Facing foreclosure and the potential closing this fall of Le Petit Trianon -- the jewel-box concert hall he owns in downtown San Jose -- businessman Keith Alan Watt filed this week for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
He expects the move to buy time for the busy hall, which has been home to dozens of South Bay arts groups for a quarter-century. Unable to meet payments on his $1.9 million mortgage, Watt had feared for its short-term survival. He now expects the court-supervised reorganization of his finances to last six to nine months or longer, freezing the foreclosure threat and assuring that all, or most, Trianon events will come off this season as planned.
"Essentially, it's a big roll of the dice," Watt said. "But barring something unusual, all these groups should have their seasons."
Susan B. Luce, his San Jose-based bankruptcy attorney, agreed. Luce, of the law offices of David A. Boone, said she expects to bring a reorganization plan to Watts' creditors for a vote in about a year. "I don't see the Trianon shutting down," she said, "not in the near future, anyway."
Meanwhile, the search for loans and investors -- and hopefully even an angel to take over the theater and its mortgage -- continues. San Jose businessman Dan Morgan, chairman of the annual Russian music piano festival, is leading efforts to find investors committed to the theater and has raised the possibility of holding a "Save the Trianon" concert in the fall.
Partly modeled after another Le Petit Trianon -- the miniature château at Versailles, outside Paris -- the French Greek Revival mansion on North Fifth Street is "the perfect size for chamber music, and the acoustics are fantastic," said William R. Meredith, professor at San Jose State University, where he directs the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. "It's the equal of many halls in Europe, and performers love it. I don't know anything else like it in Northern California."
The Trianon -- a 90-year-old converted church building, half a block from San Jose City Hall -- is one of 18 downtown properties owned by Watt, most of them rental properties. He said they are valued at about $16 million and that he carries about $8.5 million in mortgages. Valued at $4.2 million, the Trianon carries the heftiest mortgage of any of them.
Attorney Luce raised the possibility that Watt might sell several of the other properties to raise cash to pay down some of his debts, which had led to several recent foreclosure filings against him.
"There are lots of options," she said. "But Keith's estate has enough equity in it to keep the Trianon going. The Trianon is his star, his reason for being, and he's very dedicated to it. He will do everything in his power to keep that up and running as a theater."