La Jolla Music Society to build $40 million performance complex on Fay Avenue
By Pat Sherman
For decades the La Jolla Music Society (LJMS) has rented space at local venues to bring some of the world’s top tier classical music and orchestral artists to San Diego. Now, it plans to build its own 500-seat concert hall and home office space on Fay Avenue.
If all goes as planned, the $40 million performing arts center would open in October of 2017 at its newly acquired 7600 Fay Ave. address.
The nearly 31,000-square-foot property, which the LJMS purchased for an undisclosed amount, was developed in 1977 as “Shingle Lane” retail complex, currently home to a Tapenade restaurant, two hair salons and a startup tech company. The complex will be demolished to make way for the society’s state-of-the-art concert hall, plus a 200-seat cabaret and multipurpose room, offices, rehearsal space, courtyard and a restaurant. The search is on for an architect and builder specializing in acoustically sound design.
“It’s a miracle to find 30,000 square feet in the middle of the Village (of La Jolla). This may turn out to be the best thing that has happened to La Jolla Music Society in years and years,” said LJMS’s president and artistic director, Christopher Beach.
The concert hall will be directly across Fay Avenue from a new, luxury cinema complex being developed in the former Jonathan’s Market space — creating a sort of mini-cultural zone on Fay.
The lead partner in that project, Adolfo Fastlicht, is Beach’s La Jolla neighbor. “His dog plays with my dog,” Beach said. “I look forward to working with him as he’s renovating and we are building these two, so that there’s some harmony between the sites.”
LJMS has embarked on a $50 million fundraising campaign that includes a $10 million endowment to offset the new facility’s operating costs.
It also recently hired its first education manager, with plans to expand its music education component in the new space.
LJMS began to seriously explore establishing its own space in July of 2012, when it learned that it would eventually lose the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) nearly 500-seat Sherwood Auditorium, as part of a planned expansion of the museum that would nearly quadruple its exhibition space (set to break ground as early as September of 2016).
LJMS currently holds its SummerFest concerts, Revelle Chamber Music Series and Frieman Family Piano Series at Sherwood. It also rents space at the Auditorium at TSRI in La Jolla, and at larger venues such as Jacobs Music Center and Balboa Theatre in San Diego, which it would continue to use for performances drawing more than 500 people.
Hugh Davies, MCASD’s director and chief executive officer, said Sherwood Auditorium, built in 1959, is drastically underutilized — particularly by the museum, whose artist lectures are too intimate for the hall. It has only mediocre acoustics for the types of performances produced by the LJMS, and has several “dead spots,” Davies said.
“It’s a wonderful turn of events,” Davies said of the future LJMS center.
Despite the loss of Sherwood as a performance space, Davies said he is confident the LJMS and MCASD will continue its four-decade partnership — with the museum possibly renting the music society’s new space for the events drawing 500 or more visitors (such as this year’s lecture by artist Christo).
“Once or twice a year when we have a need for a 500-seat space it’s great to have a brand-spanking new, state-of-the-art space so close to the museum,” Davies said. “It’d be very easy for us to have an event on Fay and then have people convene afterword for a reception at the museum.”
The confluence of the LJMS’s new space, the cinemas and an expanded contemporary art museum will dramatically change the perception of La Jolla as a major cultural destination, creating an even greater “synergy, symbiosis and collaboration” between music, art and film, Davies said.
“It’s a great leap forward if we can all pull off these planned expansions,” he said. “It’s not just good for La Jolla, but for San Diego and the region.”
Beach said he has spoken preliminarily with the leaders of other La Jolla and San Diego arts organizations about the music society’s plans.
Warwick’s Bookstore owner, Nancy Warwick, who rents Sherwood Auditorium for several high-profile author events each year, said Warwick’s would be “very interested” in renting the LJMS’s new space for big-ticket author events, provided the price is right.
“It would allow us to keep it in the Village, keep it convenient, and it sounds like it will be a beautiful space,” said Warwick, a La Jolla Village Merchants Association board member, noting the potential for both the concert hall and cinemas to increase exposure for the Village.
“I think it will be tremendous,” she said. “It’ll be great for the restaurant business, great for the retail business.”
Erika Torri, executive director of the Athenaeum Music and Arts Library, said Beach invited her to view city-approved, preliminary plans for the performing arts space.
“Of course we will check it out and talk to the La Jolla Music Society … but we are happy where we are right now with our ‘away’ concerts,” which include the Athenaeum’s jazz and summer concerts at the Auditorium at TSRI, and other small concerts at the Lyceum Theatre and elsewhere in San Diego, Torri said.
“I am glad the La Jolla Music Society has another home and can stay in the Village,” Torri said. “It is a most important part of the cultural life of La Jolla — especially the SummerFest presentations, (which) give La Jolla a national, even international presence.”
