By Jim Tortolano/Garden Grove Journal
Progress on the rehabilitation of the fire-scarred Gem Theatre on Main Street in Garden Grove is continuing, but it could be sometime in the fall of this year before the historic facility is ready for use.
“We estimate that all the work should be finished by the fall,” said Kimberly Huy, community services director for the City of Garden Grove. “We’re not sure when in the fall, but I know they want to do a Christmas show.”
“They” are Damien Lorton and One More Productions, the resident theater company at the Gem since 2008. OMP stages mostly musical comedies in the 158-seat theater. It has a contract with the city to operate the facility through 2018. The theater dates back nearly 100 years and which has renovated by the city twice before.
This third facelift is in response to a fire that badly damaged the facility in May 2011 and interrupted the staging of any plays since then. The fire, listed by the Garden Grove Fire Department as “accidental,” and the extinguishment efforts that followed tore a hole in the roof, coated seats and curtains with smoke and destroyed costumes, props and flats.
The process has been slowed, in part, by the complications of dealing with insurers and repair contractors. According to Huy, part of the facility is covered by the city’s self-insured damage fund and part by an outside insurance firm. Additionally, OMP has its own insurance carrier.
Repairing the roof, cleaning the seats and fixing or replacing other damaged components of the facility are complex operations, she said. The fire destroyed the green room (a waiting area for actors), dressing rooms and the mayor’s box, a second-story seating area that overlooks the main seating. Some air-conditioning units will also need to be replaced.
But work is progressing and the downtown theater that has served as a vaudeville house, a cinema and now a venue for live stage shows should be back up in lights before the end of the year.
“We’re all very excited to see the Gem re-open,” she said. “We hope the patrons will come back.”
Also excited is Lorton, the group’s artistic director. He says OMP is planning on a full year of plays starting with the annual “Holiday Gem” fund-raiser in December of this year, and continuing with a six-show season through December 2013.
“What happened was horrific, but that’s in the past,” said Lorton. The long layoff between shows won’t be fatal, he feels. “I think we’ve been able to build up a nice clientele and we’ve kept people informed about our progress.”
He hopes that the new season of favorites will enable OMP and the Gem to get back to filling seats. “We have some ideas of which plays to stage, but without firm dates, we can’t get the rights,” he said, adding that “Gypsy” or “Bye, Bye, Birdie” are possibilities, as is reprising some of the other successful shows of recent years.
“I look at it in a positive way,” he added. ‘We’re going to reopen in a sparkling clean facility with state-of-the-art lighting and sound system. I’m very excited to pick up where we left off.”