Alex Theatre renovation

Elissa Glickman, CEO of Glendale Arts, inside one of the new dressing rooms at the Alex Theatre expansion that included improved backstage access and loading capacity, storage shop space, and a new freight elevator. The "Alexander" Theatre, as it was originally named, began life in 1925 as a neighborhood vaudeville and movie house. (Courtesy of Gary Ambrose / June 12, 2014)

About 26 feet below what once was a back parking lot at the Alex Theatre has been transformed into a gleaming new storage and dressing room area complete with two elevators after a yearlong renovation aimed at attracting a wider variety of shows to the historic venue.

Patrons won’t see most of the roughly 6,600 square-foot expansion that cost about $6 million, but they will notice the impacts it has on programming, said Elissa Glickman, executive director of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit organization that operates the theater, during a tour of the renovations Thursday morning.

The improvements have already attracted a new production that wouldn’t have rented the theater if not for the updated dressing rooms, Glickman said, declining to reveal the planned show just yet. However, she did hint that she expects the changes to attract more musical theater companies and contemporary artists.

“We are now an 80-year-old theater with state of the art everything,” she said. “The only thing we lack is a digital projection system.”

The expansion project, which completed last week, was the largest capital improvement at the theater since 1993 when it was brought back to its original splendor with new paint, chairs and other enhancements. In 2010, the theater also went through a roughly $150,000 façade revamp.

The new storage and dressing room area have been part of the theater’s long-term plan for 20 years, but money had long been a barrier until the city’s redevelopment agency stepped in.

The government funding almost fell through, though, when state lawmakers dissolved redevelopment agencies throughout California in 2012, preventing city officials from using increased property taxes on development and affordable housing projects.

Following a series of paperwork headaches, city officials secured the funding with approval from the state Department of Finance. Despite conquering those hurdles, the Alex Theatre and other redevelopment properties were still at risk of being sold to increase money for state coffers due to the dissolution program.

Philip Lanzafame, Glendale’s director of economic development, said during the tour that, for now, the theater is protected from a sale, due to a deal brokered with state officials.

Before the changes, only about 50 people could fit in the theater’s dressing room area. If a production had a larger cast, they would have to get ready in a tent outside. Now about 160 can fit in the dressing room area.

“We had the Los Angeles Ballet in a tent in tutus in December. The fact that they still stayed with us was unbelievable,” Glickman said.

The additional storage space also means Glendale Arts — which hosts 180 to 200 shows a year at the theater — doesn’t have to stuff equipment in the orchestra and stage wings like before. That could save on hundreds of hours of labor costs as staff would have to move stored items to accommodate shows, Glickman said.

Beyond the below-ground changes, the theater’s front entrance is also being spruced up with new lighting and shrubbery to accommodate more red-carpet events.

“It’s going to really change the experience for any company that comes here and that’s the bottom line,” Councilwoman Laura Friedman said after getting a personal tour Thursday morning.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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