The Yost Theater Is Ready for Its Closeup

The renovated, revamped venue is ready for its grand reopening. So why aren't all of its downtown Santa Ana neighbors celebrating?

Lluy insists he never swooped in on the Yost to take over what was already El Centro's. "I even volunteered my time to do sound and lights for so many of their events," he says. "And if they ever return my phone calls, they'll find that I still want them to do events at the Yost."

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While Lluy was encountering three years of "growing pains," the Chases say, they did not charge rent. But they're not calling it charity. "We did it because we thought [Lluy] and his partner were perfect for us. It's been a lot more money and time than we expected," Ryan Chase says. "But at the end of the day, the most important thing you could have is the right people. We gave him a pretty good deal because he gets the community, he lives in Santa Ana, and he gets the big picture."

Dennis Lluy and partner Dave Leon have invested their life savings into the Yost Theater
Miguel Vasconcellos
Dennis Lluy and partner Dave Leon have invested their life savings into the Yost Theater
Miguel Vasconcellos

Location Info

Map

The Yost Theater

307 N. Spurgeon St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Category: Music Venues

Region: Santa Ana

Details

The Yost Theater, www.yosttheater.com. Grand opening with Colette and DJ Heather on Aug. 5, followed by Unwritten Law on Aug. 6, Thrice on Aug. 13, Nekromantix on Aug. 14, Elefante on Aug. 31, and Mexican rap-rock band Molotov on Sept. 4. Call for performance times and ticket prices.

And the big picture isn't about race, Irv Chase says. "A lot of people act like this is some sort of battleground, and the white guys are trying to take it. If you know anything about Fourth Street, it was a white downtown till the '60s! These people act like they have some sort of God-given right [to the property]. . . . They don't have that right! This is retail. The marketplace dictates change."

Nor, he adds, is it about community. "It's not our responsibility to provide a carousel and benches for people!" Irv Chase declares. "Landlords aren't supposed to provide a public place for the community—the city's supposed to provide parks, not me! I owned the merry-go-round, and I lost money on it every month! And I gave it to the city! Not only that, but I never made a dime on Fiesta Marketplace because it didn't work financially!"

The Chases say they feel unfairly maligned in the controversy over the Yost. The big picture, Ryan Chase adds, is not about whether you're brown or white. "At the end of the day, it's all about the green," he says, rubbing his thumb and forefingers together. "We're rolling the dice on the Yost succeeding. If it doesn't succeed, we won't succeed."

Unfortunately, Sarmiento says, "When you look at gentrification and changes in Santa Ana, you can't separate the race from the economic issue. When you have cases of displacement, there's pretext being used—blight or poverty. The excuses that are repeatedly used—a place is not up to code, it's dilapidated—is a pretext to displace a whole community. The idea of rebirth is that what was initially there wasn't good enough. So when you have these words, it's usually associated with people of color." El Centro itself is being evicted from its current home at Fifth Street and Broadway by its landlord, a company in which Allan Fainbarg owns a substantial stake (see Gabriel San Roman's "El Centro Cultural de Someplace Else," July 15).

The Yost and the rest of Fourth Street is under Ward 2 Councilwoman Michele Martinez's jurisdiction, and she doesn't necessarily agree the area is being gentrified. "It's hard to say it's being gentrified when the majority of the city is Latino," she says. Instead, she believes, the changes are more generational. "You have young Latinos like myself who want different amenities that appeal to us. Santa Ana's downtown always had Fourth Street [focusing] on the immigrant community. But there's also a young generation that wants the downtown to be for them as well, not just their parents."

Martinez, who says she doesn't shop on Fourth Street either ("I shop at Nordstrom or Forever 21"), says the city of Santa Ana can't control the market and what property owners want to do with their holdings. "We can't control who Irv Chase wants to rent to or what color he wants his buildings to be. . . . All we can control are zoning and land use."

Sarmiento recalls one meeting with Lluy. "I remember Dennis taking it very lightly, laughing at people calling him 'the gentrifier.' I said, 'That's a very serious thing to be called! That's part of our history that's being raped!'" she says. "I think they see it as [just] a market-driven project."

The Yost's new management team feels it hasn't been given a chance to prove itself to the community—yet. Lluy and Leon's lease stipulates that they host two community events per month at cost. "I just laughed at that clause because we were already doing that," Lluy says. "I feel the businesses have an obligation to the communities they're in." As for selling out, he says, "Just because there's money involved and that I learned my lesson after 20 years doesn't mean it's not DIY. We're here every step of the way; we're not just hiring contractors and going on vacation. I still have that ethic. It's not like I changed; I just got smarter about getting things done."

And it seems Lluy's efforts to connect with his neighbors on Fourth Street are working the closer they get to opening day. They're talking to a neighboring restaurant about putting up a taco cart after concerts. The Yost will be using ice cream from La Nueva Reyna de Michoacán, located on Fourth Street, in its desserts. "We've all invested so much, and we've all got to band together," Lluy says.

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