Leimert / Vision Theatre


3341 W. 43rd Pl.    | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90008 

(323) 291-7321

Website: See visiontheatre.org for a nice history of the building and a photo gallery. The site has a nice array of other information about long term goals for the project. At the moment the theatre is closed.


Opened: April 21, 1932 as the Leimert Theatre

The surrounding neighborhood was designed to resemble a European village. The design was partially by the Olmsted Brothers, a landscape architecture firm run by step-brothers John Charles Olmsted and Fredrick Law Olmsted, Jr.  Their father, Fredrick Law Olmstead Sr., was the creator of New York's Central Park.

See the Leimert Co.'s website (pronounced "luh-MERT") for some historical information about the company. The development was a "whites-only" enclave until restrictive deed covenants were outlawed by the courts in 1948.

The theatre was supposed to be operated by the Howard Hughes' venture called the Hughes-Franklin circuit. That circuit had been formed only at the tail end of 1930. But by mid 1931 it became apparent that the movie business was terrible and getting seriously worse. Hughes and his partner, former Fox West Coast head Harold B. Franklin, started liquidating their holdings. 

The Leimert opened as part of the neighborhood chain Westland Theatres. Theatre historian Ed Kelsey found a Sunday, April 17 L.A. Times article (in  section 5, page 3) announcing the opening for the following Thursday:

THEATER TO OPEN NEXT THURSDAY
------
Celebration Will Mark Fifth Year of District's Development

Marking the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Leimert park District, formal opening of the new Leimert Theater one block east of the intersection of Vernon avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard, will be held Thursday evening, according to announcement yesterday by Lawrence Block, vice-president of the Walter H. Leimert Company.

Five years ago the district was a barren field, occupying the northeastern section of the vast Baldwin estate. Today, Leimert Park has more than 400 buildings, representing an aggregate investment of more than $5,500,000, and the community is considered one of the most attractive sections of Southwest Los Angeles, according to Block.

The theater building was designed by Architects Morgan, Walls & Clements, and was erected by Contractors Lindgren & Swinerton, Inc. It is of reinforced concrete construction, and is topped with a 115-foot ornamental tower, equivalent in height to a nine-story building. The auditorium is oval-shaped, and has 1400 seats, a feature of the architectural arrangement being provision of more space between rows than in any other theater, so far as is known, it was stated.

Westland Theatres, Inc., operators of a chain of Southland showhouses, has leased the new Leimert Theater for a long term. and is in charge of the formal opening Thursday night, which isexpected to attract hundreds of visitors from all sections of Southwest Los Angeles.

Thanks, Ed!

Seating: It was announced in the Times article as 1,400 seats. One estimate puts it at 1,155 originally (later down to 1,050). Cinema Treasures lists it as 1,123. There is no balcony -- it's all on one level.

Architect: Stiles O. Clements of Morgan, Walls & Clements designed the building. The foundation was built to support a later 13 story addition, which never materialized. The auditorium, as can be seen even from the exterior, is a huge oval rotunda.

There's no stagehouse -- but the plan is to add one. For a film-only house, there's a surprising depth behind the proscenium -- about 18'.  The stage was extended forward as a thrust in the years the theatre was in use for a variety of performances as the Vision. There is no basement. The only dressing room space was a small alcove downstage right and up adjacent to the projection booth, once used for offices and staff changing areas.

The ceiling murals by Anthony Heinsbergen were lit by cove lighting in concentric rings. Perhaps the most famous feature was an electric eye drinking fountain that came on automatically as you leaned over to take a drink.

Status:  It has been owned by the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs since 1999. The lobby has seen use as an art gallery and the auditorium gets an occasional theatrical booking or meeting.  The full renovation project has been stretched out over a number of years as sufficient funds weren't available. New rooms upstairs are available for small events and classes.

History: The Leimert was eventually operated by Fox West Coast. The last film to run in the theatre was "Bonnie and Clyde" in 1968.

