Monday, August 18, 2014

Photo Essay: The Wiltern Theatre, Public Areas

If the case of the Wiltern Theatre teaches us anything, it's that something that's very very far gone can still be saved.



I mean, this place had an approved demolition permit.



The demolition crews had arrived.



And, like a scene out of a Hollywood movie, preservationists threw their bodies in front of them in order to save this beloved Art Deco building.



The furniture (including the built-in theater seats) had been sold off.



There was a giant hole in the ceiling...



...and two feet of water covering the floor.



Somehow, this bygone movie palace (originally opened in 1931 as the Warner Western) was able to bounce back...



...and operate successfully over 80 years later as a popular concert and event venue...



...with many of its original details and ornamentation preserved...



...or, at least, reproduced.



From the moment you enter from under the glittering marquee soffit and those two gorgeous blade signs...



...you are struck by wall and ceiling murals...



...lighting fixtures illuminating gold leaf...



...with the beginning hints of streamline moderne.



The centerpiece of the lobby is the rotunda...



...now outfitted with LED lighting...



...and first restored in 1984 during the multi-million dollar effort to reopen the theater as a performance venue...



...once it had been saved from demolition in 1979.



Although many features have been repainted to their exact original specifications...



...the general color scheme of the vestibule, lobby areas, and auditorium are much more muted now...



...than the days when bright oranges and reds were used to counterbalance the black and white pallor of the silent film era.



Art Deco details abound in the public areas...



...including the walls of the ladies' lounge...



...and of the inner lobby...



...and balcony levels.



Even the plaster walls feature some raised details for added texture...



...even where color may be lacking.



Inside the auditorium...



...you get a view of the grilles that once housed a 4/37 Kimball pipe organ...



...long since dismantled, its parts sold off and given new life as pieces of other organs around the country.



The auditorium ceiling once featured nine skyscrapers, reflecting the growth of Wilshire Boulevard as the "new downtown" and an exciting new center of business...



...but unfortunately in the 1980s restoration, the design was simplified, and the number of skyscrapers reduced to seven.

I've actually been to the Wiltern twice for concerts and didn't notice a lot of these details, with the theater packed to the gills, and most of my attention directed at the performance on the stage. It never even occurred to me that it was appropriately named after the intersection it calls home, the Wil(shire)-(Wes)tern.

And it's such a staple in LA today, I had no idea the obstacles it had to overcome to survive the way that it has. It's inspiring to think it's never too late – that nothing is too far gone to be saved.

Maybe that means there's hope for some of the rest of us.

Stay tuned for photos from the off-limits areas of the Wiltern, including the projection booth, mechanical room, dressing rooms, and backstage.

Related Post:
Photo Essay: Open House at the Restored Alex Theatre, Magic Hour