Polly Klaas Community Theater anticipates reopening

“It’s really a testament to this community being ready and to move, as what we’ve called, ‘out of the darkness and into the light,” said Raine Howe, executive director for the Polly Klaas Foundation.|

More than two decades after it closed, the Polly Klaas Community Theater has a vibrant new look, while also keeping up with the history of the 110-year-old former church building.

While a specific opening date has not yet been set, Polly Klaas Foundation executive director Raine Howe said she hopes it would be by the end of next month, once final renovations and building inspections are done.

“It’s been a labor of love,” Howe said in a Monday morning interview. “And it’s really a testament to this community being ready and to move, as what we’ve called, ‘out of the darkness and into the light.”

In 1994 the performing arts center was dedicated to 12-year-old Petaluman Polly Klaas following her disappearance the prior year. Klaas was known throughout the community as a passionate theater performer. The center hosted youth programs and performances until 2000 when the city closed it due to lack of building safety and renovation funding.

“I think she would be smiling ear to ear knowing that it was used to teach kids about theater,” Howe said. “So, to bring this place back to life, a place that was meant to symbolize her life in the first place – there’s no better way to celebrate her life.”

In 2018 Howe and other foundation leaders launched a fundraising campaign to purchase the Western Avenue building from the city. After raising more than $1 million, the group acquired the building in April 2021, giving the green light for its mission to upgrade the building and reopen to the public.

“We were going to move heaven and earth to make it happen,” Howe said.

Every aspect of the restoration has been solely volunteer- and donation-based, with Petaluma-based company Team Ghilotti donating the time for construction work to install new support beams, sewer infrastructure and ADA-compliant entrances and bathrooms.

New carpeting was donated and installed by Tri County Design Center, with nonprofit Rebuilding Together Petaluma completing deep-cleaning work.

Heritage Salvage worked on the refurbished wood which came from Skywalker Ranch, the movie ranch and work space of filmmaker and director George Lucas.

“So that’s kind of cool because it’s the 50th anniversary of American Graffiti, and we kind of have George in here,” Howe said.

The theater will feature 100 new padded seats, a new stage and backstage area, and new purple curtains to reflect Polly Klaas’s favorite color. The theater will showcase performances and events of all kinds – ranging from concerts featuring local musicians, to anniversary parties. Alchemia – a local organization that holds adult arts programs for those with developmental and intellectual disabilities – also plans to host its programs in the space, Howe said.

Howe also hopes to partner with Petaluma City Schools and others to host after-school youth programs to truly keep Klaas’s memory and passion alive.

Remaining in place are the original stained glass windows that show a cross piercing a crown, which Howe said symbolized a “God over government” theme that was held at the former church. When the foundation acquired the building, one window was missing, but thanks to a local artist, it was crafted to mirror the others.

“They don’t make glass the way they did 110 years ago, but they did such a great job. So now we have every window,” Howe said.

The theater was previously slated to open in Fall 2021, but Howe said that time constraints for volunteers and the landscaping approval timeline from the Historic and Cultural Preservation Committee set the project back.

Howe said another standout quality of the theater will be its affordability. Those wishing to rent the space will be charged $50/hour plus a cleaning deposit which might be waived in certain circumstances.

“There is no space like this,” she said. “We’re never going to forget what happened to (Polly), but we can start shifting our minds toward her life instead of toward the tragedy of her life. And that’s really what this is for.”

Polly Klaas was abducted from her family home on Oct. 1, 1993, during a sleepover with friends. After a two-month search, her body was found Dec. 4 outside Cloverdale. Suspect Richard Allen Davis was arrested, tried and sentenced to death for her abduction and murder, and remains on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

Howe said, out of respect for the Klaas family, the theater’s opening will not take place on or near Oct. 1, but would be in either September or after mid-October.

Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at amelia.parreira@arguscourier.com or 707-521-5208.

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