Vista Theater – Los Angeles, CA

Vista Theater – Los Angeles, CA

The Vista Theater

Los Angeles, California

History

One of LA’s best moviegoing secrets is a hidden treasure in a well-kept but unassuming building.  Sitting on the former site of the huge Babylon set from D.W. Griffith’s 1916 epic INTOLERANCE, the Vista Theatre is a rare artefact of classic Hollywood: a thriving, single-screen neighborhood theatre, run with exceptional care, and held in exceptionally high regard by savvy and discerning patrons. It is known to be the longest-running freestanding theatre in Southern California.

The Vista Theater is one of the remaining historic structures from the 1920s, when Hollywood was first built up and began attracting residents to its new suburban homes from areas near downtown Los Angeles and East Los Angeles, at the time middle and wealthy class sections of Los Angeles. The theater is a local landmark. It has been renovated to play new release movies, and retains its historic architecture.

In a manner reminiscent of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the theater’s forecourt features cement handprints and footprints of notable film figures. However, the handprints and footprints at the Vista Theatre tend to include more icons of independent and cult films such as Spike Jonze, John C. Reilly and Martin Landau, among many others.

This theater may look familiar to you because of the theater’s proximity to Hollywood (It’s right next door). It has been used for years as a location in movies, TV, music videos and photo shoots. For example, it is used in the 3am portion of Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy” as part of the Despicable Me 2 soundtrack, and also appears on the album cover of 1990’s “Lights…Camera…Revolution!” by Suicidal Tendencies. The list goes on…

One contradiction here is the Spanish revival style exterior, contrasting the Egyptian theme within.  The Vista’s somewhat incongruous architecture is said to have been inspired by the opening of Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, and the discovery of King Tut’s tomb.  Both events took place in 1922 to 1923, while the Vista was being built.  It’s been said that the decision to go Egyptian was made after the theatre’s exterior was already finished. There was a definite trend of Egyptian inspired theatres during that era.  Several were built around Los Angeles, but few survive today.  Ironically, Grauman’s Egyptian now totally pales in comparison to the Vista.  In fact, this theatre has attributes not found in most other movie venues today.

Vista Theatre opened on October 16, 1923 to a packed house, as a single-screen theater. In addition to screening films, the theater also showed vaudeville acts on stage. Originally known as Lou Bard Playhouse on opening day in 1923, the cinema played the film Tips with Baby Peggy. The original seating capacity in the auditorium held space for 838 seats. In 1927, new owners dubbed it the Vista.

Low-budget sexploitation movies were the sort of thing the Vista was running regularly by the early 1970’s. The theater went to gay porn for a while later in the ‘70s. In 1980 it was acquired by Thomas Theatres out of San Francisco and underwent a refurbishment, becoming a revival house, Ownership then transferred to Landmark in 1982, which operated it more as a revival/art house combination. Landmark abandoned the revival format at the Vista in 1985, and the theater was sold to Vintage Cinemas and renamed The New Vista. They were back to first run films.

By the time Five Star acquired the property in 1993, The Vista was a dilapidated dive with a checkered past. Five Star was approached by designer Ronald Wright, who proposed a complete and very thorough renovation/restoration. The process started in 1997 and was completed in 2000, costing nearly a million dollars, Restoring the Vista was accomplished out of an enormous team effort, An entire floor-to-ceiling cosmetic renovation was done on the interior and exterior. The theatre’s seating capacity was reduced from 800 to 392. The largest expense was earthquake retrofitting, which affected the look of the interior.  Huge metal braces have been cloaked and are now a part of the decor.  The Egyptian heads inside were meticulously restored, one color at a time, and took almost a year to finish. Had Five Star not acquired the Vista, this Hollywood landmark would probably not be standing today.

Vintage photos of the Vista reveal not a hint of Egyptian decor outside, and there was no real boxoffice when Five Star took over, so designer Ronald Wright designed a striking new one, based on the themed elements inside.  The new boxoffice, along with some other enhancements, now introduces the Egyptian theme right out front.  The etched glass in the theatre’s entrance doors is just another example of money spent for quality. The Vista building includes upstairs office space (once used by famous B-movie schlockmeister Ed Wood) and two storefronts.

In 2010, Five Star changed their name to Vintage Cinemas, inc, perhaps in homage to the original. The projector was converted to digital in 2012, keeping the 35mm projector for special events and screenings.

