Around Pleasanton: Major repairs needed at Amador Theater

Costly renovations, if approved, could make it a performing arts center

Water is seeping into left front end of Amador Theater on campus of Amador Valley High School. Restoration work, including elevators, sprinklers and new fire escape could cost millions of dollars. (Photo by Jeb Bing)

The Amador Theater, which has served as Pleasanton's principal and still largest performing arts facility for more than 80 years, needs work -- more than $1 million worth of work.

Last week, the City Council voted to hire an engineering company to assess the property and determine what must be done and how much it will cost. There's also a suggestion to turn it into a major arts and theater production education center.

Earlier this year, a fire marshal ordered the building's only fire escape closed after determining that the metal and wood (yes, wood) outdoor stairway is unsafe. Just to replace it will cost an estimated $1 million.

As a result, the theater's balcony is now closed, substantially reducing the theater's 600-seat capacity, although it still has more seats than the Firehouse Arts Center and is better suited for larger productions.

Water seepage on the south front corner of the theater is undermining some of the building's foundation. Although not a threat to the structure yet, it could call for major, costly reconstruction work.

With no elevators to the balcony or to basement rooms where actors prepare for their performances, the theater doesn't meet mandatory Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. The theater also lacks a fire suppression sprinkler, also now a building code requirement. Although the Amador Theater has been "grandfathered" in over the years from building code updates, those days are over.

The theater was opened in 1932, just nine years after newly built Amador Valley High School graduated its first class. Since then, it has served as Pleasanton's and the school district's principal performing arts facility.

The structural problems apparently date back to its expansion and renovation that was completed in 1989 when the city of Pleasanton took ownership of the building. The Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council at that time spearheaded a fundraising drive, raising $800,000 in cash and in-kind materials, with the city government paying the rest of the $1.2 million needed in total funding.

As part of its agreement in taking ownership, the city allots 60 days a year for school performances and other uses.

City Manager Nelson Fialho said the Amador Theater is still used frequently and is still needed despite the availability of the Firehouse theater. Many of the city's most cherished productions -- and fundraisers -- require the 600-seat capacity of the Amador Theater, compared to the 220 seats at the Firehouse.

Now, time is running out on making needed repairs. Besides the need to replace the fire escape, the front facade is facing continued water damage. Some doors no longer close.

Although the City Council agreed to prioritize repair work at the theater, the building's dual ownership complicates the effort.

"Since the school district owns the land the theater sits on, anything we do to change the building will require clearance from the state architect before we can do the work," Fialho said. "That could take at least two years to get approved."

Another consideration by city and school district leaders would be to substantially renovate and retrofit the theater to serve not only cultural group productions but also the robust art and theater programs at both Amador Valley and Foothill high schools. This one facility could be shared by both schools with classrooms attached.

"In the meantime, we have a building that has been the cultural center of the city and needs a major upgrade," Fialho said. "What we have to do first is to have an engineering study to figure out all that needs to be done, get the dollar amounts and then figure out a way to finance it over time."

Editor's note: Jeb Bing is editor emeritus for the Pleasanton Weekly. His "Around Pleasanton" columns typically run on the second and fourth Fridays of every month.

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8 people like this
Posted by Frank Capilla
a resident of West of Foothill
on Mar 29, 2019 at 2:45 pm

Our family is proud to have participated in the renovation of the Amador theater in 1989. I think the theater should be restored to its old glory, right after the city finishes the Pioneer Cemetery.

4 people like this
Posted by Pleasanton Parent
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Mar 29, 2019 at 8:40 pm

No. We need to sue the union for siphoning off school funds used to pay for spiked pensions that were to be used for infastructure maintenance.

We now have a performing arts center two blocks away. Pleasanton doesn't need two. Lets leverage the new under utilized performing arts center downtown and save tax payers $10m in taxes to support $1m in renovations.

