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BREATHING LIFE INTO A LANDMARK TUJUNGA CENTER PROVIDES A HOME FOR ART.

Byline: RICK COCA Valley News Writer

Tucked away in the lush green Verdugo Hills, the McGroarty Arts Center is both a historical landmark that pays homage to Tujunga's past and a living, breathing facility utilized daily by scores of people.

With the help of the Friends of McGroarty Arts Center and the center's leadership, the facility, built in 1923 by the late John Steven McGroarty, should endure for years to come.

According to the center's literature, McGroarty was a United States congressman, poet, historian, dramatist and journalist. When the former state poet laureate died in 1944, the property was willed to Margaret McHale, McGroarty's niece.

In 1953, after much lobbying from community members, organizations and activists, the property was purchased by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks.

It was deemed a historical landmark in 1970, according to the San Fernando Valley Historical Society.

Laurelle Geils has been the director of the center since 2002. She said it was privatized in 1995, and funding from the city was reduced significantly. After the city funding dropped off, organizers and the center's friends had to react quickly.

At that time, Friends of McGroarty Arts Center, a support group made up of community members and artists, went from being a loosely formed entity that donated small items, such as class supplies, to a serious fundraising group.

Friends of McGroarty Arts Center ``had to get more organized, and we had to start looking for grants to make up the difference,'' Geils said.

Paying salaries and operating expenses while providing classes for about 800 students a year means money is an ongoing challenge for the center, she said.

Their annual wintertime open house is one of their biggest fundraisers. Popular among attendees is the ``chili bowls'' made by ceramic guild members.

``You eat the chili, keep the bowl,'' Geils said.

The center offers about 60 classes in such varied fare as yoga, creative writing, painting, ceramic art, piano, theater, photography lessons and Tai Chi Ch'uan.

Geils started taking Tai Chi Ch'uan classes at the center in 1988, studying under the direction of former center co-director Isabella Barone.

When Barone retired from teaching about 10 years ago to take over as co-director of the center, it was Geils she picked to take over her Tai Chi Ch'uan class.

``It looks like a dance, but it's deadly,'' Geils said about her love of Tai Chi Ch'uan. ``It's a very slow, rhythmic Chinese exercise.''

That rhythm fits nicely at the McGroarty Arts Center, where artists steadily and consistently breathe life into the former home of a poet laureate long since gone, but never forgotten.

The McGroarty Arts Center is at 7570 McGroarty Terrace in Tujunga. For information on classes or donations, call (818) 352-5285, or go to www.mcgroartyartscenter.org.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Taking super close-ups of ordinary objects, such as nails and toy cars, McGroarty Arts Center photography teacher John Free, left of center, wants his young students to learn that a great photograph can come from any source.

Rick Coca/Valley News
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Title Annotation:Valley News
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 16, 2006
Words:508
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