Save the Fairfax Theater

posted by Ross Melnick on January 15, 2010 at 10:59 am

Thanks to Haeyong Moon for the video.

For more information about the future of the Fairfax Theater, check out this recent Los Angeles Times article.

Theaters in this post

Comments (16)

kencmcintyre on January 15, 2010 at 11:48 am

I’m not surprised to see the residential/retail complex proposed. The Fairfax area was predominantly seniors until the Grove opened. Now the retail on Fairfax has transitioned from kosher bakeries to skateboard shops and art galleries.

ChasSmith on January 15, 2010 at 12:12 pm

What horrible news. The last place I lived in L.A. in the late 1980s was a short trip away, and it was a wonderful neighborhood theater.

monika on January 15, 2010 at 1:51 pm

It’s always a shame to see any neighborhood theatre threatened, but one that is open and functioning? That takes things to a quite a different level.

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on January 15, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I would like to register my upset as well at the loss of the National in Westwood. Driving by that empty lot provides a nice kick to the stomach every time. What senseless destruction.

BradE41 on January 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I’m old enough to remember going to the Fairfax when it was a single screen theatre. When Cineplex Odeon remodeled it and turned it first run I went quite often. Many of my favorite theatres growing up are gone or near gone. The Picwood in West LA, The Plitt Century Plaza Twins, Mann National and Laemmle’s Monica theatres when they were twin theatres are distant memories now.

Pretty soon the ultimate heartbreak will be when the Village and Bruin close. It seems a waste seeing the empty lot where the National stood; we could have had over 2 more years of pleasure of that great theatre by now. This all could explain why I stay home and watch Blu ray’s more than going as much as I used to, it is too depressing.

JodarMovieFan on January 15, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Not to sound callous or mean, but the last statement explains exactly why many theaters are closing. People would rather stay at home and watch them at home. Instead of lamenting over past memories, why not make new ones by going to see current movies at these places while they are still there. If there are independents in my area are showing a movie I want to see, they usually get my patronage even if I have a Regal or AMC much closer to my home.

Raniamamun on January 16, 2010 at 12:31 am

mold damage portland

Just months after the 1,800-seat Hollywood movie house opened in 1930, a pair of armed robbers burst into its ornate Art Deco lobby, used adhesive tape to bind and gag employees and made a wild escape with $437 — a fortune in Depression-era receipts.
A half-dozen years later, burglars were so common that the

theater’s owners took to leaving a fake safe in their office to fool intruders. One angry thief who spent hours prying open the safe one night in 1937, only to find it empty, took revenge by looting a theater storeroom of 60 lightbulbs, cartons of cigarettes from the lobby snack bar and postage stamps from the office.

Then there was that police raid in 1969 that resulted in the arrest of actors performing a nude scene on the Fairfax stage and led to the shutdown of the Los Angeles debut of “Oh, Calcutta!”

But now the action at the venerable theater at Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue shapes up to be a fight over whether the Fairfax itself lives or dies.

The longtime owner of the building that houses the theater and nine neighboring shops wants to gut the structure and rebuild it as a combination retail and residential complex.

The exterior concrete Art Deco facade of the building would remain. But the theater would be removed, underground parking for 220 cars would be added and 71 high-end condominium units and a swimming pool would be built atop ground-floor retail space.

Even critics of the $30-million redevelopment proposal acknowledge that the planned residential addition, designed by Santa Monica architect Howard Laks, skillfully blends the old and the new.

They argue, however, that steps also need to be taken to preserve the interior theater space.

“It’s one of the last neighborhood theaters in L.A. It has a curtain tower, a full stage, dressing rooms. It’s got everything to become a legitimate live theater as well as a movie house,” said Gaetano Jones, a leader of a campaign to preserve the Fairfax.

Jones, an actor and singer-songwriter who lives nearby, said the Fairfax Theatre began as a single-auditorium venue for film screenings and live shows. Its current three-theater configuration would allow for operation of a movie house, a theatrical rehearsal stage and a full-production live theater stage, he said.

Jones has launched a friends-of-the-Fairfax group. Others groups supporting preservation include the Los Angeles Conservancy, Hollywood Heritage and several neighborhood organizations.

Hollywood Heritage, in fact, has prepared paperwork that would nominate the theater for designation for city cultural-historic landmark status. Brian Curran, director of preservation issues for the group, said it has agreed to delay filing the nomination papers until after a scheduled meeting with representatives of property owner Alex Gorby.

“The Fairfax Theatre is among the earliest Art Deco neighborhood theaters,” Curran said. “The theater’s cultural significance is wider in that it became a fixture that is very much attached to the postwar Jewish community, with use by synagogues and Holocaust films premiering there.”

