Forest Theater endures redesigns, remodels and reaction

While the recent reopening of the Forest Theater has been celebrated by many, with new features such as remodeled entrances and proscenium walls, the original design faced controversy and redesigns before being reopened to the public, with one of the biggest issues facing redesign being the placement of a parking space for disabled visitors.

“There wasn’t a perfect place where there was an obvious solution,” Pacific Repertory Theater founder Stephen Moorer says. “The biggest problem was that all this money was spent on a driveway and on a single handicap space, but it didn’t solve the problem. We had a single handicap space at the top of the hill and we always had a drop-off zone.”

Moorer says that the money could have gone toward solving other problems and notes that various options were considered before the final redesign.

“One of the options was near the concession stand,” Moorer says. “That would’ve been very cheap to do. We would’ve ended up with two more handicap spaces, which would’ve solved half the problem.”

Moorer emphasizes that the most important thing to both the theater and city is to get the theater reopened as quickly as possible.

“As the former mayor Jason Burnett said, ‘We all know the plan isn’t perfect. We just want to get it open.’”

Former city councilwoman Victoria Beach adds, “Part of the legal requirement was that we needed an accessible path for those in wheelchairs to have access to all seats.” Beach also notes that a single accessible parking space and access to it would ultimately cost $250,000.

Although the theater was shut down due to not meeting the required standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act, other safety concerns became apparent as well.

“The facility was seriously at risk even for an able-bodied person,” architect Monique Wood said at a presentation on renovating the Forest Theater.

One of the struggles of the renovation was to maintain the rustic theme of the theater while taking additional precautions, with concrete and lit-up ramps that could only be installed with the removal of trees.

“We wanted to find ways to make the theater safe while maintaining the rustic theme,” Beach notes. “The theater community, along with many citizens and the city council, ultimately found the original design to be too intrusive.”

Two different paths had been put into consideration for a handicap option, with one going through the east and one coming in through the west.

“The west path was what the theater groups and a lot of people from the community supported,” Moorer says. “But the east path was what was originally designed, and that’s a shame because the east path

cuts off the forest entrance we originally had. It’s now a ramp that’s lit up. It used to be this bushy, rustic forest entrance, and we lost that.”

President of Carmel Residents Association Barbara Livingston notes that the most important thing for the future of the theater is to bring back the rustic theme by planting trees and other plant life.

“The historic nature of the theater is in its setting,” Livingston says. “That’s the most important thing for me right now. We’re hoping to plant more trees where some had to be removed during construction.”

The Monterey Herald reports that additional renovations need to be implemented to address the restrooms, concession stand and seats.

-Kylie Yeatman