Top 20 Movie Theatres in LA!

Rohit Khare (
Sun, 16 Jun 96 23:06:12 -0400

Sigh.... I remind you all that there are only FOUR THX screens in the ENTIRE
BOSTON METRO AREA! To leave this all behind...

PS. This is from LA Times's Hunter. Highly recommended -- million mile UA
sweepstakes, too.


Kings of the Big Screen

) ) Come on, couch potatoes--you're in the center of the movie universe, home
to the finest single-screen palaces ever built. Before time and multiplexes
take their toll, check out these 20 gems.

By Chris Willman

New York is a theater town--no argument there. But it's sure as hell no
movie theater town. With the exception of Radio City Music Hall, which no
longer exhibits films, the city's great picture palaces are long demolished,
memorialized only by cheesy plaques inside Sony's shiny new Lincoln Square
Los Angeles, though . . . now that's a city to see a movie in.
Preservationally lax as we've been, L.A. remains the last city in the country
where the finicky cineaste can still venture out to see almost any major new
release on a big--and, yes, single--screen, the way God and Louis B. Mayer
With its wealth of 60-foot screens scattered across just a few square
blocks, Westwood remains the mecca for true enthusiasts who haven't gotten
lost like lemmings in the great Santa Monica/Century City multiplex migration.
Better (if scarier to yuppies) yet, downtown's venerable Broadway district
sports the greatest concentration of remaining pre-World War II palaces
anywhere in the world. And, on the more eclectic tip, no other metropolis we
know of can lay claim to theaters as wonderful and weird as the Silent Movie
or the Old Town Music Hall.

