 

However, the Civic Arts District development standards recognize that art organizations and other art festival-compatible land uses may have special needs in terms of building height, according to the staff report submitted by Community Development Director Greg Pfost.

Five special findings must be made in addition to the standard CUP findings. 

Commissioners did balk at the street tree plan at the July 18 meeting. Commissioners requested substitutions for the proposed four red ironbark eucalypti proposed as complementary to the landscaping in the adjacent office building at 580 Broadway. The commission cited the recent failure of a eucalyptus as reason to be concerned about its suitability for the location.    

“Playhouse executives will have to work with Caltrans on some of the landscaping,” said Johnson.

The project is exempt from the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act, because there was no proposal to expand the building footprint and no expansion of use. Parking requirements will not be increased and the project, as designed and submitted by architect Mark Abel, does not have a negative effect on biologically sensitive resources.