Less than a year after owner Rebecca Buckley announced a new, expanded schedule of entertainment at the Pewter Plough Playhouse, financial issues have led her to put the historic Cambria theater up for sale. Asking price: $1.3 million.
Buckley, 77, said she signed a listing with Newmark Grubb Pearson Commercial on Aug. 1.
“Several friends felt the asking price should be higher, but I just want to get out from under all the financial stress and pressure it takes to run a business like this,” Buckley said. “And I’d like a quick sale.”
The past couple of years have already seen plenty of change at the playhouse, which was founded by Jim Buckley in 1976 at 824 Main St. in Cambria’s West Village.
Buckley died in September 2015 at the age of 102, less than two years after his son James — who had handled publicity and filled several other roles at the theater — died of a heart attack.
Rebecca Buckley took over the theater after her husband’s death and embarked on a series of changes that began when Buckley parted ways with the nonprofit Pewter Plough Players and revamped the theater’s schedule at the end of 2016.
Meanwhile, Buckley assembled an ambitious schedule that included stage plays, musical performances, poetry readings and movie nights at the theater.
Last month, however, Buckley announced the theater would be cutting back its musical schedule for financial reasons. The performances weren’t attracting large audiences, and the theater wasn’t recouping the cost of paying the musicians to appear.
“After having to discontinue the music gigs, which were closest to my heart, and lack of community interest in what we do here, I felt discouraged and decided to put the property on the market,” she said.
Buckley had already invested heavily in refurbishing the theater, she said, adding that she “ran out of money.”
Among the improvements she cited were upgrades to the restrooms; new water heaters; improvements to the amplifiers, stairs and decks; audio-visual equipment for the movies; a stage curtain; and a new roof over the café and kitchen. She placed the cost of the upgrades before and after her husband’s death at $70,000 — “all the cash reserves” — adding that Jim Buckley had taken out a loan against the building.
“Producing stage plays was always Jim’s passion,” Buckley said of her late husband. “He always had the money to dip into his own pockets, never adhered to a budget, was only involved in the creative part, never the business.
“Although I have tried to carry it on, and I have truly enjoyed the challenge of designing and constructing the sets with Kelly East, which is a carry-over from my interior design days, I just don’t have it in me anymore to run a business.
“Of late I’ve been dipping into my own pockets, and that scares me. My energy and health have declined, and I feel the need to sell so I can spend the rest of my days with my writing passion, at peace with my wonderful feline beauty, Baby Boo Boo.”
Once the property is sold, Buckley said she plans to return to her hometown of Oxnard, where some of her relatives still live. She said she plans to take a day trip to the Channel Islands and Oxnard Harbor to check out apartment rentals and mobile home sales.
An author, she called it the “perfect place to stroll and sit while thinking of characters and plots for my novels.”
As to the Plough property, Buckley said she doesn’t know of any offers just yet. The property, she said, consists of three merged Main Street frontage lots, a strip of property in the back, running the length of an alley. Buildings on the property are a two-story storage barn along with the theater itself, which Buckley said include an apartment-office-kitchenette upstairs.
Giovanni Grillenzoni leases the restaurant space for his Harmony Café; that lease runs through year-end, Buckley said.
“My primary hope is that someone who loves theatre will come along and take it to newer heights,” she said. “My hope is whoever buys will continue to lease to Chef Giovanni of the Harmony Café; he’s worked so hard to make a success of his café. Maybe a group of artisans, food-lovers and theatre-goers will form a co-op and buy it.”
Buckley’s decision to sell follows close on the heels of the services district’s vote to purchase another West Village landmark, the old Cambria Library, just down the street.
“Unfortunately,” she said, “I’ve given all I can to the PPP, and now, for my own sake, I must leave Jim’s dream and follow my own.”
Plays at the Plough
Buckley said three plays remain on this year’s schedule, which “will carry on through to the end” Dec. 31. Scheduled performances are:
“The Golden Age,” opening Aug. 25.
“The Last Flapper,” opening Oct. 13.
“A Period of Adjustment,” opening Nov. 24.