Culver City Observer -

By David W. Myers
Managing Editor 

Renovated Robert Frost Opens to Huge Crowd

Culver Icon Finally 'Ready for its Close-up'

 

October 4, 2018

George Laase

More than 200 Culverites and others attended a gala event Saturday to celebrate the opening of the lavishly remodeled Robert Frost Auditorium, a multimillion-dollar project that has turned the venerable but aging icon on the Culver High campus into a state-of-the-art performance center.

Visitors dined on appetizers and sipped champagne outside the 35-year-old building on Elenda Street as they anxiously waited to get their first glimpse of the remodeled interior.

They weren't disappointed.

The beautifully revamped and enlarged stage includes a new catwalk above with upgraded rigging and lighting systems. The systems are attached to a new, 50-foot-high by 100-foot-wide steel arch spanning over the stage, reminiscent of the rainbow in the Culver City-filmed The Wizard of Oz.

The new lighting and rigging systems are important, lead designer and project architect Darin Vieira explained, because they'll allow students who are interested in working on the technical side of performances to hone their skills using ultra-modern equipment.

Vieira works for Culver City-based Hodgetts + Fung (www.hplusf.com), the firm that the School District hired to handle the project's design duties.

Importantly, a new air-conditioning system was installed--patrons and actors alike had complained about "stale air" inside the building for years--and a new fire-sprinkler system was added.

The iconic auditorium, originally designed by the architectural firm Flewelling & Moody, opened in 1963. Its design was immediately hailed by architects from around the world, and the preservation-minded Los Angeles Conservancy still calls it "one of the most breathtaking Modern buildings ever designed."

To be sure, a signature component of the building is its unique roof. Architects and designers have all sorts of fancy ways to describe the ridged roof, but many students just call it "the giant clam."

The roof, remarkably just four inches thick, came through the 1994 Northridge Earthquake unscathed. Nonetheless, the auditorium's wear-and-tear caused by decades of near-daily use required the recent renovation.

It wasn't an easy job, Project Architect Vieira said.

For example, a construction crane couldn't be used to build the 50-foot-high interior arch needed to support the catwalk and technical systems because "there just wasn't enough room to get a crane inside," he explained. Instead, the arch essentially had to be manufactured in smaller segments and then assembled like a jigsaw puzzle when the pieces were brought to the stage.

Improving the facility's antiquated acoustic system was a challenge, too. Eight lightweight acoustic "sails" were installed to cut down on reverberations, while also circulating conditioned air around the interior and providing what Vieira calls "kind of like a 'chandelier effect.'"

Other improvements to the facility include new carpeting, updated seats, new or updated dressing rooms and improved accessibility for the disabled.

"Our beloved auditorium was falling apart and needed extensive upgrades," Culver City Unified School District Superintendent Leslie Lockhart said.

Now that the job is done, she added, "We are eager for performers and audiences from all over Los Angeles to enjoy this spectacular venue."

 

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