Architects become archeologists to assure Plaza Theatre restoration will be as authentic as possible

Precise attention to detail needed so to make sure there’s little difference between the building that exists today and the building as it was when Earle C. Strebe sold the very first performance ticket to Annette Freeman.
Samples taken from The Plaza Theatre were examined by architects to determine exactly what colors were used when the building was first constructed in 1936.

An architect working on the restoration of The Plaza Theatre said this week the public could expect to take a journey back in time when the project is finished. To get there, his firm is doing some serious sleuthing.

“We’ve been very careful researching and determining the original components and have been thoughtful about how we integrate new elements into those components,” said Jason Currie with Architectural Resources Group (ARG).

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Architects are not just poring over photos dating back to the building’s 1936 opening but placing samples of the building’s interior and exterior under a microscope to determine precisely which colors were originally used. That attention to detail, Currie said, will assure the public sees little difference between the building that exists today and the building as it was when Earle C. Strebe sold the very first performance ticket to Annette Freeman.

“We’re going to get back to the original color scheme,” Currie told members of the city’s Historic Site Preservation Board Tuesday evening before they gave unanimous approval to the work. “It was a more simple, muted palette.”

The interior of the city-owned building will also be brought back to its original look, but some subtle changes will be needed to modernize the Class 1 structure. Among them will be the addition of accessible seating, dressing rooms, and restrooms, as well as upgrades to mechanical components and a new bar and concessions area.

When work to restore The Plaza Theatre is completed, expect to see a more muted exterior, just as it was painted 87 years ago.

One notable outside addition will be the enclosure of the building’s front entry porch. Currie explained this would allow for a larger lobby.

City staff members, who presented a 48-page report to the Commission Tuesday while recommending that the work move forward, said to expect construction contracts to be sent out for bid in roughly two months. The project could be completed in 2024.

When a construction firm is hired, it will be one of the most significant milestones yet in a years-long effort to restore the building that had fallen into disrepair after The Fabulous Palm Springs Follies ended its run there in 2014.

While city and state funds are being used for part of the restoration effort, the bulk of the estimated $16 million required to complete the project is coming from private donations and fundraising efforts such as seat sales. Those efforts are being led by the nonprofit Palm Springs Plaza Theatre Foundation, headed by former City Councilmember J.R. Roberts.

Architects will need to design some changes to the interior of The Plaza Theatre, but only those needed to modernize the building.

The nonprofit received an unexpected boost in its fundraising efforts in 2021 when award-winning producer, director, and writer David Lee pledged a $5 million contribution. The donation announcement followed the city’s approval of $50,000 for minor updates needed to make the building safe for occupancy.

The theater is part of the La Plaza complex originally built by architect Harry Williams with funds from Julia Carnell, an heir to the National Cash Register Corporation fortune. Its stage has hosted some of America’s most famous performers and performances, including radio shows by Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

More information: The Save The Plaza Theatre website can be found here. Information on how to donate can be found here.


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