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New theater, office building pitched for downtown

Original post made on Mar 2, 2012

The historic MacArthur Park building in downtown Palo Alto would be relocated to make way for a new theater and a multi-story office building under an ambitious proposal from philanthropist John Arrillaga.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 2, 2012, 3:29 PM

Comments (30)

Posted by varsity theater lover
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2012 at 3:46 pm

If he wants a downtown theater, why doesn't he renovate the existing (and abandoned) Varsity Theater building? That's a perfect location for a theater, with easy access from most parts of town and it is close to restaurants for people who want to have a meal before the show. The MacArthur Park is difficult to reach if you're coming from east of the train tracks.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Would performances be stopped while HSR zooms by? - any rail activity, for that matter. Unless the cancellation of HSR is a 'done deal', prudence requires looking ahead 'down the track'.

Posted by Deep Throat
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm

The performances won't stop while the High Speed Train zooms by, because the office building and theater will be more valuable when Stanford and Arrillaga get every High Speed Train to stop at the Palo Alto Caltrain station.

Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2012 at 4:57 pm

There is no concern about a high speed rail or any other rail transport passing near a properly built theatre. Lincon Center and Carnegie Hall are on top of subways.

It would be nice if the Varsity Theatre could be restored to its former glory, but the McArthur Park site is a better location for a Class A performing arts center.

Posted by Another-Bad-Idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2012 at 5:42 pm

> but the McArthur Park site is a better location for a Class A
> performing arts center.

Stanford is opening the Bing Hall:
Web Link

Ennead Architects of New York City designed the $112 million venue, with acoustic design by the acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics in Tokyo, and theatrical design by Fisher Dachs Associates of New York, Seattle and the United Kingdom.
And the PAUSD is planning to put 50M taxpayers dollars into a theater half a mile away from this location.

Just how many theaters does Palo Alto need? Just how many theaters can the aging population of Palo Alto actually keep in business?

This is another bad idea brought to us by Daddy Warkbucks.

And just were in Palo Alto would the McArthur Park building be moved? Would it still be a restaurant, or would it fall idle, and then end up being another unused building on the City's Historic Building inventory?

No, No, No!

Posted by Crescent park neighbor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm

What about putting an underground parking lot under the old borders building and making that the theater?

Posted by VoxPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2012 at 8:53 pm

There are only so many touring acts, and only so many stops in the Bay Area they are willing to make on any one tour. They would rather not play to partially filled houses.

Doesn't make much sense to me.

Posted by Marilyn
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 3, 2012 at 8:22 am

The MacArthur Park site is a wonderful location for something really good. John Arrillaga offering to do something on Stanford land is a great start. I'm looking forward to more details as this proposal evolves through the Palo Alto Process.

Posted by Marianne
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 3, 2012 at 12:09 pm

This sound sooooo exciting!!!

Posted by Judy H
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Sounds like a wonderful addition to the community! That area can benefit from a vibrant new look more reflective of the region's energy, innovation and charm. And a theater will be a great asset.

Posted by Marilyn
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm

Over more than 20 years, philanthropist John Arrillaga has quietly become the area's #1 local benefactor. To date, most of his major capital contributions have sprouted results for Stanford athletics.

The proposed Palo Alto theater project could re-energize individual largess exhibited in decades past by civic leaders like Lucie Stern and Elizabeth Gamble.

John is among maybe a thousand who reaped big rewards from investing in a blossoming Silicon Valley.

Yet recently, he stands nearly alone among locals in 'giving back to the community' by making significant projects, beyond the capabilities of cities or universities, possible.

Here's hoping John's largess blazes the trail for others to follow his lead.

Posted by Great Idea!
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 4, 2012 at 8:51 pm

This is just brilliant. I am sure that the city will look this gift horse in the mouth and there will be plenty of residents who will help them do this. However, the mindset should be to always keep in mind that this will be GREAT for the quality of life in our town. It will also take years to ge this going, but I can't remember being more excited about a city project. Let's expedite this!

Posted by Steve Rock
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:18 am

What I think is needed is a theater the size of Memorial Auditorium. That theater has terrible sight lines for dance performances. The other performance places nearby, including the new one on Campus, are much smaller and thus unsuitable for groups which attract a very large audience. I do not remember how many people the New Varsity held.

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:35 am

What about parking for this thing? The Varsity theater, which I guess has already been spoken for would be a much nicer theater and dinner place.

The closeness to the railroad, the lack of parking, the difficulty in driving in the area and the inconvenience while they are building such a huge place right on the end of University seems like this is a bad idea.

Get rid of the airport and put it out by the baylands to start some recreational development out there for a change.

Posted by Theater lover
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:37 am

Bing hall is a music hall, not a theater. It would be great to have Theaterworks have a permanent home! They bring a lot of revenue to Mountain View and Lucy Stern Theater is so old and uncomfortable (especially in the summer) that I could really see this being used extensively.

Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:57 am

What a great idea! Super spot for a state-of-the-art live theatre! Yes, let's go for it. . .

Posted by Dick Maser
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:25 am

Julia Morgan, architect for Hearst Castle, designed MacArthur Park; it is a P. A. landmark, and should be preserved on its present site. Perhaps we should move the Stanford Stadium to make room for this development!!

