Alex Theatre: Symbol of What Could Be Lost

Photo by Leonard COUTIN The loss of redevelopment funds put the future of icons such as the Alex Theatre in question.
Photo by Leonard COUTIN The loss of redevelopment funds put the future of icons such as the Alex Theatre in question.

Amid redevelopment funding woes, the future of a cultural icon is in question.


Talk about the ongoing, protracted mess that is the saga of the state’s shuttering of its redevelopment agencies and the municipalities fighting to keep some semblance of them in operation, and those who are following the news understand its importance. Whichever side of the redevelopment debate they may stand, they are aware that the issue is deeply serious. It may be easy for people to approach the matter dispassionately via the aid of only figures and numbers. But put a recognizable face on the issue and people are likely to react differently to the matter.

Case in point: the potential sale of the Alex Theatre by the state.

“They wouldn’t sell this place, would they?” asked Glenn Vo, who strolled by the Alex on Tuesday afternoon with his young daughter. “I grew up in Eagle Rock, but the Alex was always there when I was growing up. It would be weird to see it gone.”

The Alex Theatre’s storied history began in 1925 at the height of the Roaring 20s and during the first boom of the film industry. From the silent era until well into the Dolby Surround Sound age, the Alex Theatre served as the city’s – and region’s – most prestigious movie theatre. It has also been one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, with its Egyptian inspired obelisk at the theatre’s entrance as one of the most iconic parts of Downtown Glendale’s skyline.

The theatre is also a living testament to the power of redevelopment.

Beginning in the 1980s, as home video began making headway and multiplexes offered theatre-goers more movie choices, the Alex Theatre began to suffer from neglect and decay. By the decade’s mid-point, the theater was shut down because of poor attendance and issues with its infrastructure.

“It looked out of place to see it boarded up,” said resident Mike Cavenaugh who was on his way for lunch at Porto’s. “It was like looking at someone’s grin and seeing toothless gaps in there. Wasn’t right to see the Alex like that.”

Glendale Arts’ interim CEO Elissa Glickman echoed the sentiment.

“Whenever I tell people I work at the Alex, I always get people telling me how they used to work there as kids, or how it was the place where they first made out, or shared some special memory with their families,” she said. “A lot of folks in this city have a deep, soulful connection to the Alex. When people think of Glendale, the Alex is right there with the Americana at Brand and the Galleria. It’s such an important part of our identity.”

It was redevelopment that saved the theatre, pumping over $6 million to refurbish it, and reopening the theatre in 1993. Today it stands as a central destination for culture in the region, with organizations such as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, Glendale Youth Orchestra, Glendale Pops and many more setting their home at the Alex.

“One of the reasons the Alex is so vital is its cultural diversity,” explained Glickman. “On any given week we’ll have performances by the Glendale Pops and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, then screenings of Armenian and Filipino movies, then some Bugs Bunny cartoons. You can even see us on TV shows on Showtime. Its versatility, which is unmatched in the region, is a powerful draw.”
Yet if the state has its way, in a worse case scenario, the Alex may be sold off to a private seller by 2015 – without any input or benefit to the city or its citizens.

“The Alex Theatre renovations are one of the projects that we’re contractually obligated to through redevelopment,” she said. “The state’s move to dissolve redevelopment shakes that up.”

“What we’re working on is that there is a transfer of ownership from the state to the city,” she added. “We’ve spoken to Assemblymember Mike Gatto and State Senator Carol Liu about this and they’re sympathetic to our cause. So we hope to have the state’s ear on this matter.”

However, there is also a possibility that, should that transfer fail, Glendale Arts may be in a position to buy the Alex in 2015.

“That’s something we have to wait and see on, though,” cautioned Glickman.

For its part, Glendale Arts is taking a preemptive approach to saving the Alex through its “I Love Glendale Arts!” campaign. The campaign has been a success thus far, with many notables rallying firmly behind the campaign.

“Arts are an incredible part of any community,” said City Clerk Ardashes Kassakhian in a video for the campaign. “They are a reflection of the people that live in it. We have the benefits of having all these artistic traditions in [Glendale] – all in one place. We are the beneficiaries of that, living in this city.”

For now, as the redevelopment drama unfolds, the Alex will continue to function as the area’s cultural hub.

“I just hope it doesn’t go anywhere,” said resident Sarah Park. “Glendale wouldn’t be Glendale without the Alex.”