Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing

New performance space wedded to Beverly Hills Post Office will deliver an intimate experience

The nexus of public buildings that exist in and around Beverly Hills’ Civic Center mirrors the curious gumbo of architectural styles in the nearby neighborhoods above Santa Monica Boulevard, where English Tudors and Mediterranean villas sit together cheek by jowl, like something found in the portfolio of a Hollywood set designer.

Between the ornate Spanish colonial city hall, the neo deco library and the ’60s institutionalism of the courthouse — as well as the futurist, Googie-themed 76 gas station across Little Santa Monica to the south — it’s an eclectic reflection of the stuff that dreams are made of. Now add to this potpourri the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, a modernist structure wedded to the old Beverly Hills post office, a Renaissance Revival landmark built in 1934, to create the kind of marriage common to the city: old and extremely young.

The Annenberg, which will have its grand unveiling Oct. 17, was designed by Zoltan Pali of Studio Pali Fekete, who laughs at the notion of any incongruity.

“The thinking was when you’re designing a building in 2013 next to a building that was done in 1934, you don’t reference that,” Zoltan says. “It doesn’t make sense. If I was asked to bring back Miles Davis to get onstage with Wynton Marsalis and play a duet together, I would say, ‘Of course I can.’ It’s a conversation. ”

To Zoltan’s credit, his design for the new building, which will house the Goldsmith Theater, doesn’t appear to reference any existing architecture. The vertical rectangular concrete panels that clad the building’s exterior in a color that might best be described as rust, suggest envelopes. But Zoltan hopes the concept doesn’t appear too literal.

Like an actor, he creates a backstory for his creation. “The idea is sort of flying envelopes coming back to where they started from,” he says. “And so we started out with the idea of a 4- by 9-inch envelope to create a panel pattern. And in essence it morphed into what you see there now — basically an abstraction of that.”

Zoltan’s modernist design represents both a dramatic departure from the old post office, and a studious repurposing of it. The old grand hall now serves as a dramatic entryway to the complex, and what were then stamp windows are now used to sell theater tickets. The original mail-sorting room contains the smaller, 120-seat Lovelace Studio Theater. And classrooms, intended for a theater school geared toward young students that will open in 2014, inhabit the space once reserved for loading docks. The second floor, originally administrative space for postal workers, serves that same purpose for the Center.

Although the two T-shaped buildings co-exist, they never touch each other visually, a way of assuaging the concerns of preservationists while paying tribute to history. Instead they’re connected by an underground passageway, which Zoltan likens to “the root of a tree with two giant trunks coming out.”

The west facade of the new structure is all glass, and features terrazzo floors and walnut-covered walls; a sunken courtyard will bridge the two buildings.

Although the 500-seat main theater might seem modest for a $70 million showcase in the heart of Beverly Hills, the Annenberg is actually on par with such venues as the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, the Geffen Playhouse (600) in Westwood and the Mark Taper Forum (750).

“We wanted it intimate,” says Lou Moore, exec director of the Annenberg. “It’s a great size of a theater to develop new work, which is important to us.”

The Martha Graham Dance Company will kick off the Annenberg’s inaugural season, with such future presentations as “Parfumerie,” described as a love story in letters that inspired the fi lms “The Shop Around the Corner” and, appropriately enough, “You’ve Got Mail.”

Big Night

WHAT: Gala Opening of Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
WHEN: Oct. 17 at 6 p.m.
WHERE: 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills
STAR WATTAGE: Brad Pitt and Robert Redford among co-chairs

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