By Ted AYALA
Glendale’s venerable Alex Theatre, a fixture on Brand Boulevard since the days of Harold Lloyd and Anita Page, has been the focus of nervous speculation by the city and community alike in the wake of the dissolution of the state’s redevelopment agencies. The future of the Alex, which enjoyed a restoration and revival thanks to funds from redevelopment and had been managed by the agency, remains in doubt.
Shortly before Gov. Edmund “Jerry” Brown’s act to dissolve redevelopment was enacted, the Glendale City Council voted to make the theatre a city asset, thereby possibly sparing it from being taken over by Sacramento. But the legality of the move is not clear, and the state may still be able to wrest control of the property from the city.
Should the state take ownership of the theatre, it may liquidate the property to a private owner in order to help pay off its ever widening budget gap. The theatre’s future would be at the discretion of the new owners, who would then be free to convert the property and theatre to any use they deem fit.
As a last-ditch safeguard, Council expressed interest in revising zoning boundaries in the downtown area on Tuesday afternoon. The changes would give the city some measure of control over how the theatre, if it were to come into private hands, would be used and developed.
As presented to Council and the redevelopment successor agency by Alan Loomis, principal urban designer of Community Development, the plan would restrict the kinds of businesses and establishments that would be permitted in the Civic Center area and Alex Theatre District. Businesses restricted from operating in the rezoned areas would include billiards halls and supermarkets.
Existing billiards halls, such as Charles Billiards on N. Brand Boulevard, would be grandfathered into compliance.
Smaller scale boutique supermarkets would still be permitted. But as Loomis explained, the zoning changes would deter large chain supermarkets such as Ralphs or Vons from opening up along the affected areas.
“The Alex Theatre is near and dear to my heart and I’m here to support the zoning changes,” said Andrea Humberger, addressing the Council dais. “I think [they’ll] protect the Alex as a local asset, so it may continue to serve the local community as a historic and cultural center.”
Uses permitted in the areas would include theatre and public uses, according to Loomis.
“When we’re protecting [the Alex], what we’re saying is that whoever buys that property would, at least through the zoning codes, be required to maintain it as a theatre or performing arts center,” said Councilmember Ara Najarian.
City Attorney Michael Garcia acknowledged that challenges to the zoning requirements are a possibility.
“There could always be challenges,” said Garcia. “But we believe that given the historic nature of this facility, that it’s appropriate for restricted zoning to its current uses.” Garcia also assured Council that the building would not be able to be used as a place of worship or religious service as it would be in violation of the zoning codes.
Councilmember Laura Friedman agreed with the general thrust of the zoning changes, though she took issue with the restrictions on billiard halls.
“I don’t think [the city] should make an assumption that billiard halls are problematic when we don’t have any evidence of that,” she said. “Charles Billiards has been perfectly behaved. Some of the newer billiard halls like Lucky Strikes are the kind of places we should be encouraging to come into our community.”
Councilmember Rafi Manoukian excused himself from the discussion over a possible conflict of interest.
Council will return next week to vote on enacting the zoning changes.