A man walks by The Found Theatre at the corner of Sixth Street and Long Beach Boulevard Monday, Feb. 7, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

The future of the sprawling City Place complex is once again being reimagined. But this time around marks the end for at least one Long Beach institution: the nearly 50-year-old Found Theatre.

The 14-acre City Place, a prime piece of property in Downtown Long Beach, has seen several attempts at reinvigoration in recent years, most recently with former owner Tony Shooshani rebranding the shopping district as “The Streets” in 2017.

But Shooshani, who bought the development in 2005, defaulted on a $63 million loan in 2020. A partnership among Waterford Property Company, Turnbridge Equities and Monument Square Investment then bought the loan through a bidding process.

Now, City Place’s new owners—who have decided to reinstate the property’s old name—have their own plans for the site.

Conceptual plans submitted to the city on Dec. 16 indicate the new owners intend to demolish portions of the City Place complex, including the building bounded by Fifth Street on the north, Fourth Street on the south, The Promenade on the west, and Long Beach Boulevard on the east, as well as the building on the block east of the city parking structure between Fifth Street and Sixth Street, where the Found resides.

If the plans are approved, the demolished areas will be replaced by three new eight-story apartment buildings totaling 900 units, with 36,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space and a standalone commercial pavilion. To comply with the city’s inclusionary housing law, 6% of the proposed apartment units would have to be designated as affordable housing.

The plans must still go through a multi-step process that will likely last, at minimum, six-to-12 months before the property owners can obtain permits to begin demolition, according to Long Beach Development Services spokesman Rick de la Torre.

Waterford’s co-founder John Drachman declined to share the team’s plans for the rest of the property, including which tenants will remain. Other members of the development team could not be reached for comment.

Representatives for other businesses in the impacted area, such as Jean Machine, as well as other City Place businesses, including Ammatoli, Mitaki and Milana’s New York Pizzeria, also could not be reached for comment.

But the folks behind the Found Theatre have been open about what the new plans mean for the Long Beach institution.

The theater’s executive director Virginia DeMoss said the developers have given her team until March 31 to vacate the property. A “Found Farewell” party is scheduled for March 13.

For the Long Beach theater community, it will mark the end of an era.

“The theater means the world to me,” DeMoss said. “I spent almost 50 years of my life doing it.”

Act 1

The Found Theatre had humble beginnings, started by Cynthia Galles and several friends fresh out of the University of California, Irvine in 1974. The first show the group ever performed was in a church, but soon the thespians got their own official theater space.

It was nothing remarkable, just one of many humble properties in a strip mall on Seventh Street and Orange Avenue. It was next to a laundromat, and performances would sometimes be disturbed by the rattling of the defunct change machine being hammered by frustrated patrons.

After a decade, the Found was forced out when the strip mall was demolished, so the theater found its way to another space on Seventh Street and Long Beach Boulevard.

But DeMoss—who joined Galles and the Found Theatre in 1975 and has been one of the driving forces behind the theater—said the its growth soon necessitated another move.

“We really loved that space, but [Galles] wanted something bigger with higher ceilings,” DeMoss said. “We looked at a ton of buildings and potential things, but none of them ever worked out.”

Eventually, a new development just a few blocks away at Fourth Street and Long Beach Boulevard set the stage for the Found to get the type of dedicated theater space it deserved. In a turn of luck, developers in the city were required to donate 1% of project costs to the arts—and the new City Place complex was so large that 1% of the cost was sufficient to build a new theater.

Cynthia Galles (left) and Virginia DeMoss at the grand opening of the Found Theatre’s City Place location in 2005. (Courtesy photo)

The resulting space was one made just for the Found, adorned with a logo and the classic cinema letter board. But for Galles and DeMoss, the interior—which Galles helped design—was what really defined it.

“It has super high ceilings, and the floor is a sprung floor, not cement,” DeMoss said. “It’s hollowed out, and it’s filled with sand and covered with wood, so it is great for dancing and all that other stuff.”

