Former Levitt Pavilion Pasadena is Down, But Not Out

Newly renamed organization claims new backers, promises shortened summer 2018 season in Memorial Park Bandshell

Published : Wednesday, June 20, 2018 | 5:52 AM

The organization behind a Pasadena summer music tradition for nearly fifteen years which once drew thousands weekly to 50 free and festive outdoor summer concerts in Old Pasadena is struggling to stay afloat but promises it will stage at least some concerts this summer.

The news is mixed for the former Levitt Pavilion Pasadena (now reborn as the Pasadena Pavilion for the Performing Arts): There will be no shows this June, but following the resignation of its executive director this week, and the placement of a new interim director, a spokesperson said the Pasadena Pavilion for the Performing Arts hopes to present a limited schedule of shows beginning in mid-July.

The organization also claims that a new financial backer, Samir Srivastava, a Los Angeles-based developer and former Levitt Pavilion board member, will bankroll this year’s slate of a limited number of shows. (Efforts to reach Mr. Srivastava for confirmation were unsuccessful at the time of this writing.)

The Levitt Pavilion summer series of music performances were originally the brainchild of New Yorker Mortimer Levitt, who, in 1963, following a long and successful career in the clothing business, established a cultural and educational foundation to provide music education and performances. The first shows were in Westport, Connecticut (near Levitt’s summer home).

Shortly before his death in 2005, in a move spearheaded by his daughter Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch, Levitt’s foundation gave $250,000 to the City of Pasadena to restore the bandshell in Pasadena’s Memorial Park.

The foundation also promised $100,000 a year for five years in a matching-funds program to help launch a free summer concert series at the pavilion.

Since then, Levitt Pavilion summer concerts series have been established by Levitt Hirsch in cities all across America, including a very successful organization in Los Angeles’ MacArthur Park.

In 2003, daughter Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch began working closely with then-Mayor Bill Bogaard to bring a series of summer concerts to Pasadena.

Numerous improvements were made that Spring to the fading Memorial Park bandshell, including new sound and lighting systems, as well as handicapped ramps, green rooms, and dressing rooms.

Over the past few years, the Pasadena summer shows have featured national acts such as J.D. Souther, Karla Bonoff, and a host of music genres from rock to Americana to World Music, often drawing thousands of fans to each show.

Hirsch brought the Levitt name and funding to Pasadena with one overriding caveat — that after five years, the local organization should stand alone and be self-sustaining. That was in 2003.

The local organization, the former Levitt Pavilion Pasadena, struggled financially and organizationally for years after the five-year mandate began to be imposed.

Ultimately, last year, there was a parting of ways.

Renee Bodie, longtime Executive Director of the Pasadena organization, attributes the split-up to the lack of sufficient funding from the Levitt group combined with challenging requirements by the group that the funds could not possibly offset.

As Bodie told Pasadena Now Tuesday, “[Levitt has] presented some things that made it kind of impossible for us to continue accepting their funding.”

Without going into detail, Bodie said, “The parameters that they would have needed were more than what it would’ve cost, and were more than the money that they were funding with.”

“So,” she said, “we are no long accepting financial help from the Levitt Foundation. We let everyone know this after the 2017 concert season.”

Bodie also noted the problems that the local organization has faced in raising money for the performances, despite the initial help from the Levitt Pavilion.

“To do this,” she said, “requires obviously quite a bit of money, and we need the support of the community and the surrounding city, and the business community. So I guess you would say that it’s been a couple of transition years of getting to that — with having one source of funding go away, and trying to ramp up to have another source of funding that is Pasadena-centered. That has been what we’ve been working on over the last couple of years.”

Bodie cited one promotion designed to raise funds which aimed to collect $1,000 from one thousand concert-goers over an entire season. After all their appeals, that campaign produced only 45 donors.

Bodie said that the Pavilion has always been seen by locals as an outside entity coming into Pasadena, when in fact “this is really a Pasadena organization.”

“The truth is the pavilion belongs to the community of Pasadena,” she said.

Bodie said she quit the Pasadena Pavillion organization this week, taking on a new position as general manager for the SOKA Performing Arts Center in Aliso Viejo. Former Deputy director William Bauer will serve as the Interim Executive Director for this season.

Picking up the reins quickly, Bauer told Pasadena Now, “there are a lot of things in motion.”

According to Bauer, the group is meeting with City officials this week to “iron out details, to help them understand the changes in the Executive Director role, and then also in the Board of Directors composition.”

Bauer also said that the organization will be finalizing the schedule for this season “in the next couple of weeks.”

“So we haven’t really locked it in,” said Bauer, adding, “We’ll be sure to let you know, and give you the schedule.”

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