Jewel of Sierra 2 gets polished

New seats, carpet, sound make theater sparkle again

Almost 90 years ago, a Spanish mission style auditorium for holiday pageants, student assemblies and other school activities requiring a large interior space opened at Sierra Elementary School on 24th Street.

A building that was old is becoming new again. A new roof now protects the auditorium, and new carpeting, new seats and a new speaker system greet patrons of what is now the 24th Street Theatre, the artistic jewel of the Sierra 2 Center.

Valerie Burrows, Sierra 2’s facility administrator and theater manager, says more than $90,000 has been raised to date through donations and a grant from the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. Another $60,000 is needed to complete the renovation.

“The renovations are being done in order of the most pressing needs,” Burrows says. “New signage is currently being produced and, with continued fundraising, we hope to soon purchase new drapes and refurbish the stage.”

This is at least the third renovation of the original auditorium. After what was then the Sierra School Neighborhood Association took over management of the abandoned school in the late 1970s, efforts began to convert the flat-floored school auditorium into a theater with fixed seats and a floor that rose 48 inches from front to back. Materials were donated by Burnett and Sons, John F. Otto Inc., Unger Construction and Capital Plywood. Theater seats came from Lincoln Elementary School. Theatrical performances were scheduled beginning in September 1980.

Two decades later, the theater was in need of more renovation.

Concert promoter Mindy Giles, who lives on 10th Avenue, recalls the first time she wandered into the 24th Street Theatre, in 2001. She was living nearby, working in marketing for one of Russ Solomon’s Tower Records subsidiaries.

“I walked in there and heard the acoustics were perfect,” she said.

With a background in music promotion and management, she imagined what it would be like to stage a concert there.

Soon, while having drinks with Tower Records colleagues who were about to lose their jobs in Tower’s collapse, Giles mentioned her vision of promoting concerts at the theater. Co-worker Steve Nikkel, who also lived nearby, said he had the same vision.

Together, they produced a theater fundraiser starring political satirist Will Durst in 2003 with a catered dinner. During his routine, Durst “put his foot through the side of the stage – it went right through the wall,” Giles recalled. “He was mortified. He said, ‘See why you need to raise money to save this place?’”

In 2004, Giles and Nikkel, by then officially partners in Swell Productions, produced a show at the 24th Street Theatre starring Roger McGuinn, formerly of the Byrds. They sold out the 296 seats at $30 a ticket, and their production company was on its way.

Through the years, Swell Productions has brought to the theater Graham Parker, Ray Manzarek (formerly of the Doors), Marie Muldaur, Chris Hillman (also an ex-Byrd), the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Country Joe McDonald and, most recently, Jack Gallagher.

Giles said singer-songwriter Richard Thompson considers the 24th Street Theatre his favorite concert venue. She quoted him as saying the acoustics are “like being inside my best acoustic guitar.”

Giles agreed: “It’s like a room that’s tuned – it’s beautiful.”

The latest renovation of the 24th Street Theatre continues while the shows go on.

New signage by the local fabrication studio Obra has just been installed. As more funds are raised, plans call for new audiovisual equipment, curtains and a projection screen, and new carpeting for the lobby.

As the fundraising campaign continues, donors are being asked to “leave a legacy – sponsor a seat.” Plaques with donor names will be installed on the new theater seats to memorialize the contributions.

Another theater fundraiser is a workshop at 10 a.m. Nov. 10 at UPcyclePOP, 7300 Folsom Blvd., which will enable people who buy the old theater seats to repaint and re-upholster them into chairs for their homes.

The seats that were most recently replaced came from Memorial Auditorium. They are available for purchase individually, in pairs and up to an entire row. Contact the Sierra 2 office at 916 452-3005.

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