The Found put on the first show in its new space at 599 Long Beach Blvd.—titled, “Hitler in Love”—in early 2005, and the future looked bright for the experimental theater.

But tragedy would soon follow.

Act 2

Galles had a true passion for the theater and what it represented.

But at times, that passion could burn just a bit too bright. DeMoss remembered watching Galles working long and hard hours for the theater, ignoring signs of a growing threat.

A cancer she once fought off had returned, and this time, it took a toll. As ever, the theater came first for Galles—but that attitude only exacerbated the spread of the disease.

“It came back partly because she was working around the clock for this show,” DeMoss said. “She ignored the signs, and by the time she made it to the doctor, it was too late.”

Galles died in November 2005. Her legacy loomed large.

“She was on stage maybe three weeks before she passed away, and that was a really tough one for everybody,” DeMoss said. “It was a really emotional time for us.”

DeMoss and the rest of the team kept the theater running, but Galles’ absence left a gaping hole.

“We couldn’t keep up the production schedule that she had for herself,” DeMoss said. “She had five shows a year and directed them and hung the lights and did everything.”

“It took a whole lot of people to not even be able to fill her large shoes.”

In time, though, the Found survived. Troupes came and went throughout the years, and the theater cemented its place in the broader Long Beach community, in part through its fundraising efforts for charitable causes.

“After the Haiti Earthquake, we put together a fundraising variety show in just three days,” DeMoss recalled, “and we raised $4,000 in one night, which is incredible.”

From left: Kathleen Gray, Virginia DeMoss and Melinda Weinstein participate in “Beyond The Valley of the Flight Attendants: The Musical,” one in a series of flight attendant shows that focused on the ultra-cheap Super Saver Airlines. (Courtesy photo)

Act 3

The Found Theatre would face more challenges as the decades passed.

The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, wrought havoc on the arts as a whole. But the Mid-World Players, a troupe that came to the theater in 2019, helped the Found weather the storm.

The troupe performed shows at the theater throughout the pandemic, streaming them live to eager audiences at their homes. DeMoss said the Mid-World Players’ presence helped reassure her.

For a moment, it felt like kismet to DeMoss, who is ready to retire at age 73.

“After working with them and seeing how responsible they were and how good they were and how much knowledge of theater they have,” she said, “I thought, ‘OK, this is the solution. I can feel OK retiring and leaving these people in charge.’”

But the new property owners had other plans.

Drachman, with Waterford, said that while he sympathized with the folks behind the Found Theatre, he hopes the property’s redevelopment will ensure success for new tenants.

“We want all the tenants at the project to be viable, and we view this as a strong project for Downtown Long Beach,” Drachman said, “and so we want all of our tenants there to be successful.”

DeMoss, for her part, said she explored what options were available to try to save the space, but was told by her pro bono lawyer that she would have to fight the city. That’s a fight, DeMoss said, that she just doesn’t have in her.

While DeMoss mourns the loss of the precious theater space Galles designed all those years ago, she said a bigger concern of hers is where the Mid-World Players will now call home.

“My biggest hope is that they will be able to find a space,” she said. “I am hoping maybe some other developer or existing place in Long Beach will realize the potential and pick up these kids and provide them a space.”

Until that happens, DeMoss said, the intimate theater experience the Found offered will be missed.

“Nothing is more joyous than bringing people into a room together, not just staring at a screen,” she said. “It is my favorite thing in the world. I love going to other theaters and just sitting there and feeling the togetherness with strangers and people working their hearts out for you, live on stage.”

The way DeMoss sees it, what makes the theater experience so special is its ephemerality.

It’s a quality the art form, it seems, now shares with the Found itself.

“It is something that is not going to last,” DeMoss said, “like a movie.”

“It’s a transitory experience.”

The “Found Farewell” party is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 13 at 599 Long Beach Blvd. Send an email to DeMoss at vdemoss@aol.com to RSVP for the event.

Christian May-Suzuki is a reporter at the Long Beach Business Journal.