Variety Arts Back On Block

The historic Variety Arts Center in downtown Los Angeles is back on the shopping block, less than two years after former Pasadena Playhouse owner David Houk bought it from Anschutz Entertainment Group.

It was hoped that Houk would develop the 1,000-seat venue adjacent to the L.A. Live complex into a theatre and entertainment center. Unable to secure the federal tax credits to fund its restoration, Houk instead hopes to find a buyer able to pony up $12.5 million for the five-story building or a partner with deep pockets.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out how to get to the next level of financing,” Houk told the Los Angeles Times, “but the market is not well.”

Built in 1924, the Variety Arts Center added a library, dining room for 500, art gallery, offices and meeting rooms. The Italian Renaissance building later became known as the Figueroa Playhouse and presented plays and musicals starring legends from Hollywood’s golden era including Ed Wynn, Dick Powell and Clark Gable.

The theatre fell on hard times, though many have attempted – and failed – to revive it. Magic Castle owner Milt Larsen attempted to reopen the Variety Center as a vaudeville club in the 1980s but sold it in 1988, according to the Times. It became the source of frequent noise complaints when it was used as a nightclub in the ’90s.

Real estate broker Derrick Moore of CB Richard Ellis told the paper he believes the Variety Arts Center may yet have a viable future with L.A. Live as a neighbor because it fills a smaller, complementary niche with its intimate theatre space.