Video

Location

The Vista Theater

809 State Street Erie, PA 16501
(814) 453-7117
Website: http://eriewarnertheatre.com/

 

Intolerance movie set, 1916

1916 Intolerance set

Opening night at the Lou Bard Playhouse, 1923

Opening night at the Lou Bard Playhouse, 1923

Village Theatre – Coronado, CA

Village Theatre – Coronado, CA

The Village Theater

Coronado, California

History

The Village is a small community theater on Coronado Island, near San Diego. It sits on the main thoroughfare in town, in the shadow of the famous red-roofed Coronado Hotel. It opened to much fanfare in the small town on March 18, 1947. People lined up for blocks to see Irish Eyes Are Smiling in Technicolor.

The 9,000-square-foot Village Theatre was the unofficial gathering place for the community. It became a big part of life in the small town for decades.

The one-screen theater with its Art Deco interior was a roaring success from the very first night, despite the builder’s concerns that there were too few materials available because of the war.

By the year 2000, the theater had fallen into great disrepair with disinterested owners and the doors were suddenly shut. The owners simply walked away. Slowly, the yellow and blue paint faded out entirely. The once magnificent sidewalk terrazzo became cracked and faded. The Village Theatre became a blighted building on Coronado’s main street.

After years of abandonment, Vintage Cinemas (out of Los Angeles) worked out a deal between the theater owners and Coronado City Council, who funded the $2.7 million restoration with the stipulation that the 1947 façade would be renovated. The interior was so bad they had to start from scratch.

The theater retained its old-time feel thanks to notable theater designer Joseph Musil, best known for restoring the 1926 El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. However, Musil died, leaving the designs for the Village Theatre’s interior almost complete. Designers Brian White and Ronald Wright followed through on his vision. The results are stunning!

On June 25, 2011, ten years and $3 million later, The Village theater reopened.

The terrazzo, which was once endangered but through community outcry was saved, has been repaired and restored. The one room theater is now a three screen. Two smaller rooms named the Balboa Room and the Exposition Room each seat 38. On the walls are hand-painted murals by Disney muralist Bill Anderson. They depict the stunning architecture of both the Exposition of 1915 and of Balboa Park today.

The main screening room once sat 600. Today there are 215 comfortable reclining chairs. The walls boast two enormous murals depicting the skyline of Coronado, the Bridge, Hotel del Coronado, and the Boathouse on one side, the other shows the San Diego skyline with the Ferry Landing, ferryboat, and cityscape; overhead is a smattering of twinkling stars. The curtains part and drop elegantly before and after each film harkening to the glory days of the great movie houses.

Location

The Village Theater

820 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA 92118
(619) 437-6161
Website: http://www.vintagecinemas.com/village/

 

Opening night at the Lou Bard Playhouse, 1923

Opening night at The Village Theatre, March 18th, 1947

United Artists – Los Angeles, CA

United Artists – Los Angeles, CA

United Artists Theater/The Theatre at ACE Hotel

Los Angeles, CA

United Artists Theater


The United Artists Theater was designed by the architect C. Howard Crane for the United Artists film studio formed by D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The theater, a classic movie palace, was one of many constructed by United Artists and served as a major premier house. The theater occupies three floors of the 13-story building and has a 1,600-seat auditorium. Like many movie theaters, the seat rows sink in toward the front of the orchestra section, so ticket holders there must look up at the stage.

Los Angeles University Cathedral period

The building was first leased by Gene Scott in 1989, to be used as the location from which to broadcast the live Sunday services of his ministry. Scott held his first Sunday service there in 1990 and continued to hold Sunday services there until his death in 2005. A designated historic monument in itself, the building was for many years topped by the historic “Jesus Saves” neon signs (originally from the Church of the Open Door). They were located in the rear lower roof, one facing the west and one north, until September 10, 2011, when one sign was removed by crane. The building was claimed to house the largest collection of Bibles in private hands. After leasing for thirteen years, Gene Scott purchased the building in 2002. Following Scott’s death, services continued to be held at the Los Angeles University Cathedral by Melissa Scott, the widow of Gene Scott, with services broadcast over TV, shortwave radio, and the Internet.

Ace Hotel conversion

The building has been completely restored and renovated to serve as a luxury boutique hotel called Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles. It features 182 rooms, a pool, a restaurant and three bars, as well as the restored United Artists Theater. It opened in January 2014. In December 2014, Greenfield Partners put the building up for sale, seeking about $100 million as the sale price. In May 2015, Chesapeake Lodging Trust bought the building for $103 million.

