Planned renovations designed to improve safety and audience experience

By Serena Guentz

Noozhawk Staff Writer

About a dozen tables took over Second Street in Solvang on Monday morning as the Solvang Theaterfest held a breakfast and groundbreaking event to celebrate the start of its rebuilding project to repair and improve the theater.

Nearly 100 volunteers, donors and other community members enjoyed a breakfast that was sponsored by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and the Wood-Claeyssens Foundation.

While the 700-seat Solvang Festival Theater, which opened in 1974 and has been home to PCPA productions each summer season since, was originally built in just 58 days, the $4.7 million rebuilding project is expected to take about 10 months.

“I’m not going to stand up here and tell you how important the Theaterfest is; you already know that,” Executive Director Steve Coe said. “How fantastic it’s going to be to have generations to come that will get to enjoy this jewel that we have in our community … How fantastic it’s going to be even better going forward.”

Before breaking ground — or in this case, breaking down the wall — Solvang Theaterfest board chair Chris Nielsen and vice chair Ann Foxworthy Lewellen spoke about the history of the theater and of the process it took to get to this point of the project.

During the Solvang Theaterfest groundbreaking event Monday, the remaining needed amount of less than $1 million to fully fund the project is unveiled.

In 2019, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians pledged to donate $100,000 toward the project if the theater could raise enough money to match that, which it did, and a check from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was presented to Foxworthy Lewellen during Monday’s event.

The Solvang Theaterfest board of directors also announced that only $995,000 was needed to completely fund the project. More than $500,000 has been raised since the rebuilding campaign and goal of $1.5 million was revealed in June.

“I can’t help but think back to the 1970s, how excited [the original founders of the Solvang Festival Theater] must have been to start this project,” Foxworthy Lewellen said. “They must have just been ecstatic about seeing their dream coming true, and that’s really the way I feel this morning.”

Since the outer wall of the theater will be torn down and rebuilt, Foxworthy Lewellen and Nielsen made the first holes by taking a sledgehammer to the wall, followed by board members and other attendees who wanted to take a swing.

The theater rebuilding project is designed to improve safety and overall audience experience with “higher and acoustically designed outer walls,” the theater’s website stated.

Accessibility and ADA compliance also will be improved with new stairs and access ramps, as well as increased accessible audience seating.

Additionally, the current wood utility lighting poles will be replaced with new metal columns, and there will be improved placement of a new control booth and sound and equipment rooms.

“We’re really excited,” said Gabi Robbins, a former volunteer at the theater, along with her husband, Peter Robbins, who also is a former Theaterfest board member. “We’ve been patrons since ’75, when they had all the fun fundraisers when they would auction off costumes.”

Gabi Robbins said that those fundraisers involved auctioning off costumes from the theater to rent for costume balls that would take place shortly after.

A banner is displayed in front of the theater with the names of donors and an explanation of the project.

“I can tell how important the Theaterfest is to all of you, just by the grins and smiles I saw as we were busting into that wall,” Nielsen said at the end of the event. “We look forward to, 10 months from now, doing something special then also.”

Noozhawk staff writer Serena Guentz can be reached at