Like many cultural amenities in this city, William A. Carroll Amphitheater in Land Park hasn’t been updated in years.
The benches are old and don’t have seat backs. There aren’t any permanent restrooms on site. Groups that perform on the stage have to bring their own sound and lighting equipment.
The outdoor theater hosts the Shakespeare in the Park Festival every summer and a few graduation ceremonies. But most days it sits empty, like Thursday, when the only action it saw on a pleasant and sunny afternoon was some young children who climbed up on the stage before running over to a nearby pond.
“It’s such a shame. It could be such a jewel for the city,” said Sacramento County Supervisor Patrick Kennedy, who, along with City Councilman Steve Hansen, is leading a drive to renovate the amphitheater. “It has really stood neglected for too long.”
Organizers held a fundraiser Thursday evening at Fairytale Town to spark some attention. They raised about $50,000, and their goal is $250,000 by the end of summer to cover design costs for a renovation project. Their eventual target is $2.5 million to pay for restrooms, better seating, improved sound and lighting systems, and dressing rooms for performers. Kennedy said they want to pay for the effort with “as much private funding as we can raise.”
The amphitheater was a Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration project, built in the 1930s and 1940s. The stage was added in the 1960s, but that was about the last big renovation.
“I think it’s a good idea, but there are a lot of steps,” Hansen said. “It’s an exciting community-led effort to raise money and put together a vision for what our historic amphitheater could be for many more generations to come.”
While there will certainly be support for renovating this forgotten jewel, there could also be some pushback from those who think the amphitheater may not be at the top of the list for needed improvements in Land Park.
An analysis commissioned by the city earlier this year determined the 165-acre park is in need of more than $13 million in upgrades and renovations within the next two years. Some of the fixes would be huge undertakings, like the estimated $6 million it would cost to renovate the park’s irrigation system or the $1.2 million needed to replace five of the park’s restrooms.
And then there are the needs of performing-arts groups elsewhere in town. There aren’t enough outdoor venues in Sacramento to highlight the city’s cultural institutions. And most of those groups scrape for cash to stay alive or build new facilities.
Kennedy said performing-arts organizations could fit well into a revamped amphitheater. It’s a nice thought – sitting in the shade of a canopy of trees on a summer evening, listening to the philharmonic or watching the ballet in the city’s most beloved park.
Kennedy said he was first inspired to get involved while performing in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” a few years ago. He grew up in the area and, he said, had always taken the amphitheater for granted. Now he was seeing why.
“I was standing in the back of the stage all summer thinking this thing could be so much more,” he said. “We could do so much more.”
Those interested in donating can visit www.landparkamphitheater.com.