BRAWLEY — The old Brawley theater is a familiar landmark of the City’s downtown district. More than likely, residents have passed by it more than once while driving around, wondering or reminiscing about what the theater was like in its heyday.
Those days could be coming back soon as the Brawley Community Foundation has begun the next phase of construction and fundraising of restoring the renamed Brawley Playhouse Theater, a project that was started in 2018.
The goal for the reconstruction has been to have a live stage theater where various entertainment groups and organizations can be performed, including live plays, concerts, and maybe even have screens for movie nights and provide a entertainment venue for Brawley, according to Tim Kelley, treasurer for Brawley Community Foundation.
Kelley said the theater will fill a hole that has been lacking in the Brawley community: an entertainment venue. It also fills a gap between the other larger (like Palmer Auditorium) and smaller (like the Hidalgo Hall) entertainment facilities in Brawley.
So far phases one and two have been completed, including securing the demolition of the inner sections of the theater, the roof, and the clearing of asbestos. Construction currently in progress is replacing the roof and adding new trusses to support it and the walls. Future construction in the next phase will be remodeling the theater’s inside including new restrooms, stage, and fixing the lobby.
“We are hoping this can raise some excitement for Brawley and we can start raising money to bring this up to the next level,” said Kelley.
The completed project is projected to cost $1.75 million, and so far, the organization has raised $850,000 toward construction. Kelley said the organization has enough for the current phase but is looking to raise funds in advance for the next phase. The Brawley Playhouse Theater will need to raise another $300,000 to reach the next phase.
There have been some issues with finding construction companies that can work with the height of the building, but the BCF has pulled through.
Kelley said he has fond memories of going to the theater to watch a movie at the end of the week. It was where he said he would go out on a Friday night with friends to have a good time. Kelley’s father was also a patron of the Brawley theater when he was growing up.
“It brings up a lot of good memories for a lot of people and it’s really pivotal for the refurbishing of the downtown area,” said Kelley.
Kelley said the fact that there is a pandemic right now has given the project a chance to keep going and giving everyone a boost to get it done before everything reopens. If all goes well and enough money is raised, Kelley is sure the theater could be opened in the fall.
Built in 1922 as the Belvedare Theater, the Brawley Theater was the highlight of many a Friday night during its heyday. With 560 orchestra seats, 40 loge seats, and 215 balcony seats, there was plenty of space for movie nights. The Brawley Theater was closed down in 1979 due to damage from an earthquake and has remained closed since.
“Coming out of this pandemic, I think this is a time to invest in projects,” said Kelley. “As we slowly start to reopen, then we will hopefully have new venues in our downtown area. I think the timing is right for us and we are very fortunate that we have been able to raise what we have today, but it is going to take a lot more before this it’s finished.”