The Candlelight Pavilion, a dinner theater in Claremont, will close its doors permanently on March 20 after 37 years, which included productions of “Cats,” “My Fair Lady” and Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” among many others.
Michael Bollinger, the theater’s general manager, said the development of the dinner theater began when it first opened in 1985. Bollinger’s father and his collaborator developed a project that focused on transforming the then underutilized gymnasium into a theater and restaurant.
It began with an emphasis on the food and later prioritized quality entertainment as well.
“We (emphasized) appetizers, desserts, wines, great entrees – as well as really incredible performances,” Bollinger said.
The Bollinger family faced the obstacle of condominium construction, which began in September of last year and severely reduced parking for the Candlelight Pavilion. This challenge became a factor for the decision to permanently close.
“They built the condos next door without enough parking spaces,” said Michael Ryan, adjunct professor of music at the University of La Verne and pre-show guitarist for the Candlelight Pavilion.
“Normally it can hold 330 people, and they reduced the amount for the show to 230, just to keep it so that there’s enough parking. They realized that they couldn’t make a profit because the extra hundred seats is where the profit was.”
The staff said that the Candlelight Pavilion stayed open longer than they anticipated after they closed for a year in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, then reopened in June 2021, which provided them the chance to find other employment.
“Going into our final season, our initial thought was that after Christmas we’d be done,” stage manager Caleb Shiba said. “It’s bittersweet but we are prepared for it.”
Over the years, the theater had occasionally been used for other events, apart from dinner theater.
“I loved watching us change this room (for) so many different things like fundraisers and weddings, to use the room for good beyond entertainment,” said Candlelight producer Mindy Teuber.
Staff reflected on their memories during their experience of working at the Candlelight Pavilion and the people they met while working there.
“My memory going out is just how many incredible people that I got to meet and how many servers, actors, and employees that got married because they worked here together and all the nice things,” Bollinger said.
Others also shared fond memories.
“The nicest memories are people coming together to see a good show and have a great time and periodically I would do my own concerts there and play my own performances,” Ryan said.
“I’ve had some interesting problems I’d have to fix,” Shiba added. “Sometimes I’d have to climb up a set piece to unhook a stuck curtain in the middle of a show, or I have sewn people into wedding dresses when their zippers broke.”
The Candlelight Pavilion will host its final “Candlelight Jubilee” on March 20. For tickets and information, visit candlelightpavilion.com.
Yulissa Chavez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.