Santa Rosa’s The Lost Church debuts, again
You might’ve missed it — the tucked-away garage space on the ground floor of The Press Democrat building, on Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. But gradually and somewhat subtly, a new music, performance and magic — yes, magic — venue has materialized there.
The Lost Church isn’t strictly new. It had the disadvantage of opening just before the pandemic upended local entertainment. But now, finally, it’s getting a full lineup underway.
On a weeknight last week, Santa Rosa magician Brad Barton asked members of the small audience to each pluck a card from the deck he held. All the cards were returned to the deck, and Barton addressed one man in the audience:
“Could it be the king of hearts?” Barton said with a chuckle, pulling the man’s card from the deck.
Laughter and gasps permeated the red, vaudeville-style 75-seat theater. “How did he do that?” one attendee said.
Another was brought to tears during the show, when Barton guessed the attendee’s life dream on the spot, without any hints.
Barton’s magic show was the kind of intimate experience you won’t get at a large stadium or while lost in a massive crowd, which felt like magic itself.
The Lost Church, an arts nonprofit with a mission to “create, sustain and defend places for live performances,” opened in January 2020 in Santa Rosa. Two months later, they shut down.
Finally, with the help of grants, community donations and an understanding landlord, they officially reopened in September and now have events scheduled for November and December.
“This place is about intimacy, safety and magic,” said Josh Windmiller, development director for The Lost Church. “Magic is created every single night here. And I think people feel that.”
It’s not simply a venue, but a performing arts space meant for all art forms — where comedians, musicians, poets, magicians and actors take center stage, Windmiller said. And a wide range of artists are set to perform in the next few weeks.
Take a seat inside on Saturday, Oct. 30, for an acoustic performance by local rock ‘n’ roll singer John Courage and his band. On Nov. 5, you can hear the synthesizers and electronic textures of Mediterranean indie artist Josep Siam and heavy-hearted songwriter Seth Lael. And Barton willl return with his magic show on Nov. 18. Find the full lineup at thelostchurch.org/santa-rosa.
“Humans are eclectic,” Windmiller said. “We as a community are suffering from a loss of places to perform for one another, a place to share stories and songs. There’s something for everyone here.”
Inside The Lost Church, ivy hangs from candle-style chandeliers and red velvet curtains edged in gold drape against the small stage. Maroon walls are covered in framed vintage photos of acrobats, actors and musicians.
It’s an old-timey vaudeville parlor-cozy living room smashup. And like a living room, the venue attracts locals who long for the togetherness this small space fosters.
One Santa Rosa native who moved to New York City at 17 said the venue reminded her of the artsy culture she found in that big city.
“Art is life. We need weirdness. Places like this keep people alive and going. It keeps things interesting,” said Crystal Glover, now 51, of Santa Rosa. “Being here transports me — makes me feel like I’m in the city again.”
Other attendees at Barton’s magic show were longing for connection after a year and a half of isolation.
“It’s a dark and hard time for people; something like this brings some form of relief,” said Hannah Cullen, 34, of Sebastopol. “I’m glad there’s a theater like this. The nostalgia of this place is something people crave, too, I think. It reminds people of a time when people weren’t so wrapped up in their phones.”
Living room to theater
Before The Lost Church landed in Santa Rosa, it began in a living room, albeit a massive one. Founders and longtime musicians Brett and Elizabeth Cline started the enterprise in a giant vacant space in their funky house in San Francisco’s Mission District.
At the time, Brett Cline was writing theater musicals and performing them for friends in the living room.
Over time, musicians began reaching out to the couple for a space to perform. It was then the Clines decided to turn their space into a venue — the first Lost Church.
Elizabeth Cline, a seamstress, sewed vibrant red drapes. A friend rigged up a row of footlights from vanity lights he bought at Home Depot.
Their living room, brimming with zany art and enough folding chairs to seat 49 people, officially opened in 2011.
But the Clines’ vision was larger than their very-large living room. They want every small town in California to have a performing arts space.