Poly Class Community Theater is expecting to reopen

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

While a specific opening date has not yet been set, Ren Howe, CEO of Poly Class Foundation, said she hopes to be by the end of next month, once final renovations and building inspections are completed.

“It was a labor of love,” Howe said in an interview Monday morning. “It really is a testament that this community is ready and on the move, as we called it, ‘from dark to light. ”

In 1994, the Performing Arts Center was dedicated to 12-year-old Petaluman Poly Classe after her disappearance the previous year. Klass was known throughout the community as a passionate theater performer. The center hosted youth programs and performances until 2000 when the city closed it down due to a lack of funding for building safety and renovation.

“I think she would smile from ear to ear knowing it was used to teach children 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 is no better way to celebrate her life.”

In 2018, Howe and other foundation leaders launched a fundraiser 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 to their mission to upgrade the building and reopen it to the public.

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

Every aspect of the restoration was volunteer-and-donation-only, with Petaluma-based Team Ghilotti donating time for construction work to install new support girders, drainage infrastructure, and ADA-compliant driveways and bathrooms.

The new carpet was donated and installed by the Tri County Design Center, with the nonprofit rebuilding together Petaluma to complete the deep cleaning work.

Heritage Salvage worked on refurbished wood that came from Skywalker Ranch, the film farm and workspace of director and director George Lucas.

“That’s kind of cool because it’s the 50th anniversary of American graffiti, and we kind of have George here,” Howe said.

The theater will feature 100 new cushioned seats, a new podium and backstage area, and new purple curtains to reflect the poly-class’s favorite color. The theater will feature shows and events of all kinds – from concerts featuring local musicians to anniversary parties. Howe said Alchemia — a local organization that provides arts programs for adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities — also plans to host its programs in space.

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

Surviving in place are the original stained-glass windows that show a cross piercing the crown, which Howe said symbolized the “God Above Government” theme erected in the former church. When the foundation took over the building, one of the windows was missing, but thanks to a local artist, it was designed to reflect the rest.

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

The theater was previously slated to open in the fall of 2021, but Howe said time constraints for volunteers and the timeline for landscaping approval from the Historic and Cultural Preservation Commission led to the project’s backsliding.

Howe said that the theater’s other notable advantage would be its affordability. A fee of $50/hour will be charged to those wishing to rent the space in addition to a cleaning deposit which may be waived in certain circumstances.

“There is no place like this,” she said. “We’ll never forget what happened to (Polly), but we can start to turn our minds toward her life rather than the tragedy of her life. And that’s really what this is for.”

Polly Klass was kidnapped from her family home on October 1, 1993, while she was sleeping with friends. After a two-month search, her body was found on December 4 outside Cloverdale. Suspect Richard Allen Davis has been arrested, tried and sentenced to death for her kidnapping and murder, and is still on death row at San Quentin State Prison.

Howe said, out of respect for the Klass family, the theater won’t open on or near October 1, but will be either in September or after mid-October.

Amelia Barrera is a staff writer at Argus-Courier. She can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5208.

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