The theater was restored as well and re-opened with concerts by the British rock band Spiritualized. L.A. Dance Project, a dance company founded by choreographer Benjamin Millepied, will also take residence in the Theatre at Ace Hotel. Red Hot Chili Peppers performed a fundraiser at the Ace Hotel on February 5, 2016 in support of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Broadway Theater Historic District

The building is a historic district contributing property in the Broadway Theater District on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

(Wikipedia entry)

United Artists Theatre/ACE Hotel

929 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015, USA
213.623.3233
Website: https://www.acehotel.com/losangeles/theatre

 

Union Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

Union Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

The Union Theater

Los Angeles, California

History

The beautiful Union Theatre has had many incarnations over the years; in addition to being a movie and playhouse, it has hosted church meetings as well as serving, appropriately enough, as a meeting hall for the Tile Layers Union Local #18.

The theatre was purpose-built as a motion picture hall in 1910. Using building and remodel records in addition to city directories, we have been able to piece together a timeline of the Union’s history, and are on a continuing mission to uncover images and stories of this great neighborhood theatre. The theatre has had many different proprietors and names during the years it served as an entertainment venue, including being a part of the Fairyland chain of Southern California film theatres from 1915-1926.

In 1935, former screen vamp Louise Glaum opened an acting school and playhouse here, calling it Louise Glaum’s Little Theater at Union Square. Then in 1939, it was reconfigured back into a film venue, the Union, and operated under that name until it closed in 1953.

For a time in the 1970s, while serving as the headquarters for the Tile Layers, a student from nearby USC operated an after-hours weekly film series, showing cult and underground films and Saturday cartoon matinees for the neighborhood children. This K-Bel Theatre Film Society operated until 1975.

The Velaslavasay Panorama and Gardens hopes to preserve and prolong the magic of this historic place, and provide the public with quality entertainment while continuing to refurbish and improve our grand home.

Location

The Union Theater

 

  • Opened: 1910
  • Architect: Frank L. Stiff
  • Location: 1122 West 24th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
  • Phone: (213) 746-2166
  • Website: http://www.panoramaonview.org

Spreckels Theatre – San Diego, CA

Spreckels Theatre – San Diego, CA

The Spreckels Theatre

San Diego, California

History

The Spreckels Theater Building was built in San Diego, California, in 1912. It was touted as “the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi”. It was designed for philanthropist John D. Spreckels and was meant to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. It was originally created to host live theater performances but was converted to allow motion pictures in 1931. It has been in continuous operation since its opening, with a few brief intervals for refurbishing.

Architect Harrison Albright designed the Spreckels Theater for the city’s premier philanthropist, sugar heir John D. Spreckels. The building, which opened on August 23, 1912, was constructed to commemorate the opening of the Panama Canal. As with many west coast buildings from this era, it is constructed of reinforced concrete and concrete panels with architectural terra cotta manufactured by Gladding, McBean. The six-story building has a marquee over the main entrance. The Theater is a 1,915-seat auditorium with an ornate Baroque interior. The auditorium is open with no pillars or columns to obstruct sightlines. The number of seats was chosen to correspond with the Panama-California Exposition year (1915). The stage is 82 feet x 58 feet and was one of the largest stages ever constructed. Even by today’s standards, the theater meets most criteria to be considered state-of-the-art.

The theater originally presented live theatrical productions. Notable performers at the Spreckels included Enrico Caruso, John Barrymore, Al Jolson, Will Rogers, and Abbott and Costello. In 1931, it was converted into a first-run motion picture house by its then-owner Louis B. Metzger. In 1976, owner/operator Jacquelyn Littlefield (Metzger’s daughter) returned it to a live theater format, bringing touring Broadway shows to San Diego in cooperation with the Nederlander Organization. When fire destroyed San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre in 1978, the Spreckels hosted the Globe’s 1978-79 season. In July 2015, Conan O’Brien hosted his Conan show from the theater to correspond with that year’s ComicCon.

San Diego’s Spreckels Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It continues to operate as a theater.

Wikipedia

Location

The Spreckels Theatre

 

Intolerance movie set, 1916

Spreckels exterior

Opening night at the Lou Bard Playhouse, 1923

Original outdoor lobby doors and glass work

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