Thursday, March 6, 2008

Granada reopens, hundreds pack opening night gala

Daily Sound Photo: Janelle Holcombe



It was a $50 million night.
As searchlights scanned the sky, women dressed in evening gowns and men in tuxedos flooded into the revamped and restored Granada Theatre last night for a show — something no one has done for more than five years.
For many present at the grand opening gala for the Granada, it was an occasion that marked the filling of a void in Santa Barbara and is the dawn of a new era for arts and entertainment in the city.

“With so many here in this great town who care about the arts, it’s imperative that we have a really wonderful venue,” said Harriet Miller, president of the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s going to give people a great sense of pride that we live in a place that can offer this type of performing arts experience.”
Hundreds of passers by who didn’t get a ticket to the sold-out event were amply entertained by the spectacle out front on the 1200 block of State Street, which was closed to most motorized traffic.
The theme for the evening was the roaring 20s, and with Gil Rosas pounding out show tunes on a white piano on a raised platform, a troupe of dancers from the Santa Barbara Silver Follies and a collection of Ford Model-A sedans out front, it was difficult for some not to see an older, classical Santa Barbara.
“This really brings back all the memories of Santa Barbara,” said Charlie Alva, who used to regularly attend movie previews at the Granada in the 1940s.
Built in 1924, the Granada was once a hub for live entertainment, showcasing everything from symphony, opera, ballet and stage plays.
But at some point in the past two decades, the space was partitioned off into three separate movie theaters — a piece of the Granada’s history that doesn’t appear on its Web site and isn’t often spoken of.
Five years ago, the Granada was closed to undergo renovation, which racked up a tab of $50 million and concluded with an exclamation point last night.
For Glenn Bjorkman, who had is 1929 Ford Model-A on hand last night, the reopening of a more original Granada, complete with a replica of its 1924 marquee, is something his family has anticipated for decades.
Bjorkman told a story about his father, Ray, who often attended the symphony at the Granada before it was divided into separate theaters.
“It just made him sick,” he said of the division of the Granada. “He would have really liked to have seen this. This is really a special thing for the community.”
The Granada, which seats 1,553 people, will be the new home to the Santa Barbara Symphony — a fact the symphony’s executive director John Robinson is thrilled about.
An avid baseball fan, Robinson expressed his excitement through sports jargon.
“We’ve been playing in the Triple-A leagues. Now we’re going to be in the Major Leagues playing in a glistening new stadium,” he said.
Those who attended the grand opening were treated to a medley of performances that included the Santa Barbara Symphony, State Street Ballet, Opera Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Choral Society, Flamenco Ballet Pablo Pizano and an appearance by opera star Denyce Graves.
Before the entering the Theatre, Jo Wagner said she was looking forward to the “sights and the sounds” that will find a home in the Granada.
Steve Cushman, executive director of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce, said the Granada is a big piece of a “cultural district” puzzle that is nearly complete.
“This will completely change the character of the three blocks around the Granada,” Cushman said. “This is the jewel.”
Cushman noted that many of the surrounding buildings are currently vacant and being renovated. The only downside he said, is rents will undoubtedly increase when the puzzle is completed.
Now that the Granada is ready to go, Cushman said it’s time to start thinking about renovating the Arlington Theatre, which is one block away.
“The Arlington’s next,” he said.
For Laura Famarron, who lives two blocks away from the Granada and stood out front just to see the new marquee and the well-dressed people, the years of noisy construction at the theatre are a small price to pay for what exists there now.
“It’s all worth it,” she said, noting that the Granada reminds her of theaters on Broadway in New York City. “They don’t make buildings like this anymore.”

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