3 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Birdland
on Mar 29, 2019 at 10:20 pm

Frank, I respect your family’s commitment to, and history in, Pleasanton, but the cemetery is a Pioneer cemetery. It looks like it should. It was never going to be a manicured lawn and everybody who pushed Council to authorize the purchase and oversight knew that then and knows it now.

8 people like this
Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Mar 30, 2019 at 7:51 am

Kathleen Ruegsegger is a registered user.

PP, we certainly have reasons to be upset about pensions—but that is a state problem being pushed out to local entities. Even with Newsom’s recent assist, the current system is going to bankrupt every local entity. It is a wonder that city, county, and school district elected officials, along with all government union employees aren’t taking their considerable statewide voices to Sacramento for permanent change.

As for the theater, it belongs to the city with the schools being allowed to use it on a limited number of days. There are plenty of ways to utilize both facilities. It is the city that apparently has not kept up with maintenance issues (water leaks, bad stairs).

Mr. Fialho should know there are ways to “walk” approval through the Division of State Architect that would significantly shorten his two year estimate for approval of bigger renovations. Necessary maintenance should be done now.

If we want to save tax dollars, more of us should be telling the council members that Mr. Fialho’s monument on the Bernal property needs to be a shared facility with the school district which would better serve the entire community.

7 people like this
Posted by Frank Capilla
a resident of West of Foothill
on Mar 30, 2019 at 6:41 pm

The Pioneer cemetery is the only Pleasanton project that will bring in more money then what it cost to improve and maintain it. A lot more. Please check the Pleasanton Cemetery draft report completed in September 2014. It’s available at city hall. We can use the extra money generated by the cemetery to renovate the Amador theater and still have money left over for other city projects. Check out the draft report, It shows a lot of good work done by a lot of good people. I hope people stop by our cemetery and see the recently completed Veterans Memorial. It’s one of the best in California. Built by Pleasanton Veterans at no cost to the city.

5 people like this
Posted by Really?
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2019 at 10:55 am

It's hard to believe that a 2 story fire escape could cost $1 million. Incredible!

3 people like this
Posted by HowardC2
a resident of Golden Eagle
on Apr 1, 2019 at 11:54 am

HowardC2 is a registered user.

I saw Foothill/Amador awesome performance of Cinderella a couple of weekends ago.
The theater was packed. The upstairs would have been packed except it was no longer available. Pleasanton has been blessed to have a large theater which allowed the performance arts to flourish in the tri-valley area. It seems like we are now behind the times as Livermore has the Bankhead, Dublin has their wonderful Performing Art Center. I agree with City Manager Nelson Fialho that we probably need to do a thorough study to make sure that everything that we need and needs fixing is incorporated. I also agreed with Jeb that we probably can fast track some of this if we make it one of the city's top projects. all due respects....Pleasanton probably needs to update the Pioneer Cemetery, but this discussion needs to focus on what the City and the Pleasanton folks wants to do with the Amador Theater. I like to recommend that you write an article for the Pleasanton Weekly about what you feel the City needs to do about the Cemetery.

I think whoever we hire needs to do a thorough needs analysis. The Firehouse theater was too small the day it was commission for any organization like Cantabella Children Chorus. Lets not make the same mistakes on the re-do of the Amador theater. I believe the stage is now too small for the Amador HS Orchestra/band/choir. The lighting system and audio system need a serious update. Additional green rooms and changing areas. Making the theater accessible and earthquake safe.

3 people like this
Posted by Karl Aitken
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Apr 1, 2019 at 5:55 pm

My mother has been buried at the Pioneer Commentary for 35 years. It was a real mess there for many years when they tried to maintain the green lawns without much luck.

Now at least the cemetery is maintained again as it should be and is more aligned with the fact that we don't have water to waste on green lawns. Our water situation in the city has changed - so should our attitudes change in how we use our precious resource - water.

It's just fine the way it is and I applaud the city for taking it over as well as applaud the new veterans memorial.

Great Job!

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