30 Years of Theater Magic

Pierson Playhouse Celebrates an Upcoming Anniversary

By TRILBY BERESFORD | Reporter

Perhaps the liveliest venue in Pacific Palisades, Pierson Playhouse at Theatre Palisades is approaching its 30th year of rigorous operation and loyal service to the local arts community.

Of course, its inception really began in the early 1960s when a group of television writers launched a platform to showcase their original stories on a makeshift stage at the Community Jewish Center.

In 1975, actress and Realtor Lelah Pierson expressed her desire for a real theater to be built by an architect, and if that were possible, she would donate the land. The big question was, who in the world would raise the money?

Enter Eva Holberg, a traveler from East Germany who arrived in the Palisades in 1966.
“I didn’t know any businesses or any rich people back then,” Holberg admitted to the Palisadian-Post over the phone. “Life was wild at that time; I had lost my home in a fire,” she added.

Yet her work as a Los Angeles Philharmonic Choir committee member and Palisades Symphony Orchestra manager deemed her most appropriate for the role, and thus, a resounding ‘’absolutely’’ was Holberg’s answer when Cindie Wright, president of Theatre Palisades at the time, asked her to be fundraising chair. “Cindie nearly fell on the floor,” Holberg recalled with a laugh.

Things moved at rapid pace from then on. “I was announced at the next board meeting,” Holberg explained, where she was extremely forthright about her conditions for fulfilling the fundraising task. “I wanted to do it my way, which included some … unorthodox ideas.”

Weary of loans and debts, Holberg’s fundraising activities included parties to raise pledges—upon which a successful accumulation of $20,000 on one night gave her the confidence to charge forward—a distribution of flyers to the community in order to appeal to their interests, pages in the Post, help from First Federal Bank, Chamber music events held at Holberg’s house and the Pacific Palisades Woman’s Club, and of course, contacting organizations that typically donated to the arts.

There were many random donors, such as a member of the Los Angles Department of Water and Power whom “someone” knew “sort of.”

Various naysayers emerged along the way. “People said we’d never make it, we’d never finish it,” Holberg recalled, maintaining her sense of humor.

At one point when she was halfway there, Holberg suggested that a shell of the theater be built: “The rest of the money came after that; it worked like a charm.”

Then came the dreaded parking lot challenge. “We couldn’t open the theater unless we owned the parking lot,” Holberg explained. Obtaining it involved some back and forth activity, though it helped that the property was condemned and no one else was bidding.

Throughout all of this, Holberg emphasized that there were “a lot of people helping,” such as CAA agent Bill Haber and businessman Bob McMillan, whom she described as being in a “very nice” working relationship with.

When the fundraising was complete and all debts were settled by the third Board Meeting, Holberg was in demand for her services. “But I wanted no part of professional fundraising,” she clarified.

The Pierson Playhouse opened with a production of “Aunt Mamie” in 1988. So, perhaps the question on your minds is: How did Eva Holberg have the guts to do all this?

“When I was a child in high school, the Russians shot out the windows and the organ in church one day. I was in a choir and we traveled to every village raising money for the broken windows,” Holberg said simply. This experience resulted in resilience and fierce determination against some serious odds.

Those interested in meeting Holberg in person and exploring this history on a deeper level are invited to visit Theatre Palisades at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 14, for a celebration of this unique, family-oriented cultural institution.

Building supervisor Cindie Wright-Banks will also be in attendance, with director Sherry Coon, actor Julia Whitcombe and last but not least, longtime employee, playwright (and one of the most smiley characters one could ever have the pleasure of meeting), Diane Grant.

Nona Hale, current president of the board, shared with the Post that Theatre Palisades looks forward to extending gratitude to our vibrant community who have been supportive and present every step of the way.