By Chris Ziegler
After five years in downtown Long Beach, storied all-ages venue Koo’s is officially returning to Santa Ana and a new home at the historic Yost Theater, where a no-longer non-profit Koo’s, Inc., will begin programming in January.
“We’re done in Long Beach,” says Koo’s founder Dennis Lluy today, shortly before he’ll begin hauling equipment and furniture out of the 530 E. Broadway space he’s due to vacate this weekend. “We had a five-year run and we took it as far as we felt we could take it. I feel we were unsuccessful seeking partners. But I don’t blame anyone but me—so we’re moving on.”
The original Koo’s, which Lluy helped start in 1994 in a former restaurant on north Main Street in Santa Ana, was arguably Orange County’s definitive all-ages venue. But Lluy voluntarily shuttered the venue in 2002 after a warning from the city of Santa Ana that donation policy and occupancy codes would be strictly enforced. Though Koo’s was currently pursuing a conditional use permit that would have cleared up technical legal issues, Lluy decided to avoid potential conflict with the city and relocated (after an interim stint in Garden Grove) to downtown Long Beach. Tensions with neighbors there over amplified music heavily curtailed Koo’s booking, however, and although the space eventually found new life as an art gallery, Koo’s never recovered its reputation as an all-ages live venue.
The Yost, however, is ready to go with amplified music—in fact, it’s got potential to become a sort of an El Rey or Wiltern of Orange County with Lluy and his new Koo’s in control. Lluy also hopes abandoning Koo’s non-profit status will allow the traditionally struggling organization to find new healthy independence.
“We’re kind of done with the non-profit thing,” says Lluy. “I’m looking for a more empowering situation, where we’re not begging foundations or the city to give us money. We’d rather raise our own money so we can do our own programs. Koo’s as a non-profit art center is dissolving. I signed the lease for the Yost Theater, and Koo’s, Inc.—which is not a non-profit—is going to be raising money and advocating for youth programs.”
November’s SoundDowntown event will serve as a de facto soft opening. Bands including The (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Entrance Band, Free the Robots, Blank Blue and more will spread through ten Artists’ Village venues, including the Yost. For Lluy, it’s something of a welcome homecoming. He now lives within walking distance of his new venue. “I’ve always lived in Santa Ana,” he says. “It feels good to be fully invested in the community.”