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L.A. marionette theater granted landmark status

June 3, 2009 | 12:30 pm


Lanowmap A parade of puppets strung along Los Angeles City Council members today long enough to persuade them to designate a West 1st Street marionette theater a historic cultural landmark.

The puppets danced and pranced around the City Council’s ornate horseshoe-shaped desk in the City Hall chambers before officials voted 14-0 to place the Bob Baker Marionette Theater on the city’s landmark list.

Baker, 85, was performing a series of previously scheduled shows in Paramount as the council recognized what it was told is the country’s longest-running puppetry showcase.

“At age 85, he’s still the star of his company,” explained puppeteer Steve Meltzer, owner of a Santa Monica puppetry center and president of the Los Angeles Guild of Puppetry. “There are performances where his presence is requested.”

Meltzer waltzed his song-and-dance-man figure named Calvin Collidisworth across the council desk as Echo Park puppeteer Christine Papalexis pranced a dog character called Fluffy.

“I got to bark at Bernard Parks,” Papalexis said afterward. “That was cool. He asked, ‘Does he bite?’ "

Marionette operator Richard Wilson of Burbank marched a 50-year-old, handmade Pinocchio puppet before the council.

“Pinocchio asked if they were lying, was their nose growing,” Wilson said. “Mr. [Ed] Reyes said no, they were all honest. Mrs. [Janice] Hahn said no one is pulling her strings.”

Baker’s theater at 1345 W. 1st St. is a former movie scenery shop that Baker and a partner purchased in 1961 and turned into a theater a year later. It has staged puppet shows six days a week ever since, said Lanna Pian, a Lomita resident representing the Los Angeles Conservancy.

The theater also houses the nonprofit Academy of Puppetry and Allied Arts, where high school students from the inner city are taught the art of puppetry, she said.

-- Bob Pool at L.A. City Hall

Photo by Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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