Not all hear sweet music
The applause accompanying the LJMS’s announcement was somewhat tempered last Friday by discord from business owners who will have to vacate the property where the music society’s new home will be built.
On May 30, just hours after the LJMS closed escrow on the Fay Avenue property, 10News reported that the existing tenants at the site were not pleased with how they were treated during the real estate transaction.
Tenant Philip Low, owner of the neurotechnology startup Neurovigil, recounted with dismay how a neighboring tenant at the site, Pleiku Café Vietnamese restaurant, was evicted last week with little notice.
Contacted by La Jolla Light Friday, Pleiku owner Jasmine Phan said she was too distraught to talk, though confirmed her claim that the previous owner did not give her an agreed upon six months notice of the sale, only 30 days.
Phan said her family put $120,000 into opening the business in early 2012 and lost $10,000 worth of food last week that it could not afford to store. Phan said she has no money left to relocate.
Though Low said Neurovigil is doing well financially and will weather the setback — though may decide to leave La Jolla —he contends that both the recent property owner, Walter Urbach of Crescenzo Limited Partnership, as well as the LJMS, could have handled negotiations with departing tenants in a more forthright, compassionate manner.
Low said tenants were required to sign an estoppel document outlining the terms of their lease and an amendment by the La Jolla Music Society. Tenants who signed both were allowed to stay in their spaces as long as eight additional months, with a 30 to 40 percent reduction in rent. Those who proposed edits to the LJMS’s amendment, such as Pleiku Cafe, were given a 30-day notice to vacate and treated as though they had not signed the estoppel, he said.
The LJMS amendment required tenants to take over liability for any needed repairs to the space, which will nevertheless be demolished, Low said.
“(Under the amendment) we would be responsible for all repairs to the building,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense because the building has termites, the building has plumbing issues and the air conditioning is not working.”
Low also claims that Tapenade and his business had options to renew their lease, though when they expressed their desire to renew last year, the previous owner kept putting them off, while not disclosing his intent to sell the property.
“Walter Urbach approached La Jolla Music Society well over a year ago to sell … assuming that we would not renew. Then, he wasn’t really available by e-mail during the renewal period,” Low said. “We were an afterthought. Before we even had the time to renew, they were negotiating to sell this under our feet.”
Leigh Ryan, a LJMS board member and part of a 15-person strategic planning committee for the new site, said the LJMS was under the impression that all the tenants were on month-to-month leases (as were two salons at the site, Cristina Q and Sage).
However, Low said the LJMS should have known NeuroVigil was not on a month-to-month lease, because the estoppel certificate confirmed that their lease had been renewed. “Our legal team at DLA Piper made sure they understood the risk of buying a property with a tenant with four-and-a-half years left on the lease,” Low said.
Tapenade owner Jean-Michel Diot also claims Urbach led him to believe that Tapenade would be allowed to remain as a component of the new concert hall complex — a offer he said he only recently learned is no longer on the table.
“My wife went to see Christopher Beach and he said that he has no room for a restaurant,” Diot said. “They want to have a small café and we’re not part of the picture anymore.”
Diot said he hopes to remain in La Jolla, although it will cost him more than $200,000 to relocate his business, which he has already put $300,0000 into. “We have to turn the page,” Diot said, “but I’m not happy.”
Sage Salon owner Lesa Tomaiko, who opened her Fay Avenue salon eight years ago, also said the impending move would be a hardship.
“My husband had an accident about four years ago,” she said. “Financially, I’m the sole supporter. I have two kids. It’s devastating. … I’m trying to figure out what to do. There’s no spaces that I’ve been able to find that are going to be comparable.”
Low said he suggested to Beach that the LJMS let businesses remain in their spaces for a few months rent free, although the idea was rejected, he said.
“Why can’t the La Jolla Music Society have the same largesse (as their patrons) and give those guys a break?” he questioned.
Ryan said the society has “tried to do what we can in terms of helping the tenants through a difficult transition,” though added that she was “not at liberty to discuss the terms.”
Though the old Jonathan’s site has a garage and outdoor lot to provide parking for the cinemas, Beach said the LJMS commissioned a parking study to assess where its patrons will park.
“They did an exhaustive analysis,” he said. “They took a couple of Saturday nights and went around and counted the number of spaces in the Village. There were hundreds and hundreds of (vacant) spaces within, say, 600 feet. … That said, I’m sure we’ll work out agreements with some of the parking areas nearby.”
Forging ahead, lumbering past
According to the La Jolla Historical Society (LJHS), prior the development of Shingle Lane, the land at 7600 Fay Ave. was the site of Westy’s lumber yard, as seen in this LJHS photo from March 1975. Note the sign in front that reads, “Village Retail Center coming soon.” Early editions of the La Jolla Blue Book show that the La Jolla Lumber Company was once also located at this site.
—Courtesy LJHS archivist/curator Michael Mishler
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