UCLA unveils plans to buy Westwood theater venue

In a surprise move, UCLA announced Friday that it will buy the Westwood Playhouse and the Contempo Westwood Center building in which the theater is located. Terms of the purchase were not available.

“This is a major step toward the ongoing enhancement of the arts at UCLA and extends our commitment to serve the community with first-rate programming,” said UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young. “One of our long-term goals is to position UCLA as the leading arts institution among the nation’s research universities.”

The 498-seat proscenium theater, on LeConte Avenue across the street from the UCLA campus, has been owned by Kirsten Combs since 1973. Combs ran retail stores within the historic building in addition to leasing out the theater.

During a two-year transition phase, Playhouse programming will continue under producers Eric Krebs and Howard Pechet. The two signed a five-year lease for the theater in 1989.

Plans call for UCLA to introduce a season at the Playhouse in fall 1994, consisting of three to five plays. The season would include at least one new or specially developed work, according to Gilbert Cates, dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film & Television.

“The Playhouse would serve as a bridge between the world of academia–where training, research and thoughtful experimentation freely occur–and the demanding, exacting world of professional theater,” Cates said.

“Just as our Film & Television Archive provides students access to the world’s great films and television programs, the Playhouse would make leading artists in acting, directing, design and playwriting available to students through workshops, master classes and residency programs,” he said.

The two-story building opened in 1929 as a site for the UCLA Masonic Club. Cates said the Westwood Playhouse will complement the school’s existing facilities, including the 500-seat Ralph Freud Playhouse, the 200-seat Little Theater and the 276-seat Melnitz Film Theater. UCLA also owns the 1,000-seat James Doolittle Theater in Hollywood.