On September 14 Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum reopened its doors after a $30 million makeover. The renovation, carried out by local firm Rios Clementi Hale, enhances the theater’s look and comfort. But most importantly it brings the theater’s somewhat makeshift technical operations into the 21st century.
The renovation was made possible through a $4.9 million allocation from LA County with the addition of donations from several individuals, foundations, and corporations.
The 745 seat circular theater clad in an abstract precast relief by Jacques Overhoff was built in 1967 by modernist architect Welton Becket. It makes up one third of Becket’s original Music Center in Downtown LA’s Bunker Hill, along with the Ahmanson Theater and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Visible changes include a new raised entrance hall, a much larger lobby including better views of its signature Abalone tile mosaic, and a swanky new below ground lounge. The renovation also incorporated new lighting, improved sightlines to the stage, new staircases, new and larger bathrooms, and a fairly conservative but more comfortable décor, including widened seating, new carpeting, and new zebrawood wall paneling and walnut trimmed ceilings. The theater’s dominant colors are now olive and brown, replacing a mostly blue palette.
But the most radical changes to the theater took place backstage, where supporting the cramped, outdated theater’s productions had often been a supreme challenge.
“I thought to myself how can you work here?” said Jennifer Reynolds, a senior associate for Rios Clementi Hale, commenting on the mazelike hallways of the former backstage spaces.
Improvements here include a larger loading dock, more space directly behind the stage, a new green room, new dressing rooms, a new hair and makeup studio, and new prop and wardrobe rooms. Much of this new space was made possible by relocating the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to the building’s roof. Work also included installing new electrical systems; new ceiling panels and baffles for better acoustics; new catwalks; a new sound mixing booth; and the addition of elevators replacing a difficult system of ladders and steep stairs.
Perhaps the biggest challenge, said Reynolds, was working within the constraints of the theater’s circular shape, which resulted in an endless series of tight wedges. But the firm was able to navigate the geometrical challenge successfully.
“We called it a Swiss watch. It didn’t want to change, but we changed it,” said Reynolds. “The people who work here are giddy.”