June 01, 2014

Photo Essay: The Art Deco Theater Inside Academy Cathedral, Inglewood

Most people only know Inglewood now as the (surviving) LAX-adjacent town that houses Ray's Donuts, the Forum and, formerly, Hollywood Race Track.

It was once a thriving upper middle class suburb for whites only, so much so that when the film exhibitors needed to expand the premieres of their first-run movies beyond Downtown and Hollywood, they went to Inglewood (and Glendale).

Inglewood used to be full of single screen movie houses. Some didn't survive fires or earthquakes, and others were merely phased out as multiplexes took over.

The Academy Theater opened in 1939, and remained a first-run cinema until it closed and nearly immediately reopened as a church in 1976.

It probably survived so well because it was never reinvented as a Spanish-language or grindhouse cinema or kung fu house.

Designed by famed theater architect S. Charles Lee (also of the Tower Theatre) in the streamline moderne style of Art Deco, the Academy is all circles and curves...

...and glass bricks and etched glass and aluminum and mirrors, typical of the style and era.

Now that it's been converted into a "cathedral," you can witness the addition of crosses and soundproofing, as well as purple seats and carpeting and curtains.

The undulating walls remain, as well as other original features of the Academy, like an ornate HVAC grille... etched glass mural by Millard Sheets (usually covered by purple draperies)...

...and even a fire door upstairs by the projection booth (preserved in pristine condition from its major wood-paneled makeover in the 1970s).

You can still find the red and blue marquee letters, stored alongside some holy robes...

...which are brought out now to spell messages like "WORSHIP WITH US" instead of "NOW SHOWING" or "COMING SOON."

The neon tower is undergoing a paint job and restoration as we speak, still serving as a beacon to the community, for a slightly different purpose.

Inglewood has changed a lot since becoming incorporated in the 1970s, now with a much more diverse population and much fewer theaters, but they've still got the cool ocean breezes that initially attracted their residents. And it's a city that forces you to look up – not only at the glowing neon tower of the Academy, but also at the planes flying over, to and from LAX.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Vision Theatre Rising
Photo Essay: Last Chance Look at the Tower Theatre (Lobby, House & Balcony)

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