More than seven decades have passed since Carmel’s Sunset School celebrated the opening of its new auditorium. In 1931, its graceful arches and high-peaked roof gave it the distinctive look of Gothic-inspired architecture. It was the finest assembly hall of any school in the area with seating for over 700. The auditorium soon became a performing arts venue for all of Monterey Bay — and the cultural heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea.
As the twenty-first century dawned, an innovative design for renovating — rather than rebuilding — the Sunset Theater was approved. The construction project began in earnest in September 2001. In July 2003 — less than two years after the start of this ambitious project and with the renovation and restoration complete — the Sunset Theater reopened to the fanfares of the Carmel Bach Festival, a long-standing annual music event in Carmel. After leading the first orchestra rehearsal in the new theater, Bruno Weil, music director of the Carmel Bach Festival, declared, “It’s a miracle, the acoustics are unbelievable.”
The distinctive, Gothic-inspired arches of the auditorium ceiling, previously an acoustical nightmare, had been transformed into graceful, acoustically transparent, perforated-metal ribs, while the enlarged stage area and proscenium arch could now accommodate a full orchestra and chorus for Beethoven’s remarkable Ninth Symphony. The one-time school auditorium could once again serve as a cherished live-performance venue worthy to be called a regional performing arts center.
Since reopening, Sunset Center continues to host more than 50 classical music performances each year, and has welcomed artists as varied as Wynton Marsalis and his jazz ensemble, Lyle Lovett and the Capitol Steps musical comedy troupe to its stage. In addition, enthusiastic audiences resoundingly applauded the return of José Carreras, who made his North American recital debut at the Sunset Theater in 1975, and the Vienna Choir Boys, who performed originally at the opening of the Sunset Theater in 1932.
Each year, Sunset Center brings the best in music, dance, theater, and live entertainment from around the world to the people of the Monterey Bay Area, and beyond. Today, Sunset Center has confirmed its place as the cultural heart of Carmel-by-the-Sea.