The NTC Foundation and Cygnet Theatre have started construction of a $43.5 million performing arts center at Liberty Station, The Joan, named for philanthropist Joan Jacobs, a key donor.
The theater will be in Building 178 of the former Naval Training Center, which is undergoing a massive renovation to turn it into an arts center that will include two separate theaters, an art gallery, and three outdoor patios with a goal of opening in Spring 2025.
“What this space is going to be, hopefully, is a destination theater, not just a theater where you go to see plays,” said Sean Murray, artistic director of Cygnet Theatre.
The project also will involve restoring arches and windows that had been boarded up by the Navy.
“This is the biggest project NTC has done and certainly the most complex,” said Lisa Johnson, president and CEO of the NTC Foundation.
The NTC Foundation and Cygnet Theatre teamed up in 2018 – Cygnet Theatre was looking for a new home and the foundation wanted to turn the vacant Building 178 into a landmark, Johnson said.
“It is that missing piece of that Arts District,” Johnson said. “We’ve managed to design something that will be usable for dance and live theater, which is super exciting.”
Suffolk, Fisher Dachs Associates, obr Architecture, Borretto + Merrill Consulting, Cannon Constructors, and Threshold Acoustics are among those working on the project.
Artistic, Financial Flexibility
So far, the foundation and Cygnet have raised $31.6 million for the project through a special nonprofit that they created, Building 178 Support Organization.
The new organization was formed “specifically for the fundraising so donors know, when they give money, they’re giving it specifically for this project,” Johnson said.
The new performing arts building will have a proscenium theater with 289 seats and a smaller theater with 150 seats, dressing rooms, green rooms, a costume shop, and rehearsal spaces.
Murray said that having two separate theaters will give his troupe “a lot more artistic and financial flexibility.”
An addition on the north side of the building that was determined to have no historic value was razed to make room for the large theater, which will be built partially underground in line with the basement of the remaining Building 178.
The work involves digging a hole 15-to-20 feet deep, Johnson said.
Because of height restrictions, the roof couldn’t be raised to create enough room for the main theater.
Vacant since 1997, Building 178 was constructed in 1942 and is one of 26 historic buildings overseen by the NTC Foundation.
It had been used as a commissary at various times and had included a dance floor, bowling alley, a tailor shop and retail space.
Over time, the building had deteriorated, and squatters had used the building.
“A lot of the beams were starting to fail,” Johnson said. “We kept it boarded up as best we could, but unsheltered individuals still seemed to find ways to get in.”
Attention to Acoustics
Because of Liberty Station’s proximity to San Diego International Airport, special attention was paid in the design of the arts center to dampen airplane noise and other extraneous noise.
“It’s not just the airplanes. If you have two theaters next to each other, you want to make sure the sound doesn’t spill over,” Murray said. “All of the air ducts and air conditioning are being designed so they don’t rattle and make noise.”
The exterior walls of the main lobby will have glass sliding doors so that the whole side of the building opens to the outdoors.
Cygnet Theater leases the 246 Old Town Theater, but Murray said that the troupe needed a more permanent home.
The new center will also allow Cygnet Theater to bring its rehearsals and storage in one place rather than scattered at different sites, Murray said.
Plans also are in the works for an expanded educational program, Murray said, adding that, “It will really enable us to grow that program.”
HEADQUARTERS: Liberty Station
CEO: Lisa Johnson
BUSINESS: nonprofit historic renovation
NOTABLE: NTC Foundation oversees the historic preservation and renovation of the former Naval Training Center, the largest historic preservation and cultural project in San Diego County.