In 1977 the theatre became a Jehovah’s Witness chapel and was known as the Watchtower. The Witnesses, in their renovation fever, destroyed many of the art deco decorative elements of the building. But we can also perhaps credit them for saving the building.

Actress Marla Gibbs bought the theatre in 1990 and renamed it the Vision Theatre, intending to make it a venue for African-American movies, live theater and dance productions. The 1992 LA riots and economic recession following the riots hit the area hard and the property was in foreclosure in 1997. 

The City purchased the building in 1999. There has been only occasional use of the theatre as a live performance venue since that time. Performances take place on an added thrust stage as the venue was not constructed with a stagehouse.

In 2007 the Vision received a $2.7 million grant from the California Cultural Historical Endowment for renovation work.

In 2007 the City of Los Angeles also pledged $10 million for a renovation of the building. Curbed LA had the story:"Another Theatre Renovation Planned....."  The $10 million evidently never arrived and little got done. The program was to turn the building into a 750 seat performing arts center with a full stagehouse and state-of-the-art equipment.

The theatre is still looking for additional funding to complete the building program. L.A. Sentinel had a March 2013 story about the work completed to date including restroom renovations, an elevator, a new second floor space, a refurbished marquee, exterior work and a lobby rehab. The next phase will be an auditorium renovation followed by the addition of a stagehouse and backstage support facilities.

More Information: Don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's superb 2013 photo essay "Vision Theatre Rising." Adrian Glick Kudler wrote a 2013 Curbed L.A. piece on the theatre accompanied by a set of fine photos by Elizabeth Daniels.

Check out Don Solosan's "Insider's peek #11", a LAHTF video tour featuring Hillsman Wright. See the Cinema Treasures page on the Vision Theatre for lots of historical data and links to many vintage photos.

The Cinema Tour page on the Leimert has some nice exterior shots by Ken Roe.  American Classic Images has a 1983 view of the building when it was a church.

See the LAist story: "Neighborhood Project: Leimert Park" for lots of history of the neighborhood and many photos. At the bottom of the article are many links for further information about the neighborhood -- both current activities as well as the history.

Hillsman Wright of the LAHTF also suggests the Yelp Leimert Park, Discover Los Angeles and Leimert Park Festival sites as additional resources.

For more neighborhood history also see a pdf: Leimert Park History.

The site Absolute Astronomy has a nice article on the history of Leimert Park. The USC Archives has a neat August 1929 Dick Whittington Studio photo of a Zeppelin over Leimert Park. If you're interested in that sort of thing.



A 50s look toward the Leimert Theatre:
 "Any Seat 50 cents."

photo: Sean Ault Archives by Osiris press



A detail from Sean's photo.

Thanks, Sean!  Sean Ault is a noted historian of transit
 in the Los Angeles area. You can see many more items
from his Osiris Press transit archive on YouTube.



https://sites.google.com/site/historylosangeles/pix/Leimert-1312.JPG

New neon work on the marquee.


photo: Bill Counter - 2013


https://sites.google.com/site/historylosangeles/pix/Leimert-1310.JPG

The view in toward the ticket lobby.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013



The entrance to the theatre after restoration work.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013

The occasion was the September 2013
LAHTF "all about" tour of the building.



  The ceiling of the entrance area.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2013


[ click on any of these to enlarge ]



From the outer lobby looking toward the inner lobby.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013



Another view from the outer lobby looking in toward
the inner lobby and the auditorium entrance doors.


photo: Bill Counter - 2013



The outer lobby before restoration work.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The view toward the stage.

photo: Stephen Russo - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013


The auditorium ceiling.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009




The amazing ceiling mural by Anthony Heinsbergen.

photo: Stephen Russo - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013



A closer view of the center of the ceiling.

photo: Stephen Russo - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013

Restoration work on the ceiling is part of a future phase of the
rebuilding program.The center chandelier is missing. The white
dots are recessed cans that have been cut into the ceiling. The
original lighting (not operational as of 2013) was concealed
neon cove lights in rings at the ceiling steps.




