3-D Tour of the Original Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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Welcome to the eleventh in a series of 3-D explorable tours of off-the-beaten-path Southern California spaces, created by Craig Sauer of Reality Capture Experts using cutting-edge Matterport technology.

Our love for the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is no secret. It is a zone of pure creativity and whimsy that could only have flowered in Los Angeles. Bob was a dear friend, and in 2013, we were privileged to help see that his visual archives were safely preserved by the Los Angeles Public Library, at a time when the theater’s future was uncertain.

Uncertainty is a funny thing, though. Yes, the original Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a “protected” city landmark which a developer nevertheless intends to demolish for a generic housing development. But the young puppeteers who took up the management strings after Bob’s death in 2014 have proved to be terrific stewards. They’ve nourished a nonprofit arm, built thriving community partnerships, and just last week opened up their lovely new, much larger puppet theater on a busy stretch of York in Highland Park.

The sweet, silly and inspiring shows that Bob Baker created for the mid-century kids of Los Angeles will continue to blow the minds of new generations.

Still, it’s hard to see such a Los Angeles treasure displaced, and we wanted to mark the transition. So we reached out to Craig and asked if he’d be interested in bringing his Matterport camera over and documenting the theater, backstage, workshops and Bob Baker’s personal research library loft (up the stairs, stage left), where Bob selected the music for shows and gained visual inspiration for puppet costumes, backdrops and props.

The results are a time capsule, three-dimensional love letter to Bob Baker’s genius as it manifested in the final days, before the world he made was boxed up for the move to Highland Park.

On a day when The New York Times honors our hometown marionettes with a lengthy feature, we’re sending out this bittersweet remembrance of the funky, original Bob Baker Marionette Theater in its historic home of 56 years. We hope you enjoy the opportunity to creep around this magical place which no longer is a public space, but which welcomes you virtually inside any time you feel its call.

And we heard the funniest thing on opening day in Highland Park: that developer who bought the building and planned to tear it down hasn’t been heard from lately. Rumor has it, nothing’s happening at 1345 West First Street any time soon.

But the marionettes have already moved on, and invite you to come see a show in Highland Park. Bring on the dancing cats and raise the traditional post-performance cup of ice cream to the next 56 years of joy!

 

Help Save The Bob Baker Marionette Theater

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The Bob Baker Marionette Theater needs your help! Click here to send an email of support.

THE STORY: A developer wants to build a big apartment building on the site of this historic landmark. We believe that there can be apartments, but also a working puppet theater on this site.

Please! Share this blog post and show your support for this gem of mid-century Los Angeles by visiting the Bob Baker website and sending an email to the Planning Department, asking that the theater be included in the approved redevelopment plan.

Here’s our Kim Cooper’s email to the Planning Department, with some points you may wish to echo:

Dear Planning Department,

I write to express my strong opinion that any redevelopment of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater site should include a functioning puppet theater.

It was only six years ago that City Council declared the theater an Historic-Cultural Monument (#958), an honor that is richly deserved for the decades of entertainment that Bob Baker and his crew have given to the families of Los Angeles.

It is my understanding that Bob Baker lost control of this property through a series of deceptive, if not outright fraudulent, transactions, and that the theater was sold at below market value. A reasonable profit can be made with a redevelopment project that allocates space for the puppet theater as a paying tenant, in addition to many residential units.

The retention of the puppet theater tenant will also serve the community by ensuring that this site retains its lively street life, instead of becoming a walled, residential garden, and through the continued training of puppeteers, many of them local youths.

You can do the citizens of Los Angeles a great service by insisting that the developer make room for a functioning Bob Baker Marionette Theater in the development that seeks to demolish this world renowned landmark.

Thank you for your consideration.

best regards,
Kim Cooper, Historian
Los Angeles