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Regent Theatre in Downtown L.A. to Become Performance Venue

The Regent Theatre today

David CotnerThe Regent Theatre today

Downtown's Regent Theatre -- a Skid Row echo of the movie palaces on Broadway just a couple of blocks west -- has been a first-run cinema, a warehouse, and during the porn heyday of the '70s and '80s, even an adult theatre. Most recently, it's been the site of one-off concerts brought by various promoters over the last decade.

Now impresario Mitchell Frank is sharing his plans to turn the Regent into a multi-use performance venue.

Frank, who founded such clubs as Spaceland in 1995, The Echo in 2001 and more recently the cantinas Malo and El Prado, has himself been a downtown resident off and on for the better part of two decades. His clubs have fostered talent as diverse as Beck, Jenny Lewis and Silversun Pickups, making him a bellwether for local musical talent.

At a a community outreach meeting, held on site at 448 S. Main Street Saturday morning, Frank unveiled the gutted interiors of the long-shuttered theatre to an enthusiastic crowd. Among the changes he's planning: A new gastro-pub and bar will flank the theatre, while the balcony inside will be built out and extended. The theatre's marquee and blade will be preserved. The projected capacity of 1,300 almost doubles the Regent's original seating, and a screen will be installed for films and other projections.

An artist's rendering of Mitchell Frank's plan for the Regent Theatre

courtesy of Mitchell FrankAn artist's rendering of Mitchell Frank's plan for the Regent Theatre

Neighbors at the meeting were welcoming but concerned -- about increased noise levels, and about the parking situation. (For the latter problem, Frank and his lieutenant Eddie Navarrette plan to partner with nearby lots owned by Gilmore and Joe's Parking.)

"I'm a firm believer in being a good neighbor, and being a good partner in the neighborhood," Frank said.

To say that the gutted 98-year-old theatre is a work-in-progress is putting it mildly. While renovations are underway, the sloping concrete floor crumbles in various areas, and graffiti mars the bathrooms, a souvenir from the Regent's aborted era as a concert venue for local micro-broadcasters Little Radio. The roof was redone less than ten years ago, but bits of plaster from the vaulted ceilings and Gothic arches still lie scattered across the floor next to the half-dead piano that sits idly in one corner by the stage.

Frank suggested a grab-bag of performances he'd like to see at the Regent. "I'd love for someone to come in and do a film series ... we're also very interested in doing plays." Penn and Teller are another option; Frank said he was working with someone interested in bringing in the comedians. When asked if he foresees any conflict with The Smell, which stands just a couple of blocks north of the Regent, Frank is pragmatic: "I absolutely pay attention to what they're booking over there. I'd love to have them put some nights on over here." [Editor's note: A correction related to this paragraph has been appended at the bottom of the post.]

There are Department of Building and Safety zoning and permit hearings in the offing. Among other things, the venue will need a permit for video games, like the Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga tabletops that liven up Spaceland.

Said Ana Henten of Mass Architecture and Design, the lead architect and Frank's longtime design partner, "The first battle is getting through the City. The second battle is construction." They project they're six months away from opening.

"When we went and talked to LAPD and Vice," Frank told the crowd, "Officer Lara mentioned that he was denied entry to Spaceland when he was younger." There was laughter, and then he continued, "which I think really helps us."

Frank professed his commitment to the site. "We're signing a 30-year lease," he emphasized. "We're not just going to be in here 10 years and then leave."

Editor's note: A previous version of this post quoted Frank as saying that he had people working on bringing Penn and Teller to the new venue. Frank actually said he was working with someone who was working with Penn and Teller. We regret the error.