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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bob Baker puts puppet palace up for sale

Photo from LoopNet

It appears that the legendary Bob Baker Marionette Theater  on the southern edge of Echo Park is once again in trouble, with the building and surrounding property at First Street and Glendale Boulevard up for sale at $2.05 million, according to LoopNet.  “We just cannot keep the theater open on ticket sales anymore,” said a posting on the theater’s Facebook page.  “Our donations are so far off as well we just cannot meet our obligations every month.”

In June 2009, the city declared the cinderblock  building a historic cultural monument as part of an effort by fans  to rescue the theater from closing.  Baker, who is in his late 80s, is one of the nation’s most prominent puppeteers who began working with marionettes at age 7. The building contains 3,000 hand-made marionettes and has hosted shows – followed by ice cream – for nearly 50 years, making it perhaps the nation’s longest-running puppet theater. Donations are still being accepted to support the theater.

The theater was put for sale in 2008 for $1.5 million as Baker and his supporters struggled to keep the property from falling into foreclosure. A donation from a major benefactor kept the theater in business but the business has continued to struggle.

Despite the current sales listing, it’s not clear if this is the end of the road for theater. The sales listing says the seller may consider leasing the back the property.

What can you do with this property, which sits in the shadow of the First Street bridge as it crosses Glendale Boulevard? A rendering that is part of the listing shows how a new office building crowned with a puppet would look  on the site of the existing theater and warehouse.

Rendering from Armet David/Loopnet

15 comments

  1. Seems cruel to top any new building with a marionette. Hope it can survive, as it is my first memory of the neighborhood from a childhood growing up elsewhere in LA.

  2. Bob Baker is in his late 80’s, born in 1924.

  3. MY SOMBRERO IS TOO BIIIIIG!!!!!!!

  4. This is sad–I love the marionette theater, and the history is really interesting (as I recall, Bob Baker worked and created puppets for Disney). Not to mention the fact that a lot of his apprentices are young men from the surrounding area who might not have such a constructive use for their time otherwise.

  5. one more lost art…

  6. Bob also hires a lot of the at-risk youth of the neighborhood.
    I hope we can save it again. It is a very magical place.

  7. I went to Bob’s theatrical extravaganza many times a child – waaaaay back. I recall the show but his graciousness in taking folks back for the tour was great. This place falls into that strange void we find many things in these days. The place, his work, the fun, were all an important part of Los Angeles – to the natives. But alas, the city, especially that area, is mostly transplants who know nothing of the cultural fun of Los Angeles’ past. So what do we do, as with many things, I guess they fall away: Kiddie Land becomes Bev Center, Farmers Market hybridizes, Brown Derby just disappears. I guess the thing that makes it tough, is Bob is still here, working, committed, and is truly an institution. As I child I remember going through a small town in Utah and eating at a tiny cafe. The owner had a ton of dolls and marionettes in the front area – well crafted work, when Bob’s name was mentioned he gushed, fawned and reveled in Bob’s legend and I remember thinking “out here he knows of Bob Baker?”

  8. this place is such a treasure. went a lot as a kid, and once again a few years back. would be so sad to lose it.

    crossing my fingers some rich person buys this place and keeps it as is. (okay, the exterior could use a little magic.)

  9. Times have been tough for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater ever since LAUSD stopped bringing school kids to the theater as part of the elementary school curriculum. Now this landmark theater may be closing!

    If LAUSD just would just restore the puppets to the field trip curriculum, it would be feed the imaginations of thousands of kids AND keep an important cultural attraction alive. A one-off fundraiser is not enough to keep this theater alive long-term (though it could help for a while), but a call to make LAUSD recognize and support Bob Baker once again might save this magical theater!

  10. I think the location is the problem; it’s just not that visible (or well-publicized). Few students at the local high schools (Belmont, Roybal, and Miguel Contreras Learning Center) seem to know the place exists, and the ticket prices may be a little steep for a lot of the kids in the area. LAUSD doesn’t have the money to pay for field trips there anymore, much less the $300 the bus costs for the day.

    It would be great if the city could give some Hollywood developer an incentive to build theater space for Bob Baker and his marionettes in a soon-to-be-built development somewhere near Hollywood Blvd. so they’d attract more tourists. It might benefit from a location nearer to the Pantages and other theaters.

  11. awee..i remember they came to our school one time when i was in elementary. Im sure they would do much better of they had better hours.

  12. Is there anyone who knows Bob Baker personally and can create a Groupon thing for him? I mean, I’m not a Groupon fan at all but it would at least give a quick and easy financial shot in the arm for the theater. And since the shows are already half-empty, the offer wouldn’t add to overhead costs…Longer term, the theater needs some savvy marketing both online and off – too many people living in town don’t even know it exists. And tens of thousands more arrive here each year – either tourists or new residents – and never hear about this amazing Los Angeles locale.
    Meanwhile, I’ll be doing my small part and attending a show in the next couple of weeks!

  13. We have magic in our community, the Baker place was one of them. Its so amazing that Joni Mitchell said it best in the 70’s,” YOU TAKE PARADISE AND PUT UP A PARKING LOT” OR in our community a huge boxy apt.bldg. or another BAR.

  14. I just saw a piece on ABC7 an The Bob Baker Marionettes and promoting his shows. The last I heard it was closing! I did not grow up here. It was the first I had heard of the theater. But, I remember thinking “how sad”. What a good feeling that it did not close and is still there for the kids!

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