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Talking About What’s Next For The Kalita 28

A new project to renovate the Kalita Humphreys Theater will be up for public discussion Wednesday evening at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed theater. Two weeks ago, the celebrated New York design firm Diller Scofidio+Renfro was hired to develop a master plan for the original home of the Dallas Theater Center. Built in 1961, it’s suffered years of neglect.  Diller Scofidio+Renfro is known for upgrading New York’s Lincoln Center and creating the High Line, a pedestrian park on a disused elevated train track along Manhattan’s West Side.

The Kalita Humphreys Theater Renovation Public Information Session is free and open to the public, Wednesday, March 4, 5:30 pm to 7 pm.

A similar issue faces their Dallas project. The plan will include not just restoring the theater but integrating it and the Turtle Creek park around it with the nearby Katy Trail.

Architect Charles Renfro says his first step is gathering public input at Wednesday’s session. But including two new theater spaces in the Turtle Creek park plus keeping the Kalita an actual working theater while also honoring Frank Lloyd Wright’s legacy — all that may be his greatest challenge.

“The question of how much to return the theater to Wright’s original vision is, of course, the $25,000 question,” says Renfro. Wright was an imperious and idiosyncratic genius with his own ideas how things should be done. And not all of his ideas about theater (and those of founding DTC artistic director Paul Baker) have necessarily held up. And, needless to say, they didn’t anticipated things like the need for wheelchair access.

This was the drive-up entrance for the Kalita Humphreys in 1962. Those distinctively Frank Lloyd Wright-ish columns now line the front of the theater’s concession stand in the lobby. Extending the lobby wiped out the drive — one of many improvements and upgrades over the years, some of them misguided.

Nevertheless, Renfro says, “we got the Kalita Humphreys as a result. Which is both inspiring and a little frustrating because we need to make it be a functional theater. It’s a theater, it needs to work as a theater.”

The addition of two smaller stages nearby, he says, is not simply to create additional performance opportunities — for the Theater Center and other city troupes. “It’s to take a little pressure off the Kalita,” Renfro explains. This way, he says, the Kalita can be used for those projects it showcases best, rather than just as the DTC’s backup space in its season schedule at the Wyly, which the DTC shares with other groups, like the Dallas Black Dance Theatre. As for the possible intrusion of a new parking garage into Dean Park along Turtle Creek, Renfro points to Moscow’s Zaryadye Park, one of Diller Scofidio+Renfro’s recent projects. The firm managed to integrate 14,000 square meters of enclosed, programmed spaces into the 35-acre park. Parts of the media center, nature center, restaurant and market exist underground. The Kalita’s current parking access wanders through the trees in Dean Park — what if most of it were underground? More park space would be opened up. Physical and visual access to Turtle Creek would be opened up.

The hope for such amenities — the garage, the new stages plus a restaurant — is to “breathe new life into this place” by connecting it to the commercial venues in the West Village on one side and Oak Lawn on the other. “It’s one of Dallas’ most beautiful areas . . . so we hope to make it a destination in Dallas in the way it never has been before,” Renfro says. “And therefore we need to accommodate parking in a better way.”

But, he cautions, none of the program elements has been decided yet. Informing those decisions is what Wednesday’s public information session is for.