A historic Santa Barbara landmark is on its way to restoration.

The Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts (SBCPA), a nonprofit organization, hosted a wall-breaking ceremony Tuesday morning in front of the Granada Theater at 1216 State St. The ceremony officially began the demolition of temporary walls that were erected in 1981 to divide the balcony portion of the theater into two mini-theaters. Once the walls are removed, the balcony will once again be used for seating, bringing the capacity of the Granada to 1,600 patrons.

Peter Frisch of SBCPA said the walls are being demolished because the balcony mini-theaters have not been used for quite some time.

“The balcony was divided into two theaters in 1981, but people kept complaining about the height and claustrophobia because the theaters are so small,” Frisch said. “They’ve sat empty for 10 to 15 years now.”

Construction at the theater will continue for the next week from midnight to 10 a.m., so as not to interfere with the current schedule of movie screenings. Metropolitan Theaters will continue to own and operate the Granada until the end of February. SBCPA will officially acquire the theater March 1 and begin live, Broadway-style performances in October 2005.

Donning a hard hat and sledgehammer at the ceremony was former mayor and SBCPA board president Harriet Miller.

“We feel very fortunate that so many members of the community share the dream of a first-rate performing arts facility for our region,” Miller said. “This wonderful facility will not only provide a center for quality arts programming, but also preserve an irreplaceable, historic theater and increase the economic viability of State Street.”

Once the walls are removed, McKay Conant Brook, Inc. will begin acoustical testing on the newly restored balcony. This process will continue well beyond reopening of the theater.

In order to completely renovate the theater, SBCPA will need $20.5 million. A $1 million donation from Leni FeBland of Montecito has raised current funds to nearly $11 million. The Andrew H. Burnett Foundation has contributed $500,000, of which $25,000 was donated specifically to cover the cost of the balcony wall demolition.

The balcony was originally divided to put the Granada on a competitive basis with other theaters in the area that had multiple screening rooms and surrounding shops.

“A lot of people in town were unhappy with the division of the theater; it’s basically a shopping mall,” Frisch said. “There will be vast relief once the walls come down and the theater is restored to its original condition.”