Architect seeks to preserve character of iconic structure, $3 million expected cost of rebuilding
By Sondra Murphy
Replacing a beloved performing arts venue in a community which values its history and artistic expression is no easy feat, but David Bury feels confident in coming up with a design for rebuilding Libbey Bowl that will preserve its character.
A special joint meeting of the various Ojai commissions and councils took place yesterday in the Boyd Center in order to view the preliminary designs created for the bowl by David Bury & Company Architects, Ltd.
Independent studies undertaken last year concluded that the 52-year-old structure has been irreparably damaged by years of improper drainage and termite rot. As a result, the city of Ojai, the Ojai Music Festival, area foundations, and the Ojai Valley community are joining together to raise $3 million for the rebuilding project.
Construction is projected to begin this summer following the 63rd Ojai Music Festival and will open with the 64th Ojai Music Festival in June 2010.
“This meeting is the first public unveiling of the concept design that the city of Ojai commissioned from David Bury,” said Ojai Festivals executive director Jeff Haydon. “All of our understanding is it’s an unprecedented meeting of every commission in Ojai, as well as the City Council.”
“Libbey Bowl is a critical part of the city’s artistic and cultural identity as well as a vital economic driver. It is important that we ensure its viability for future generations,” said Ojai city manager Jere Kersnar. “The city of Ojai is looking forward to working with the leaders in our community who share the same commitment to rebuilding this internationally beloved landmark.”
Bury explained that it is unusual for a project to have to go before every commission, so the joint meeting was as much a matter of efficiency as input. “There are many challenges to designing this project,” said Bury. “One of them is trying to meet all the needs of the users when each can be very different. We’re trying to address the practical, functional, historical and environmental elements.”
Community input has been important to the project. “The nice thing is the users have been involved with this in a couple of different steps,” Haydon said. “It’s been a joint venture with the city and the community to preserve the future viability of this city assets.”
The Ojai Music Festival board of directors and community volunteers initially built Libbey Bowl in 1957 for a cost of $15,000. It is a primary venue for such events as Ojai Day, Ojai Storytelling Festival, Mexican Fiesta, the Ojai Independence Day concert, Memorial Day celebration, and numerous public school events. Additionally, the Ojai Music Festival has made it an annual international destination for music lovers the world over. Combined events generate over $3 million annually in business and tax revenues for the community and have provided national and international visibility for Ojai.
“There’s no question that Libbey Bowl is one of the most culturally important icons in the Ojai Valley. The important thing for everyone to realize is that, ultimately, this is not an elective process,” said Bury. “We have a decaying structure that, if nothing is done, will result in an unusable facility soon.”
Libbey Bowl has undergone numerous emergency repairs over the past five years, which the city of Ojai, Ojai Music Festival, and community businesses underwrote. These repairs precipitated a full analysis of the bowl in fall 2006 to develop a long-range maintenance schedule. Upon completing the analysis last February, the city of Ojai determined that the bowl was beyond reasonable long-term repairs and recommended that a study be done to completely rebuild the facility. The city also completed immediate repairs to ensure the short-term usability of the bowl.
Last spring, the city of Ojai asked assistance from the Ojai Music Festival, other community users, and Bury in designing a new bowl that retains the character and spirit of the current bowl while improving the functionality of the space for audiences and artists alike.
“We have been so lucky to have and enjoy this treasure — the Libbey Bowl,” said Alan Rains, owner of Rains department store and Music Festival board member. “It’s time for us to step up and rebuild this venue so that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy this valuable community asset.”
While performer and audience features are important to the bowl’s redesign, sustainability will be considered on many levels. “We want to make sure it is built to last for several generations to come,” said Haydon. “When it was originally built, it was done on a shoestring and not really to stand the test of time. This is also an opportunity for another design for green building utilizing natural materials, natural light and habitat. There are a lot of aspects of this project that further Ojai’s goal of becoming a green community. Ojai has always been kind of forward-thinking and this will be one of the early green performing facilities in the country.”
Bury has enjoyed getting input from the stakeholders in the redesign process. “I am particularly fond of modern music, so the opportunity to design a permanent facility for America’s pre-eminent music festival is a dream come true,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
To date, the Ojai Music Festival has secured $1 million in gifts and pledges, primarily from the Ojai Valley, as a challenge gift to the city of Ojai and the Ojai community toward the project. The city and some key foundations plan to finalize their contributions in the early spring before the community campaign to raise a projected $1 million in remaining gifts begins in the late spring.
The Rebuild Libbey Bowl campaign needs volunteers to help with the project. To learn about volunteering or making contributions, call 646-3117 or visit the web site at LibbeyBowl.org.