More than two decades after its closure, the Polly Klaas Community Theater has a vibrant new look, while remaining true to the history of the 110-year-old former church.
Although a specific opening date has yet to be set, Polly Klaas Foundation executive director Raine Howe said she hopes it will be by the end of next month, once the latest renovations and building inspections completed.
“It was a labor of love,” Howe said in an interview Monday morning. “And it’s really a testament that this community is ready and moving, like what we’ve called, ‘out of the darkness and into the light.’
In 1994, the performing arts center was dedicated to 12-year-old Petaluman Polly Klaas, after her disappearance the previous year. Klaas was known throughout the community as a passionate theater artist. The center hosted youth programs and performances until 2000, when the city closed it due to lack of funding for security and building renovations.
“I think she would smile from ear to ear knowing that it was used to teach children acting,” Howe said. “So to bring this place back to life, a place that was meant to symbolize his life in the first place – there’s no better way to celebrate his life.”
In 2018, Howe and other foundation leaders launched a capital campaign to purchase the Western Avenue building from the city. After raising over $1 million, the group acquired the building in April 2021, greenlighting its mission to upgrade the building and reopen it to the public.
“We were going to leave no stone unturned to make this happen,” Howe said.
Every aspect of the restoration has been based solely on volunteers and donations, with Petaluma-based Team Ghilotti donating time for construction work to install new support beams, sewer infrastructure and ADA compliant entrances and bathrooms.
New carpeting was donated and installed by the Tri County Design Center, and Rebuilding Together Petaluma, a non-profit organization, completed the deep cleaning.
Heritage Salvage worked on the refurbished wood sourced from Skywalker Ranch, the movie ranch and workspace of filmmaker and director George Lucas.
“It’s kind of cool because it’s American Graffiti’s 50th anniversary, and we kind of have George here,” Howe said.
The theater will feature 100 new upholstered seats, a new stage and backstage area, and new purple curtains to reflect Polly Klaas’ favorite color. The theater will present shows and events of all kinds – from concerts featuring local musicians to birthday parties. Alchemia — a local organization that runs adult arts programs for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities — also plans to host its programs in space, Howe said.
Howe also hopes to partner with schools in the city of Petaluma and others to organize after-school programs for young people to truly keep Klaas’ memory and passion alive.
Remain in place are the original stained glass windows which show a cross piercing a crown, which Howe said symbolized a “God over government” theme held in the old church. When the foundation acquired the building, one window was missing, but thanks to a local artist, it was made to mirror the others.
“They don’t make the glass like they did 110 years ago, but they did a great job. So now we have all the windows,” Howe said.
The theater was previously scheduled to open in the fall of 2021, but Howe said time constraints for volunteers and the timeline for landscaping approval by the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee delayed the project.
Howe said another notable quality of the theater would be its affordability. Those wishing to rent the space will be charged $50/hour plus a cleaning deposit which may be waived under certain circumstances.
“There is no space like this,” she said. “We’ll never forget what happened to (Polly), but we can start to turn our minds to her life rather than the tragedy of her life. And that’s really what it’s for.
Polly Klaas was abducted from her family home on October 1, 1993, during a sleepover with friends. After a two-month search, her body was found on December 4 outside Cloverdale. Suspect Richard Allen Davis was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death for his kidnapping and murder, and remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Howe said that, out of respect for the Klaas family, the theater will not open on or around October 1, but will take place in September or after mid-October.
Amelia Parreira is an editor for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.