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November 27, 2021

Funny Papers Again Column | KCHS Swag and Cringe: Kudos and Calamity

What? You don’t know the present use of the words “swag” and “cringe”? Well, I didn’t either until I read it in context in an article in the newest issue of The Mustang Legacy, the King City High School student publication. At the present time, swag means good. And on campus presently, “The Swag” is that an addition to the campus is nearly complete and will see decades of agricultural instruction. Excellent Swag.

But “The Cringe” (we all know what it is to cringe at something we find distasteful) is that the building next to it is, in this writer’s opinion, doomed to abandonment beyond what is already evident and will eventually see the wrecking ball. Big Time Cringe.

Can you imagine a Performing Arts building with no other parking than city surface streets or private property access? That is now the situation with what was once known as the Auditorium, now The Robert Stanton Theater. The parking lot once used by students and staff during school hours and by the public for various functions and productions no longer exists. This will require some patrons to walk further distances to attend large audience productions as spaces on residential streets in the vicinity, one the main thoroughfare in town, are filled.

The high school has no contingency plan for when this happens as it is a closed campus and unconcerned with outside productions. And this is just one aspect of how the school district is letting this historic building fall to neglect. An inspection of the building on a recent Tuesday evening revealed more lack of oversight when upon entering the lobby a buzzing could be heard throughout the entire interior: a microphone had been left on (one hopes from an event earlier that day and not days before). Curtains were left in wrong positions, placing undo stress on the rail system. Many seats were left in the down position. All of these, which may seem minor to many, are absolutely against theater procedures.

And here is the reason this type of neglect takes place: a federal government program during the Great Depression built a building not on public lands but on high school property. Given that the construction period was 1937-39 the decision on where to place the Auditorium was made probably around 1935. Folks, if you take a look at a mid-1930s city map you will see that King City had ample land on which to build, with lots of space for parking. More on this later.

The Auditorium was designed for Performing Arts and it is well known when school districts become strapped for funds, and many small rural schools like KCHS do, it is the Arts that take the biggest hits, both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities. Sporting events bring in more money than stage productions; always have and always will. That is what happened some four decades ago when the Auditorium had fallen into such disrepair it was shuttered and doomed for demolition until the citizenry stepped in and saved it; eventually getting official historical recognition. But that seems to matter little now.

Until recently, those within the community who wish to see the grand old theater continue and prosper had an advocate within the school hierarchy, but superintendents come and go and now there is a new marshal in town and a couple new deputies, so I would bet a peso to a centavo that any consideration of The Robert Stanton Theater is way, way down on their list of concerns.

Not long ago the district received monies for building upgrades, I recall $300,000 mentioned, which had theater users encouraged as to how some of that money would be spent in benefit of the theater. The need for seat replacement, ramp access for those who require it, additional restrooms, stage resurfacing and painting and technical upgrades are but a few. Oh, and parking.

It is now evident the building has been allowed to drift like a rudderless boat. There appears to be not one person, or group of elected people, who is in charge of the operation and upkeep of the Auditorium. Certainly there is no individual employed by the district who has any idea of how to operate a theater; nor does it appear that the situation will change in the future. Without support from the citizenry, one non-profit established specifically for preservation and maintenance, the building would not be fit for the return of large productions, one scheduled for the second weekend in December.

Now as to the “why” of a federal building being constructed on school property, I believe research would shed light on that decision and the starting points for such research are implanted within the building. On the south facing exterior wall, the dedicatory plaque cites the federal project number for California, using that reference leads to a National Archives Building where the original contract/agreement is located.

Another plaque is one that for this writer offers a glimmer of hope. It is located in the lobby and reads: Constructed by Federal Works Agency Work Project Administration and the City of King 1939-1940. And the City of King; that is notable. If somewhere in the original contract a clause could be found stating that if at any time the school district failed to properly maintain the building, then administration would fall to the City, ergo the citizens. That would be a justifiable wresting of the building by those better equipped to be overseers of a theater.

Should any within the school district or any board member have a response to my opinion, the public forum section of this newspaper is available; I’m sure many in the community would be interested to know what plans the district has for the only historic building in town. My hope is the day doesn’t come where a story in the Rustler tells of a three-story parking structure to be built on ground once occupied by an auditorium.

Take care. Peace.

Steve Wilson
King City and Greenfield Columnist
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