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For a Historic Playhouse, Gehry Makes the Biggest Donation: Himself

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From left to right: Pasadena Playhouse artistic director Sheldon Epps; Frank Gehry; and Carol Burnett. Photo by Bill Youngblood, provided courtesy Pasadena Playhouse.


Frank Gehry has agreed to undertake a two-phased project for the Pasadena Playhouse, in downtown Pasadena, California—pro bono.

Founded in 1917, and housed in its current building since 1924, the Playhouse produces more than 300 performances a year. The renovation and expansion project includes restoring its historic facade, designed by Los Angeles architect Ron Frank, as well as some interior work. A major component of the project will be construction of a new theater nearby.

Playhouse managing director Brian Colburn says the new theater will likely be located across the street in a still-developing office and retail project, and will contain between 300 and 400 seats. No design details have been released, but Colburn explains that the space is to provide a contemporary counterpoint to the Playhouse’s landmarked Spanish-style design.

The new theater will be named in memory of actress Carrie Hamilton, daughter of Carol Burnett and late producer Joe Hamilton. She died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 38. Gehry, a longtime friend of Burnett, will work on this project free of charge.

The Playhouse’s existing Carrie Hamilton Theater, located on the building’s second floor, is a flexible 80-seat performance space for experimental productions and development workshops. Because of its historical context, Gehry has acknowledged he won’t be making major changes—only a few “modest” adjustments such as inserting new lighting and seating arrangements. Colburn says that Gehry has begun concept work and that his design will be very “modern, fresh, and lively.”

Currently the Playhouse is raising funds to complete an $8.5 million capital campaign for the renovations on the existing building, which are set to be completed by the end of 2008. Fundraising for the new theater has yet to be determined. 

Sam Lubell






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