Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Photo Essay: The Last Movie Theatre of Beverly Hills

After nearly six years, it's getting to the point where hardly anything seems impossible in LA.

As long as a building is still standing, I'll probably eventually get into it.

Case in point: the lovely little jewel box of a single-screen cinema, the Fine Arts Theatre.



With its stepped tower and neon-lit marquee, here's a moviegoing throwback that somehow managed to dodge the seemingly inevitable fate of getting split up into a multiplex.



Yet, for the first five years of my time living in Beverly Hills, it was closed to the public.



Before that, it was used only occasionally for private events.



Built in 1936 by famed theatre architect B. Marcus Priteca (of Warner Bros. Theatre and Warner Grand fame), the Fine Arts Theatre opened in 1937 as the Regina (also called the Wilshire Regina and the Regina Fine Arts Theatre).



Many of its original, historic elements still exist, like the reeded curved walls that serve as entrances into the voluminous auditorium (which was downsized from ~800 to ~400)...



...metal seats (now outfitted with cupholders)...



...plaster ornamentation...



...and quilted wall coverings.



The ceiling light fixtures, however, date back to a prior remodel, circa 1993 (when it was known as the "Cecchi Gori" Fine Arts Theatre, operated by AMC).



Last year, it was rebranded yet again. Now operated by the local, family-run Laemmle chain (in business since 1938, founded by cousins of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle), it's now known as the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre.



Laemmle actually already had history with the theater, having operated it from 1985 to 1993 as a foreign film arthouse cinema. (According to the 2014 Beverly Hills Cultural Commission Report, it was operated before that by Fox West Coast, National General, and Mann.)



The double-faced blade sign from 1948 that read "Fine Arts" in vertically-oriented neon letters is gone. The retail storefronts on either side of the entrance have been taken over by a theater-run concessions stand and an expanded ladies' room.

The window that looked into the auditorium from the "crying room" was boarded up in 1993.

But it's still mostly intact—the last neighborhood theater of its kind in the City of Beverly Hills.

The 1925 Beverly Theatre and the 1931 Warner Brothers Theatre (also by B. Marcus Priteca) went the way of the bulldozer.

The Laemmle-run Music Hall opened as a single-screen movie house in 1938 as The Elite Theatre, but it was triplexed in 1995.

The Saban Theatre (formerly the Fox Wilshire) was built in 1930, but it's really more of an Art Deco movie palace—like those in Downtown LA's Broadway Historic District—than a neighborhood cinema. And its programming now is primarily live concerts.

As the last one standing, the Fine Arts Theatre alone tells us what it was like for Beverly Hills moviegoers in the 1930s and '40s, when Art Deco ruled—and what it's like now for locals who've got no other options in the neighborhood.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Warner Grand, San Pedro, Open to the Public
Photo Essay: Warner Grand, San Pedro, Behind Closed Doors
Looking Up from the Streets of Downtown LA