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Setting the stage

Firehouse Arts Center on course for completion next spring

About a year after officially breaking ground, the Firehouse Arts Center is rounding the corner into the final phase of construction. There is much anticipation and excitement as the frame of the long-awaited future arts facility takes shape.

Once a home for firefighters and their fleet on Railroad Avenue, between the Meadowlark Dairy and Lions Wayside Park, it will soon be home to a black-box theater, art classrooms and gallery space.

It was about 15 years ago that firefighters vacated the property. Civic Arts Manager Andy Jorgensen said around the same time a survey about city arts programs and facilities showed residents were looking for more than what was currently offered.

"There were several amenities needed," he said. "It mentioned an art gallery, classrooms, a small theater to complement the Amador Theater, and an outdoor amphitheater. There was also a list of possible locations and the firehouse floated up to the top."

Construction is expected to wrap up in the spring, and Jorgensen said he is looking forward to seeing the project come to fruition.

"As a person who loves the arts and whose family has a longstanding attachment to downtown, I think it's the right facility, the right size and in the right location to do some really grand things," he said.

Now, instead of meeting monthly on the arts center, Jorgensen is meeting weekly to prepare for the first season of performances, exhibits and classes. While no act has been booked yet, the plan is to continue some standing productions in addition to adding new offerings.

For the younger art lovers, the SaturYAY! matinee performances will be coming back and featuring musical artists, storytellers and performance artists. Teens can look forward to having a stage for everything from improv shows to age-appropriate stand-up comedy and open mic nights to performances from local musical prodigies.

In addition to theater productions, the adult fare will likely feature performing arts experiences, jazz, chamber music, comedy, lecturers, storytelling and a film series.

Debbie Look, campaign coordinator for the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Foundation, said she is excited for the Firehouse Arts Center to be nearing completion.

"We're encouraging the public now that they can see it's here and it's coming," she said. "We hope they will step up and realize it's their facility and help us support it. It's going to be a wonderful amenity for children, senior citizens and everyone in between."

The foundation had hoped to raise about $2 million and although it was able to give the city $500,000 last year, Look said the goal has not been reached.

"It's been a struggle," she said. "Economic conditions have hit us just like every other nonprofit."

While donations are always welcome, there are also opportunities to leave a lasting impression. Donors may "buy" a 4 inch by 8 inch brick for $150 or a seat in the theater for $500.

Last September, the group put together the Firehouse Fling, a carnival that was well-attended. For logistical reasons, they decided not to do the same this year, but are in the midst of planning a benefit event before the center is completed.

Details for a grand opening aren't final, but it is likely to be unveiled with a bang.

"We anticipate a dedication and a two-week series of celebratory kinds of programming," Jorgensen said. "It would include art shows and performances as well as a gala by the foundation and a commemorative evening to the building's history."

Recognizing the building's past is an important aspect of the project, and Look said it has been that way since the beginning.

"The firehouse means an incredible amount to the firefighters and members of the community," she said. "So many people remember walking by with their children and visiting the station."

Memorabilia and even the brass fire pole will be included in the finished building, the brick fa├žade--with bricks made in Pleasanton--was restored and will be a prominent feature in the art gallery.

"The historical building has been exposed even more because of the removal of the additions made in the '60s and '70s," Jorgensen said. "The [newer portion was designed purposefully to contrast the old building, which is very prominent as opposed to being gobbled up so you don't know what's new and what's old."

Another portion of purposeful design is to have the two entrances feel at home in their surroundings.

"The building is very much meant to reflect the downtown community and our heritage," Look said. "The front is meant to be in line with the downtown and the other side is very different because of the outdoor component. There is wood and blue and green lighting for the nature aspect.

"I'm really excited because I think the building is designed to fit in that space," she added. "It's not cookie-cutter, it has meaning for Pleasanton and it reflects the community's strong values."

As the building's interior and exterior are finished, the outdoor plaza area facing Lions Wayside Park will be landscaped. Sprucing up the adjacent park is also being discussed, as the city is preparing to develop a master plan for the area.

In an effort to unify the space with the rest of downtown, there is talk of joining with local merchants to offer packaged deals and discounts for firehouse patrons. For example, Jorgensen detailed the idea saying people could pay once for an evening downtown that included sampling hors d'oeuvres, enjoying a show and then stopping by a restaurant for dinner.

"We very much see the firehouse as an arts center, but also as a place that will enliven the downtown and we want to do that in mutually beneficial ways," he said.

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