Golden Bough theatre may be demolished


Published: December 22, 2006

WHAT HAPPENED on the site of the Golden Bough Playhouse for the past century is more important than the building that’s been there since 1951.

That’s what Pacific Repertory Theatre artistic director Stephen Moorer was told by the Carmel Historic Resources Board this week. Accordingly, PacRep can do whatever it wants with the Golden Bough, including demolishing it and building something new, as long as comedies, musicals and other live dramatic performances continue on the property.

The present playhouse, built in 1951, is falling apart, according to Moorer, and bears no resemblance to its predecessor, which burned down in 1949.

Stretching his insurance money as far as it would go, then-owner Edward Kuster built the current theater in a style reminiscent of “the auto garage or Safeway design of the ’50s and ’60s,” Moorer said.

Now, the building’s sewer system is overtaxed, it contains far too few restrooms to keep 300 patrons happy, its electrical systems are faulty, and its walls fail to adequately contain sound, to which its neighbors can attest.

“Every major system at the Golden Bough is failing,” Moorer said. “It’s reached that age.”

PacRep owns the building outright, having paid off its mortgage a few years ago. The company hired well known architect Richard McCann, who specializes in restoring historic theaters, to begin preliminary design work.

“We have to attack the building, and regardless of what we do, we have to do a complete overhaul,” Moorer told the board Dec. 18. “We’re asking for any clarification we need, and any guidance.”

A dramatic memorial

Senior planner Sean Conroy said the site is significant, a designation defined by the National Register of historic resources as, “the location of a significant event, a prehistoric or historic occupation or activity, or a building or structure, whether standing, ruined or vanished, where the location itself possesses historic, cultural or archaeological value regardless of the value of any existing structure.”

He said the playhouse could be remodeled or torn down, in keeping with the city’s municipal code and design guidelines, as long as the new project included “a means for conveying the historical significance of the site.”

In 1999, the city required such a memorial when it permitted the Cypress Inn on Lincoln Street to expand onto a site that was historic because artist Mary DeNeale Morgan had a studio there.

The building on the lot seven years ago was not important and was torn down, but the Cypress Inn plans included a permanently mounted tribute to Morgan’s life and contributions to Carmel.

Conroy said the same type of display could be incorporated in a new Golden Bough, and Moorer agreed.
Board member Elinor Laiolo commented, “To not allow people in the business and who have the good of the community at heart to improve what’s falling apart would be wrong.” She thanked the PacRep director for speaking with the HRB “early in the game and for hearing what the board has to say about the site,” which all members agreed is historic, while the theater building is not.

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t be altered or changed or even demolished, as long as it continues to be a theater,” board member Julie Wendt said.

New HRB chairman Erik Dyar added, “I see no better way to honor the history of the site than to see a new state-of-the-art theater built that will last another 100 years.”