Enhancing the arts is on full display as construction continues on a major rehabilitation project at South Pasadena Middle School.
Workers are turning the old gym on campus into a black box theater, visual arts room, and a flex lab – repurposing a building with a long history and effectively maintaining its historical value.
“We received strong feedback from the community that it was important to preserve the building,” explained South Pasadena Unified School District Superintendent Geoff Yantz. “Subsequently, it’s time consuming and more expensive.”
While facing challenges, history was on the side of the 1928-constructed structure as many fought for it to be maintained about 15 years ago when tearing it down in favor of something new was considered an option.
An historic evaluation of the site, prepared at the request of the South Pasadena Unified School District, explored the impacts of a 2005 expansion of the local middle school.
According to the document, prepared by MIG, Inc., it was determined that the old gym was not eligible for the National Register or the California Register. However, that evaluation did find it “is eligible to be listed as a City of South Pasadena Landmark because it reflects the heritage of the community, is an example of Romanesque Revival architecture, is associated with the locally prominent firm Marsh, Smith & Powell, and exhibits fine architectural details. This assessment concurs with the findings of the 2005 evaluation. The Old Gym is therefore considered a historic resource.”
The report includes evaluation of the property’s eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historic Resources, and City of South Pasadena historic resource.
In findings on its historic status, MIG, Inc. determined the Old Gym is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is not listed on the California Register of Historic Resources and is not designated as a City of South Pasadena Landmark or part of a City of South Pasadena Historic District.
However, according to the document, “Properties listed on the [City of South Pasadena’s] Cultural Heritage Inventory have been identified as cultural resources that can potentially be designated as a landmark or as part of a historic district. Properties that are included on the Cultural Heritage Inventory, though not landmarked or part of a historic district, are subject to review for approval of a Certificate of Appropriateness by the [City’s] Cultural Heritage Commission when the property owner seeks to demolish or alter a property.”
At the time, any discussion of the building’s demolition in favor of new construction on the South Pasadena Middle School was challenged by members of the public and preservation groups at South Pasadena Board of Education meetings strongly encouraging the building stay intact. The school board eventually granted that wish as the five-member panel agreed the north façade and shell of the building must be maintained as construction on the black box theatre was given a green light.
The project is about seven months into an effort that should be completed by mid-August, according to Yantz. “Interior and exterior shoring is still in place to maintain the structural integrity of the building while construction proceeds,” he said. “The framing of the building is being removed and replaced piece by piece.”
That, in a sense, noted the superintendent is why it is being called a rehabilitation project. “About 90 percent of the wood framing is being replaced. New cement structural walls will provide the required structural value to the building. Once the walls are complete, a new roof will be installed. The buttresses that hold the roof up will remain, but the roof will be replaced.”
Along with the black box theatre – a darkened performance space with audience interaction that varies in size in a square room – the finished product will also feature a flex lab to support STEM programs and an arts room.
The theatre portion will provide flexible seating for audience members, allowing for a variety of different configurations. Performances might be held as theatre-in-the-round or in a traditional seating arrangement. Space will be used for everything from lectures to dance performances where only basic technical arrangements are required.
The project is scheduled for completion by mid-August at an approximate cost of $13 million and is being funded through a $98 million bond measure approved by South Pasadena voters.
“The rehabilitated building will significantly improve the teaching and learning environment over what the school currently provides with respect to the visual and performing arts,” said Yantz.