Posted by Arch Conservative
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:25 am

The smartest thng to do- and I know that it won't be done, because Palo Alto is Palo Alto- is to have the powers that be, just step aside and let John do it! Without any "guidance or commnunity input". Based on past history, John will get it done on time, under budget- and do it right. If the City "helps or guides", it will ba a disaster.
Menlo Park let John do the Burgess Park Center and it was a rousing success. Please learn from that. The Stanford Stadium is another wonderful example.

Thank you John, for making this a better place.

Posted by Richard Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:30 am

People commenting should carefully read the article first. This project includes a three lever underground parking garage.

I will be in favor of this project if this means two things: 1) TheaterWorks will use it for its Palo Alto appearances (I assume they will divide venues between this place and the Mt View Performing Arts Center. We currently avoid those performances held in Lucie Stern.)
2) The Lucie Stern Center will become some useful site for other city government services, hopefully requiring less leased space, thereby saving money, and allowing the Children's Theater project be relocated to the new facility with the city dropping is financial support, saving about a million dollars a year in subsidies.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

As posters above have noted:

New Bing theater coming.
New Paly theater coming.
Existing Lucie Stern.
Existing (former) Varsity theater up for sale/renovation.

Why not take over Varsity instead?

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm

If this gets built, we don't need a new theater at Paly - two theaters within a mile or so of each other.

Posted by HSR doesn't plan to stop in Palo Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Ummmm. High Speed Rail Authority has already decided there will be no HSR stop in Palo Alto. We get the impacts but no improvement in local service. I know local people WANT it, but it is not in the plans.

Pay attention to the details. They matter.

Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Paly and TheatreWorks informally discussed the idea of sharing a theatre, but realized that between classes, rehearsals, instrumental and choir performances, and theatrical performances, the Paly theatre would be fully booked. Summer rentals (as with Haymarket currently) will be utilized. TheatreWorks needs its own home for all of its 8 main stage rehearsals and performances, its classes, workshops, and new works festival. This has been a dream of TheatreWorks for many years.

The gift from Arrillaga is phenomenal! Thank you John for supporting our community!

Posted by thanks but
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

yes he is generous
how many perf arts theatres can we accommodate ?
and where will this historic bldg by the FIRST LICENSED FEMALE architect in CA be moved to??????

Posted by Marcie
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

How come no mention is made of where they plan to move the existing building? Personally I abhor these large buildings that Palo Alto is approving.

Posted by VoxPop
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm

I'm confused. I didn't see anything in the article about Mr. Arrilaga donating anything, as some people seem to assume. This is a proposal for a commercial development, not a philanthropic project.

Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2012 at 10:20 pm

What a stupid idea!

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:15 pm

Karen Holman said she read all these comments before tonights meeting but I would not consider that public input compared to the access Arrillaga has to council (which was alluded to but not explained, how he pre-sold council on this).

This is a paraphrase of questions Bob Moss and Herb Burok raised at council tonight, plus my own spin:

So you are going to take $250,000 of the money Stanford is giving us for approving the $5 billion Hospital "renewal" {expansion} and give it to billionaire John Arrillaga to subsidize his theatre-plus-three-floors-of-parking-underground-plus 250,000-feet-of-office-space nine story zoning be damned, move Red Cross and historic restaurant and pipe dream of a building, as a kickback, to save him from doing his own study?

Council: 7-0 in favor with Yeh fortuitously on junket to Japan Sister City. And Klein abstaining, due to a conflict.

Pat Burt: We are taking the lead here, at least that's what Mr. Arrillaga told me to say tonight. (that's a paraphrase, or what I thought I heard -- check the record)

There goes the neighborhood, indeed. There goes Democracy. Does PA mean Palo Alto or Perry-Arrillaga?

Another funny thing here: when I asked staff to see the report (or are there two?) that Richard James I recall telling me about, apropos of my initiative to revive the Varsity, staff said they could not find it. But when three or four of the local press are pre-selling the public on an Arrillaga project, they reference the reports as some kind of precedent. What I actually think the report says is that Palo Alto opted out of what became Bing. (I remember being appalled we spent $200,000 on a study of the arts rather than on arts per se).

Initially I was psyched about this because it dovetails with my work regarding 456 University. But this is so slimy and nutty that it gags me.

Gail, Karen, Greg Schmid et al will have to sell me on this. But at first glance it reminds me of Hamlet Iv: something rotten in state of Denmark.

Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Let me break this down again: what I heard Steve Emslie say is that the project would include 250,000 square feet of office space. So Philanthropist John is saying is "I will build you a theatre shell (which Theatreworks would pay for the interior of the shell), if you let me build $250 million in office space (worth $1,000/ sq foot or so). It's more trojan horse than gift horse in mouth.

But good job not giving him the rest of the $2.5 million, council and staff.

Posted by Moncolonel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Hmmm...I'm thinking this is a huge benefit to MacArthur Park. The building is large and cavernous for a resturant. The restaurant has gone downhill of recent and this may pave the way for the 'new' MacArthur Park. What if the place goes belly-up before all this? Or goes belly-up after it's moved. We are talking about a restaurant here and University Avenue is not available.I'd be in favor of incorporating the building at 27 University Ave in this plan, downsizing the restaurant and add in something historical such as a museum or arts exhibit (arts as in all types). Or buy the owners out and close the place / use the space for a gateway. I don't know - can half the building be moved and the other half left there?

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