The view offstage right.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013


The theatre wasn't built with a stagehouse but somehow
ended up with more depth than one would expect behind the
proscenium for a film-only house.

The white wall is a recent installation and provides a crossover.
There is no basement. The only dressing room space is a little
 nook offstage right. Areas up near the booth were being
used for dressing tooms for a time.




The booth -- now turned into a meeting room.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009


https://sites.google.com/site/historylosangeles/pix/Leimert-1316.JPG

Looking south toward the rear of the theatre.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013



    B'hend and Kaufmann Collection    

A 1950s snackbar shot in the Tom B'hend and Preston
Kaufmann Collection, part of the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection.
Also in the collection:
tower view - c.1932  |  marquee view - 1933 "Gallant Lady"  |



    Curbed LA    

www.la.curbed.com

Marissa Gluck wrote in the 2007 article
 Another Theatre Renovation Planned...:"Seriously, Leimert
Park is hot. A buzzing neighborhood, a thriving arts scene,
and the attendant fears about gentrification. You haven't really
made it until local residents and merchants battle developers."

This view of the tower of the Vision Theatre
by Googiesque accompanied the article. 
full size view



    Cezar Del Valle - Theatre Talks    

www.flickr.com/photos/theatretalks



A 2002 look at the tower of the Leimert by
Betty Sword. It's in the Cezar Del Valle
Theatre Talks collection. 
full size view

Cezar is a Brooklyn-based theatre historian with a
serious interest in Los Angeles Theatres. For more
interesting material, check out his Theatre Talks blog
and Theatre Posts collection on Flickr.



    Leimert Park Beat    

www.leimertparkbeat.com



This site is a good source for news about the
 Leimert Park Community. This photo of the tower
of the Vision Theatre was added to the site's
 photo gallery by Elise in 2008.  full size view



    L.A. Public Library Collection    

www.lapl.org



The marquee in 1933. 
full size view




A view of the lobby c.1932. 
full size view

Other early views - several of which
 are also in the State Library collection:
 | auditorium sidewall  |  inner lobby promenade  |
 |  lobby mural  |  mural detail  |




A 1968 view of the Leimert Theatre
 after closing.  full size view



A 1968 view of the building from the west.
 full size view

Other 1968 exterior views:
 | closer view from the west corner cleaners  |
 | from the east  |  marquee -  from in front  |
marquee - wider view  |  tower - from the west  |
another tower view  |  "leimert" - lettering on marquee  |
| end of marquee  |  corner of marquee  |  base of tower  |
 |  lower tower detail  |  upper tower  |  upper tower - from front  |

1937 Herman Schultheis photos:

| across the park  |  closer view of the tower  |
another tower view  |


    Ken McIntyre on Photobucket    




A great 2008 shot by Cinema Treasures
researcher Ken McIntyre showing the deco detailing on
the corner retail space of the Leimert Theatre building.
full size view

More from Ken:
  |  tower | marqueeterrazzo  | 1933 marquee  |



    Photos of Los Angeles    



A look at the marquee in 1933 added by Ken McIntyre
to his Photos of Los Angeles page on Facebook. 
full size view  |  on FB/LAtheatres

The photo above also appears in the
Tom B'hend - Preston Kaufmann Collection.



    Vision Theatre   

visiontheatre.org



A view of the auditorium from the booth
 on the Vision Theatre's website.




A look at the rear of the theatre
 with the 1931 seating layout.




A view of the design for the revised seating

 area of the renovated Vision Theatre.

See the site's Photo Gallery for larger views.







The Leimert Theatre, now known as the Vision,
with its restored signage and tower
.

photo: Wendell Benedetti - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013


The photo originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.
Also see his panoramic views of the rear of the auditorium
and looking toward the stage.

