Los Feliz center for skeptics to make way for residential development


LOS FELIZ – The neighborhood’s “full-time community center” for “skeptics, humanists and other rationalists” is looking for a new home.

The Center for Inquiry is giving up its Hollywood Boulevard outpost, where it’s long been hosting lectures, presentations, meetings as well as private events. That also means this site will lose the performance venue on the first floor, the 99-seat Steve Allen Theater, known for its quirky lineup of live performances, standup shows and events.

CFI, a nonprofit formed in support of a “secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values,” sold the property across from Barnsdall Art Park to a residential developer.  Documents filed with the city planning department last December call for subdividing the building into 21 residential units, including “live/work quarters” in three of the units.

The L.A. center’s executive director, James Underdown, confirmed that the building has a buyer and contract, with a closing date currently scheduled for July. CFI and the theater are preparing to leave next summer.

CFI, which also publishes the Skeptical Inquirer, has had a location in L.A. for around 20 years to support its mission. Next month, for example, the center will host a live-stream of an upcoming debate between Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and Ken Ham of the Creation Museum.

The Steve Allen Theater (named after the TV personality and CFI supporter) became part of center when the organization bought the Hollywood Boulevard location in 2003, according to Amit Itelman, the founding artistic director of the theater and Trepenny House. Before that, the building housed offices for AAA.

So, what’s to become of the Steve Allen Theater now that its birthplace is vanishing?

“Everything is completely up in the air. I’m exploring all options I can think of,” Itelman said. “The future of the theater has more questions than answers right now.”

While Underdown said CFI plans to reopen elsewhere in Los Angeles – preferably somewhere convenient to a freeway and subway – it’s unclear whether they can find a location with similar size and facilities. The space includes a generous parking lot, convenient proximity to Los Feliz, East Hollywood and Silver Lake, and a gated area in front of the theater where people can hang out before, after or during the show.

Ron Lynch, a comedian who has been hosting the “Tomorrow Show” at the Steve Allen every Saturday for nearly 12 years, said it’s unlikely he’ll get such good facilities for his show after July.

“I think I’m going to be doing a show no matter what happens. But the odds of getting a theater with this kind of space are slim,” Lynch said. The building will be demolished on the show’s 12th Anniversary, he added.

Nearness to Hollywood is also one reason the “Tomorrow Show” – and the theater in general – have attracted performers such as Louis CK, Janine Garofalo, David Arquette, Mary Lynn Rajscub and John C. Reilly, as well as knife throwers, jugglers, a balloon act and the occasional stripper.

“Theater can be rough,” Itelman said, “and there have been plenty of bumps in the road, but ultimately [the Steve Allen Theater] served its purpose and was a funky beautiful thing.”

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