Representatives of Gorby, a Santa Monica businessman who they say has owned the theater building and the attached shop spaces for four decades, counter that the era of the small neighborhood movie house is over.

In any event, they contend that the Fairfax has been so heavily remodeled and renovated that it no longer represents the original theater designed in 1929 by Vermont Avenue architect W.C. Pennell.

But a full environmental impact report is being prepared and it will detail any cultural and historic significance that is attached to the property, pledged Ira Handelman, a governmental relations consultant who is a spokesman for Gorby.

Because of a lack of parking space and competition from new movie houses, the Fairfax Theatre is no longer viable as a business, Handelman said.

The theater’s current operators and merchants who operate nine storefronts in the building anticipate they have several more years before any redevelopment begins, said Lana Sterina, who for 11 years has owned a pharmacy next to the theater.

Maurice Marzouk, who has operated a 10-foot-square key shop in the building for 15 years, predicted the theater will avoid demolition. “C'mon, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

But a stalemate will just prolong merchants' anxiety, said Mike Monsef, co-owner of a shoe shop that has been in the building for 62 years.

“We don’t want to leave,” Monsef said from his store, where shoes are stacked in boxes on ancient shelving.

“But nobody is going to spend any money to improve or change things as long as we’re here on a month-to-month basis.”

CSWalczak on January 16, 2010 at 2:26 am

There is a great deal of spam being posted as comments lately – note how the above “comment” begins. (In addition, the above is the full text of the article cited in the lead item which is not appropriate). There is another spam posting under the “Avatar”/“Jazz Singer” item and as Chris Utley noted in his comment on the Majestic Crest being for sale, it is little more than spam, and the poster’s profile certainly is. Moderators, please take note.

Ross Melnick
Ross Melnick on January 16, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Thank you — we have taken note.

We have already deleted user accounts of those who have posted similar spam links. Please be advised that those doing so in the future face account deletion. Period.

Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience. It’s a common site problem and it’s come to Cinema Treasures at long last.

Patsy on January 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm

I just watched the video and it would be a shame to see this unique art deco theatre come down to make way for a condo complex. And to think it is LA near the heart and soul of movieland, Hollywood.

LawMann on January 17, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I lived in Los Angeles all my life and I seen many neighborhood theatres close or turned into a church or something else and worse yet many have been demolished. Off hand the only neighborhood theatres I can think of that are still around and regularly showing movies in Los Angeles are the Los Feliz, Vista, Nuart and Highland. I’m sure there are more (there must be) but these are the ones I can think of.

Simon Overton
Simon Overton on January 18, 2010 at 2:22 am

This frightening situation of historic cinemas and theaters being destroyed for various reasons needs to be re-addressed by someone with one HELL OF A LOT OF CLOUT… read on…

What I am trying to say is MOVIE ACTORS & ACTRESSES as well as STUDIOS need to step in and make donations to save these glorious movie palaces.

And the time is “now”… during the LIVE OSCARS SHOW when the whole world is watching in the billions. Just think of it…

This is their trade that we movie-goers are supporting. So why can’t they support their own industry? It makes sense.

I wonder how many CT members personally know a local film star, big or little, who could put a word in their ear about this plight?
I did, about four years ago with BRENDON FRASER about REOPENING the old Fox in Santa Ana, Ca. I gave him “just the facts” in both print, plans and pictures… to no avail… but at least I tried!

DonSolosan on January 18, 2010 at 2:17 pm

“As someone pointed out, the best way to support this theater is to go see a movie at the Fairfax !”

While this helps the leaseholders, they have little say in their fate on this matter. If the owner decides not to renew, they’re out.

What people can do is keep an eye on the Fairfax’s page here, or join the Friends of the Fairfax Facebook page, for announcements when the public’s input is needed. Writing emails, or letters, or speaking out at a public hearing is very effective!

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on January 19, 2010 at 1:15 pm

I don’t get how anyone thinks it is a good idea to build condos at this point in time. Maybe the market is better in L.A. than it is here?

DennisPierce on January 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm

The market is better in Los Angeles. A new 54 story Ritz-Carlton hotel and condos is opening next month in the downtown financial district and as reported by the Los Angeles Downtown News the condos are 80 percent sold so there may be a need for more condos in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. Also reported by the LADN a new 35 story condo project on downtown’s West 9th Street recently auctioned off nearly all of it’s units.

DonSolosan on January 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm

There are a couple of new condo buildings around mid-Wilshire that have sat empty for months…

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment