The Bob Baker Marionette Theater Is Closing — But It's Coming Back Next Year

A classic photo of Bob Baker Marionette Theater performers. (Courtesy of Howl and Rose Photography)

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has been a beloved Los Angeles landmark for decades, but it's saying goodbye to its historic downtown L.A. home next month. The plan: a new space that's bigger and better than ever.

"Let this place be where imagination dwells," the late marionette-maker Baker said - his quote hung on the walls. Now imagination's moving as they leave the location they've held since 1963.

They promise that their new permanent location will be somewhere in L.A. They haven't locked down the new home just yet, but they hope to make the announcement before they're out of their current building on Nov. 23, the theater's Winona Bechtle told LAist.

The plan:

  • Hold a big, free farewell celebration Friday, Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving
  • The next day, Bob Baker's Nutcracker opens at the Pasadena Playhouse — shows run through Dec. 30
  • Spend the next six months completing its plans for the theater and putting them into action
  • Be in their new permanent home by the end of 2019
A Bob Baker marionette near Angels Flight in downtown Los Angeles. (Lisa Whiteman/Bob Baker Marionette Theater)

The theater itself was declared a historic landmark in 2009, but that didn't keep the location from being sold and now being developed into a mixed-use structure.

"When Bob sold the building in 2013, he was in failing health," Bechtle, the theater's director of development and community engagement, said. "The company didn't have really anyone super at the wheel after he passed away, and we weren't yet a nonprofit."

The past five years have been about turning the organization around — they've become a nonprofit, added a board of directors, and are now led by an executive director who was trained by Baker himself.

A classic photo from the Bob Baker Marionette Theater. (Courtesy of Howl and Rose Photography)

The previous plan was to return and inhabit space in the same location following construction, but that plan's changed.

"The way our company was heading and what was being planned for this building just really weren't lining up," Bechtle said.

They negotiated and were ultimately given final plans by the developer — and realized that these new plans just wouldn't work. So they kicked into gear finding a new home, and all the locations under consideration are nearby, Bechtle said.

The current building is an old soundstage, but now they're looking for something warehouse-sized to house the theater, their collection of 3,000 marionettes, classrooms, and more.

A Bob Baker Marionette Theater concept drawing by Morton Haack. (Courtesy Bob Baker Marionette Theater)

The theater promises the new space is being designed from original and unrealized concepts created by Bob Baker himself, incorporating everything people have come to love about the current theater — from the drywall to the chandeliers.

The theater acknowledged in its release that the theater is going through "a time of change and development," but said that it sees this as an opportunity to grow and evolve.

You can take a virtual tour inside the theater in this story from Take Two, and read more about Baker's vision for the theater and his love for Los Angeles in this 2005 interview he did with LAist.

Bob Baker marionettes interact with a fellow Angeleno. (Lisa Whiteman/Bob Baker Marionette Theater)

Until they're in their new home, the theater company's going mobile, continuing regular events throughout the city. More shows ranging from residencies to pop-ups will be hitting the Santa Monica Pier, the Dynasty Typewriter theater, Miracle Mile Toy Hall, KidSpace, the Yard Theater, and elsewhere. They're also launching a traveling ice cream truck/puppet caravan.

The theater continues to ask for donations to support its work, hoping that it can continue on for generations to come.


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