Alhecama Theatre Rehabilitation

By Michael H. Imwalle

The 1928 Ross Dickenson mural. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
The 1928 Ross Dickenson mural. Photo by Michael Imwalle.

Built in 1925, this building was originally called the Little Theatre; it became the Pueblo Theatre in 1937. The original structure consisted of a single-story multi-use auditorium with a raised stage. It is among a cluster of eleven wooden buildings and one stucco building that date to the Community Arts Association’s Festival Arts School (later named the Santa Barbara School of the Arts) which thrived from 1920 to the mid-1930s. In 1928 painter Ross Dickenson painted a mural depicting a Mediterranean village scene on the wall opposite the stage.

The exterior of the Alhecama Theatre. Photo by Micahel H. Imwalle.
The exterior of the Alhecama Theatre. Photo by Micahel H. Imwalle.

In 1939 significant changes were made to the building including the addition of a foyer and ticket booth, a fly above the stage, and a small apartment. Modifications to the original building included the addition of a projection booth above the foyer for showing films, raising the stage  nine inches, and installing fixed, raised, theatre seats. At that time owner Alice Schott renamed the theatre Alhecama. The name was derived from the first two letters of the names of her four daughters, Alice, Helen, Catherine, and Mary.

The Alhecama Theatre while in use by the Ensemble Theatre Company. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
The Alhecama Theatre while in use by the Ensemble Theatre Company. Photo by Michael Imwalle.

In 1981 the California Department of Parks and Recreation purchased the site. The theatre was the home of the Ensemble Theatre Company for more than thirty years. When the Ensemble moved to the new Victoria Theatre in 2013, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) made the decision to restore the original auditorium floor and stage and rehabilitate the building to make it accessible and compliant with the American Disability Act (ADA).

Removing the raked seating.  Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.
Removing the raked seating. Photo by Michael H. Imwalle.

This entailed removing the raised or raked seating to expose the original oak tongue-in-groove floor, removing a 12-foot extension of the stage, and exposing the original pine stage floor. Other features to be restored are the original sash windows and transoms facing the Riviera, and the four sets of glass French doors facing the plaza area historically referred to as “the green.”

Exposing the theater's original stage floor. Photo by Michael Imwalle.
Exposing the theater’s original stage floor. Photo by Michael Imwalle.

ADA improvements to the building will consist of the installation of an ADA compliant restroom, installation of an accessible ramp from the adjacent ADA parking area to the entrance of the theatre, and installation of a new brick patio in front of the entrance that extends out into the lawn area. SBTHP’s goal is to return the building to its original multi-purpose configuration and make the venue available to community organizations for lectures, films, conferences, receptions, performances, and exhibits. Stay tuned for grand unveiling in early 2015. SBTHP thanks the Hind Foundation for their generous support of this project.

Michael H. Imwalle is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation

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