With that thanksgiving in mind, and the cusp of a hot summer at sweaty
hand, we bring you this highly subjective list of the 20 Coolest Movie
Theaters in Los Angeles. Size does count, but assuredly not for everything;
personality, just like your older sister always told you, is key, be it in
programming, architecture or both.
Time may be of the essence, though. While tourist traps like the
Chinese and the Dome will be around for our grandkids' kids to enjoy, any of
the historic downtown houses could go out of business at a moment's notice.
(The theater we'd almost certainly pick as the coolest if only it were still
open, downtown's Los Angeles, shut down two years ago.) So, by all means, do
stop and smell the stylized plaster floral panels.
6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Still the all-time champ, hands down. (Pun intended.) Built in 1927,
Sid Grauman's legacy is as enduring a star as any of the celebs who've trod
its red carpet. The days when the industry favored the Chinese as Premiere
Central seem to have passed, though--all the better to allow rank-and-file
Angelenos full-time access to its red carpet (and red neon dragons, and big
red pagoda, and . . . ). Really, as we knock aside hordes of
nose-to-the-concrete tourists in our last-second rush to get to the box
office, which native Hollywoodians among us don't secretly indulge the
occasional "Day of the Locust" fantasy?
842 S. Broadway, downtown
Most of outlying L.A. sent its collective regards to Broadway--as in
our Broadway--some decades back, never to return to the city's historic core.
But the recently renovated, 2,200-seat Orpheum is worth venturing back out of
the 'burbs for. The French Renaissance stylings--a marble lobby, gold- and
copper-leaf flourishes, twin chandeliers, tiered seats on either side of the
proscenium--are still as wow-worthy now as in '26. Come here for an action
double-bill on an average sparsely populated weekday and you'll feel like the
place is your own private Versailles. (The L.A. Conservancy screens the silent
"Black Pirate" with orchestral accompaniment here Wednesday; further down the
road, a horror series is set for October.)
6838 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Rumors that cosmonauts have spotted El Capitan's deliriously gaudy
exterior from space may be unfounded, but those of us on the ground can still
marvel over one place in L.A. that isn't afraid to just let go with a serious
case of Strip envy. The blinding Vegas-ness of the facade is matched by the
unabashedly color-crazy interior design that Disney and Pacific Theatres
unveiled in 1991. El Cap remains one of local preservationists' greatest
success stories; they persuaded Disney not to gut and slice up the rather
bland theater that had been known as the Paramount since 1941, but return it
to the glory of its 1926 legit-house roots, along with some added, ah,
flourishes--call it a heightened restoration. Now the Mouse Co. does sellout
business with each new animated engagement, throwing in a stage show that has
all your favorite toons flying and flopping through a pre-picture revue. Bring
on the hoofer hunchbacks.
611 N. Fairfax Ave., Hollywood
You say your list of reasons never to move away from L.A. is shrinking
by the second? Here's one to mark down in indelible ink: the world's--that's
right, the world's--only regularly operating silent movie house. Portraits of
Pickford, Keaton, Lloyd, etc. beckon from the modest exterior; once inside,
sipping on Diet Coke right from the can, you'll swoon to some of the great
classics of the cinematic century with live organ accompaniment. And even when
the feature attractions are just negligible anachro-fun, you can usually
count on a Fritz the Cat cartoon for a surrealist fix.
6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
In a way, the Dome is an extraordinarily successful testament to
failure, constructed to showcase a gimmick--three-projector Cinerama--that was
effectively dead by the time it opened. No matter. When you're sitting in the
middle of this 700-ton structure, the world's only concrete geodesic dome,
and feeling a little earthquake-jittery, try not to think about how a mere 17
weeks elapsed between the actual start of construction and the Nov. 7, 1963,
grand opening of "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." At the time, its
86-foot-wide, 32-foot-tall screen was the largest in the known mad world; it's
still as big as you're gonna get this side of an IMAX-cedrin headache. The
Dome remains the only global point of convergence where youcan watch, say,
"Mrs. Winterbourne" and still sorta kinda almost feel like you're seeing
"Lawrence of Arabia."
961 Broxton Ave., Westwood
It's been quite a few years since there was such a thing as a Fox
chain, but the men and women of Mann haven't messed with the landmark
neon-trimmed tower that tells all of Westwood this is the Fox Village. Built
in 1931 by P.O. Lewis in a mixture of Spanish colonial and moderne flourishes,
the Village is slightly less remarkable inside than out, but--with its
70-foot-wide screen and ace sound--remains the premium place to catch a
picture for lots of locals. On those crowded opening weekends when the manager
deigns to remove the velvet ropes from the balcony steps, that's when we
really feel we're in the Village of the blessed.
140 Richmond St., El Segundo
Never heard of it? You and 9 million others. El Segundo itself is one
of L.A.'s better-kept secrets, and this tiny, delightful revival house on one
of its quiet downtown streets all the more so. Well, we're letting it out:
There's no better time to be had at a movie theater anywhere. The
weekends-only booking policy brings in family-friendly Hollywood classics from
the '20s through the '50s, including, happily, the occasional silent. Even if
you're catching a sound-era Bette Davis feature, though, rest assured that
you will be treated to an overture on the little theater's big pipe organ
(transplanted from the long-demolished Long Beach Fox); that's followed by--we
kid you not--an old-time sing-along. And when you're done crooning "My Wild
Irish Rose" and the curtains part in order to show off that organ's valves and
percussion, painted fluorescent colors and illuminated by black lights like
something out of a hallucinogenically enhanced "Willy Wonka" remake, you'll be
deliriously muttering, "Dorothy, I don't think we're in Universal City
4473 Sunset Drive, Hollywood
If the sphinxes looking out over the audiences at the intersection of
Hollywood and Sunset could talk, they'd say, "Pass the bonbons." Or maybe
"Paint me," since this funky old neighborhood house could use a restoration.
Still, there's more than enough Egypt-meets-east-Hollywood charm to make this
one of the most atmospheric joints in town. Happily, management recently relit
the long-dark neon sign atop the building in beckoning green; the latest
renovation was the removal of every other row of seats, ensuring the most leg
room anywhere in L.A. The booking policy ranges from second-run
French-language double-features to digital-sound premieres of the latest
Spielbergs. That the Vista was constructed in the 1920s on the site of Charlie
Chaplin's very first studio adds to the good vibes.
1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica
Montana Avenue lost most of its ma-and-pa storefronts to a nouveau
ritzier trade some years ago, and most of its charm, too, as a result. But the
