May 05, 2021

Photo Essay: Hollywood's Newest Historic Movie Theatre, at the American Legion (Updated)

[Last updated 6/12/21 9:40 PM PT—projection booth photos added at bottom]

The American Legion Hollywood Post 43 has been nicknamed the "Post of the Stars." 

That's not just because of its current Tinseltown location—but also because it was originally chartered in 1919 by Hollywood luminaries who'd returned from World War I. 

Past post members have included stars like Clark GableGene Autry, Mickey Rooney, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, and more.

The current Egyptian Revival-style, temple-like clubhouse on Highland Avenue, just south of the Hollywood Bowl, was completed in 1929—the work of architectural team (and brothers) Joseph and Eugene Weston, Jr.
The three-story building itself stands as a memorial to the Great War—and has been recognized as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.  

With the 2018 renovation of its circa 1929 assembly hall—now the Hollywood Legion Theatre—the Post attracts the stars of the Silver Screen on an actual projection screen (even in 70mm!).  

I was supposed to go check it out in March 2020. That screening got canceled right at the beginning of the pandemic. 

I'd been to the Post back in 2014, when I'd gotten an impromptu and informal tour of it and its theatre space by a member—a young Navy vet who'd fought in Afghanistan named Fernando Rivero. 

He'd shown me the then-bare auditorium and talked of the big plans surrounding its upcoming makeover—and it turns out that creating the Hollywood Legion Theatre would become his pet project during his time as Post commander.

At the time, the two-story outer lobby and the auditorium itself felt more like a Masonic hall than a movie theatre.

The recently-reopened theatre is just one of the ways that the non-profit American Legion is supporting the Hollywood community of vets—not only by providing programming, but also by inviting civilians to ticketed events to raise funds to support veteran causes.  

And it's the only Hollywood theatre entirely owned and operated by vets. 

The theatre operators hope to provide public access to the "Art Deco bar"—a downstairs "speakeasy" that's otherwise open just to Post members—during screenings, pending local COVID-19 restrictions. 

I got a kick out of attending a showing of Hitchcock's North by Northwest this past weekend with just regular movie concessions in tow. 

With the new curved seating—arranged in "continental" style—the sightlines are great pretty much wherever you go. And some of those seats can be removed to create a dancefloor for non-cinema events in the auditorium. 

With the new red acoustic panels on the side walls and the newly-exposed board form concrete, the sound was great, too.

This was only the third time I'd sat in a movie theatre since the pandemic first began—so, I'd chosen a film I'd seen multiple times already, in case I got anxious and needed to bolt. Fortunately, that didn't happen. 

But I'll be sure to return for another event—to support not only an historic LA theatre, but the vets, too. 

Update 6/12/21 9:40 PM PT—As a member of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, I had the opportunity to access the Hollywood Legion Theatre's projection booth. Here are my photos...
...from the staircase going up from the mezzanine level... the outside access door near the roof...

...and the equipment inside.

The booth has been outfitted for 35mm, 70mm, and digital projection. 

They were preparing for an evening screening of Rebel Without a Cause that night...

...and a matinee showing of Casablanca the next afternoon. 

Interestingly, there are some films that aren't even available on DCP for public screenings (The Sixth Sense, Twister), so I look forward to checking out future repertory screenings there. 

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