History Revived

The lights haven’t gone out at the Pasadena Playhouse
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

Beth Fernandez calls the history of Pasadena Playhouse “interesting and fun.” 

Fernandez, the Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse’s president, is celebrating a continuation of that—the renovation of the historic neon sign at the corner of Colorado Boulevard and El Molina Avenue. 

The Pasadena Playhouse neon sign is the last remaining example of a historic neon sign in Playhouse Village. It directs audiences and the community to the Playhouse and, as such, is a part of the neighborhood’s identity. “It was originally installed to tie all of the Spanish buildings on El Molina together,” Fernandez says.

In 1935 this freestanding neon sign, on a metal pole, was placed on Green Street. When Green became a one-way street, it was set into the sidewalk on the east side of the Symes Cadillac building (now Jacob Maarse Florist). It was moved to its present location by the city in 1993 and is now on Route 66. The Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse, a volunteer corporation that provides priceless support for the Playhouse, recently paid for some much-needed repairs to bring this sign into working order.

“The electrical work had gone dead,” Fernandez says. “It’s wonderful now. You drive down Colorado Avenue in the evenings and it’s brightly lit. The playhouse is bright, even though it’s not open. There’s a library above the theater entrance. The library was for the students when it was a drama academy. 

“Now we use it for meetings. They always keep a light in that window that says, ‘Yes, we are always open.’”

As for when the Pasadena Playhouse is officially open, Fernandez says she’s hoping the Holland Taylor play “Ann,” which was scheduled for May 27 to July 28, will be on stage in January, 

“It just depends on everybody’s schedules,” Fernandez says, “It’s very difficult right now with social distancing. Like all small theaters, we’re having problems. We’re a professional theater and we have to pay union rates. It’s expensive to launch any production.”

This time of year, the Friends of the Pasadena Playhouse are gearing up for the street fair, which has been canceled. Instead, the Friends have made online and mail appeals to keep supporting the playhouse. Online classes are another form of raising money.

“We have a wonderful class about Broadway and American theater,” she says. “I think we have close to 400 people signed up for it. It’s an eight-week course. I think that’s going to be ongoing as we go through the summer and fall. 

“I’ve been sitting in on it, too. It began with ‘Oklahoma’ and it talks about how the musical changes over the years to become more socially relevant. It’s basically an overview of Broadway and theater, especially how musicals have changed.”

The Pasadena Playhouse also hosts online student classes.

“They’re online, too. They’ve been very successful as families try to keep their kids busy during the quarantine and pandemic,” Fernandez says.

Fernandez grew up in theater. She attended classes at the Pasadena Playhouse when she was a teenager. As an adult, she worked as a puppeteer for 20 years. 

“It was a great thing to be doing while my kids were growing up,” Fernandez says. “It was easy to be home when they were home. It was a wonderful career. At 42, I got my degree.”

She has high hopes that the Pasadena Playhouse will follow the light of its recently renovated sign. 

“Every theater in town is like we are—suffering,” she says. “We know we’ll make it. Our artistic director is working hard with the board to make sure we stay afloat.

“In January, we hope to go back to putting on great shows and bringing theater to the people of the San Gabriel Valley.”

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