Aero still feels as welcoming as an old shoe. Even the lamest second-run
double-bill goes down better at the very un-Montanian discount prices. And the
purple clock thoughtfully provided by management up alongside the big screen
is a big help when you're counting the minutes till "The Scarlet Letter" ends.
630 S. Broadway, downtown
Built as a vaudeville venue in 1911, this swanky 800-seater is the
oldest operating theater in L.A., as well as the smallest house left open on
Broadway--its "intimacy" nicely reminiscent of some of the older legit houses
on that other Broadway. The lovely stage-side tapestries provide amusing
pastoral contrast to the modern action flicks usually up on the screen.
(Historical side note: Wondering why there's a long-unused second balcony up
there at nosebleed level, mysteriously accessible only via a blocked-off
outdoor stairway? Yep--it's the vestige of a vintage "Negroes-only" balcony.)
1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood
Before Disney Imagineering outdid itself with the El Capitan, the
Mouseketeers took this modest 1940 neighborhood house and redid it in 1988 as
a lavish tribute to old L.A. The flashy marquee promises untold excitement,
and the interior hardly disappoints, with hand-painted walls re-creating the
neon-lit landscape of the 1930s, when Ciro's ruled the Strip and there was
still such a theater as the Carthay Circle. Black lighting illuminates both
these mosaics and the star field ceiling, which--if you pay attention as the
lights dim--lets a shooting star loose to signal the beginning of the feature.
703 S. Broadway, downtown
Less ornate than some of its surviving downtown neighbors, the 1921
Spanish Renaissance-style Loew's State is still a relatively spectacular
2,200-seater, conveniently located at what was then the busiest intersection
in the city, 7th and Broadway, where for many years it premiered all the old
MGM pictures. Judy Garland sang there as a member of the Gumm Sisters--in the
days when feature films and live entertainment were twin-billed--under the
very same Buddha that watches over the smattering of downtown filmgoers today.
(The Conservancy screens "Singin' in the Rain" here June 26.)
8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills
Beverly Hills theaters haven't fared terribly well over the years,
which is why it was such a surprise recently when a new owner, Cecchi Gori,
not only took over operation of this humble old house but gave it a garish
glory it hadn't known even in its heyday. It rivals the job Disney did on its
two theaters for sheer ostentatiousness: a fancy marquee in red, yellow and
blue solids, a shimmering curtain of silver shards not unlike the El
Capitan's, and everywhere you look, deco, deco, deco. We like this restoration
job so much, we happily snored through "Jane Eyre" there.
10925 Lindbrook Drive, Westwood
The last large single-screen movie house to be built in L.A., the
National went up in 1970 . . . and looks and feels like it, which is why we
dig it, man. The pleasantly dated mixture of orange, brown and shiny gold
begins in the living room-like lower lobby, continues in the more expansive
upper lobby--which, all chandeliers and candy counter, screams Concessions Are
King--and extends into the auditorium, which seems to stretch an infinity or
so toward that Cinemascope-ready screen.
11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles
For more than 20 years, the L.A. art house. Enough said?
1023 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena
You probably know this Pasadena outpost as the suburban palace behind
which Vincent Onofrio got offed by Tim Robbins in "The Player." Which lends it
lore enough for our tastes. But there's more to the Rialto's slightly fading
charm; inevitably, we cozy up to the balcony, which still has its creaky old
wood floor.
7165 Beverly Blvd., Hollywood
Architecturally, this venerable dive has all the charm of one of your
lesser Pussycat houses. But you don't really suppose the last surviving
revival house in Southern California is going to miss the cool cut? Viva
614 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood
Cineplex Odeon resisted the urge to multiplex the former Gordon when it
did an overhaul in the '80s, leaving this its lone L.A. single-screen.
There's woodsiness, in the painted fauna on the walls, and Woody-ness, seeing
how every single Woody Allen picture opens here. With Pink's a mere block
away, the hot dog/Woodman combo is a midtown tradition.
675 E. Foothill Blvd., Azusa
Admittedly, our usual choice for open-top fare is the three-screen Van
Nuys or the soon-to-close six-screen Winnetka. For vintage atmosphere, though,
you can't beat the Azusa Drive-In, the last remaining single-screen drive-in
in L.A. or Orange counties. What a beautifully lonely monument to a bygone era
it is, with most of the speaker boxes long ripped out in realization that
there'll never be a "lot full" sign up around these parts again. Most nights,
the vast concrete is fairly unpopulated (weekend swap meets pay the bills),
allowing indulgence of your most nostalgic makeout fantasies in relative
privacy. And, it's located well off the freeway and into the boonies on a
gently winding corner of that paragon of car culture, the actual Route 66.
What greater poetry are you waiting for?
5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
Here we break slightly with form and nominate a film forum that's never
once had its walls sullied by the smell of canola oil and doesn't have so
much as a marquee, neon or otherwise, to recommend it. What you do get at the
L.A. County Museum of Art's movie haven--besides swell curating, of course--is
program notes on the house, and a 99.9998% guarantee that you will be seeing
the classic of your choosing in the correct aspect ratio. Bing-o.
What about cool former movie theaters that are still standing and worth
a drive-by? L.A.'s got those by the dozen, too.
The incomparable Los Angeles downtown is now used mostly for location
shooting and private parties; don't miss a chance to see a rare screening
there. The beautifully restored Alex in Glendale is now a performing arts
center, but a film society programs vintage pictures there on a quarterly
basis (next up: "Some Like It Hot," with guest Billy Wilder, July 13).
The preservationists have promised us two more reopenings. San Pedro's
Warner Grand has been purchased and will reopen Friday as a civic center (with
a screening of "42nd Street"). Most promising of all, the American
Cinematheque will restore the long-suffering Hollywood Egyptian.
The Pantages, Wiltern, Wilshire and Leimert have given up pictures
altogether to host strictly live events, while the Mayan and the El Rey are
now nightclubs.
If you want to get some religion besides the cinematic kind, the United
Artists and Million Dollar downtown and the Academy in Inglewood now operate
as churches. For an equally offbeat field trip, check out the old Warner
downtown at the corner of 7th and Spring; it's now a jewelry mart, but the
ceiling art and, weirdly, all the seating in the (inaccessible) balcony are
still intact.
Meanwhile, let's shed a tear for those lost forever, including
downtown's demolished Paramount and California; Broadway swap meet conversions
the Roxy, Cameo and Arcade; the Bay, the Fox Venice, Oriental, Vagabond,
Westlake, Beverly . . . and the one that brings a tear to any old-timer, the
legendary Carthay Circle.

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