Since 2014, actor Mark Herrier and many other Lompoc arts advocates have been on a quest to raise $7.5 million to renovate the Lompoc Theatre, which sits in the center of town but has been closed for more than two decades. Earlier this year, Herrier — who acted in the Porky’s films of the 1980s as well as many television series, including recent roles in Bosch — was named the first executive director of The Lompoc Theatre Project after seven years as board president.
“I grew up going to that theater, and the movies I saw there inspired me to follow my dreams to have a career in the movies, stage, and TV,” he said. “Our goal is to provide that inspiration to the next generation of kids who only need the place to go. It is the game changer our town needs, a place to create and gather, in the heart of the city.”
On March 26, 6-8:30 p.m., the project’s Facebook page will host a telethon to raise more money for the cause. They’d love to have the theater ready to go by its 100-year anniversary, though recognize that still may be a lofty goal.
To help everyone better understand the project and the telethon, Herrier and the project’s communications lead Michelle Ball recently answered a couple of questions.
Tell us about the theater’s history.
Mark Herrier: The Lompoc Theatre opened in May of 1927. It was the cultural center of the town for decades. Many artists, including Liberace, Van Cliburn, The Moscow Ballet, The Coasters, The Platters, and Freddy Fender, performed on that stage. It was a part of Disney’s first Mickey Mouse Club in 1931. Like many other stand-alone movie and performing arts theaters, it took a hit when multiplexes became the norm, and ceased constant operations in the early 1990s.
Why should people care about saving this theater?
MH: The theater needs to be saved because no town in the county needs it more. Renovating the Lompoc Theatre is the key to renovating Lompoc’s Old Town and will transform our local economy. From the minute the doors open, the theater will generate $2 to $4 million in additional revenue every year, beyond the jobs and revenue it will create on its own.
It has happened every time in every town that has done it. From coast to coast, renovating an old theater in the center of the city has been the biggest and most reliable engine for growth and renewal.
For too long, the North County in general and Lompoc specifically have been left out of funding for the arts, which Santa Barbara and the South County have enjoyed in abundance. It is time we changed that, because the town needs and deserves it.
And, for many reasons, it is almost impossible to tear it down. Having been built of reinforced concrete, the cost of demolition is prohibitive for investors looking to develop the property. Add to that, it has been deemed eligible for the National Register for Historic Places, making it a legal nightmare to make it anything other than the theater it was built to be.
How will the March 26 telethon work?
Michelle Ball: It’s sort of an homage to the old-school telethons. We received sponsorships from many local businesses and individuals, which are our “matches” or milestones to hit during the telethon. The event will run about two and a half hours, and we will try to hit different milestones for donations during that time to meet the matches. People will be able to donate through the website or on Facebook, and we’ll make regular announcements as we approach our goal.
Although the event will be free, the VIP tickets are another revenue source. They are $20 each, which gives access to a silent auction that opens this Saturday.
We have quite a few celebrities who will be coming on to say a few words on why this theater and the arts are so important. This includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brad Hall, Jeff Combs (who grew up in Lompoc), Rona Barrett, Rick Karn, and Troy Evans. Mark will be the emcee, and I’ll cohost along with Tom Bergeron.
The local acts were recorded inside the theater, and I hope their performances will demonstrate the “why.” The sound quality in that space is incredible. This was a bucket-list moment for Angelina LaPointe and Jacob Cole, who both grew up here in Lompoc.
What sort of programming will happen there when the project is successful?
MH: When the theater reopens, it will be a venue for movies, theater, dance, opera, live concerts, symphonies, lectures, and awards ceremonies. It will be the home for all of our longtime performing arts organizations that have never had one, and they will perform there for free.
Our local high schools will be able to perform there, in a state-of-the-art facility that will elevate and sharpen their talents.
There will be classical ballet and salsa nights, country and hip-hop, rock and folk, Hollywood musicals and Spanish-language films. It will hold weddings, quinceañeras, and other community events. It will be the literal heart of Lompoc.