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation is actively involved in the
study and preservation of the vintage theatres in the Los Angeles area.
The group frequently supports events and offers tours of the buildings.

www.lahtf.org | LAHTF on Facebook

See Don Solosan's "Insider's peek #11", a
LAHTF video tour featuring Hillsman Wright.




Looking skyward at the restored
marquee lettering and the tower.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2013

This photo is one of many appearing on Sandi's superb photo essay
"Vision Theatre Rising" about her explorations during the September
2013 Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation's "all-about" tour of the
theatre.  Also check out Sandi's Avoiding Regret Facebook page.

https://sites.google.com/site/historylosangeles/pix/Leimert-1315.JPG

A detail of the new signage atop the tower.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013



A view of the Vision Theatre before
 exterior restoration work.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

[ click on any of these to enlarge ]

Gazing up the tower.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A detail of the tower.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010


https://sites.google.com/site/historylosangeles/pix/Leimert-1311.JPG

Looking east at the entrance.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013



An exterior terrazzo detail.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The entrance terrazzo from the east.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013




An outer lobby ceiling detail.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2013



An outer lobby detail -- after restoration work.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2013




The inner lobby after restoration work.

photo: Bill Counter - 2013


The inner lobby.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009

More views of the theatre in Michelle's
Theatres - California set on Flickr
:
| tower and building south | tower view | base of the tower |
| top of the tower | end marquee detail | lobby from entrance |
 | stairs to booth | lobby terrazzo | coat check window |
| ladies lounge mirrors | deco door handles | proscenium detail |
| sidewall at stage - another view | fire hose cabinet |

The rear of the house.

photo: Stephen Russo - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013



A look at the house left wall.

photo: Stephen Russo - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013

Stephen's photos originally appeared
on the LAHTF Facebook page:
| toward the stage | rear auditorium |
 | side wall | ceiling | ceiling detail |



Another ceiling detail.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009


Plasterwork near the proscenium.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009


The re-purposed booth area. Note
the old ports on the left wall.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2013

The event is the 2013 LAHTF "all-about" tour. Theatre historian
Ed Kelsey is giving a presentation about the building.



An area near the booth once used as a dressing room.

photo: Michelle Gerdes - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation - 2009



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    California State Library    

www.library.ca.gov


The California State Library has 11 views from

 the Mott-Merge collection taken soon after the
theatre's opening.  Here we're in the park across
the street looking at the tower.

On the marquee is
Clark Gable and Joan
 Crawford in "Dance Fools Dance" and "Palmy Days"
with Charlotte Greenwood,
both from 1931.
full size view





A view of the lobby.
full size view



Inner lobby promenade.
 full size view 
 

[ The California State Library has it upside
down -
right side up at LAPL  ]




The auditorium from the rear.
full size view




A view from the front.
full size view





A nice look at the sidewall and

 ceiling details.  The ceiling mural
is by Anthony Heinsbergen.
  full size view

Also in the collection:

 | another tower view | ticket lobby |
| lobby mural -
Samson and Delilah - Andre Duremceau |
 | another sidewall view |
sidewall - at proscenium |




   More From the LAHTF...  



A 2009 view of the Leimert Theatre
 tower by
Don Solosan on the
LAHTF Facebook
page.
full size view



A 2013 post on the Facebook page by Hillsman
Wright shows the newly restored marquee.
full size view



A lovely 2013 night view of the theatre added
by Hillsman Wright to the LAHTF Facebook
 page. The occasion is a September 21
 "all-about tour" of the building.
  full size view




A closer look at the restored marquee from
 the LAHTF website's page about the tour.



The inner lobby promenade. It's
 a 2009 Don Solosan photo.

  full size view



A view looking toward the screen. The event
was
a 2009 LAHTF "all about" theatre tour.
 Photo by Don Solosan.

 full size view



A 2009 view by Don Solosan looking
 toward the rear
of the auditorium. 
full size view



A panoramic look at the rear of the auditorium
in 2013 by Wendell Benedetti.
 full size view




The vista toward the stage. It's a 2013
photo by Wendell Benedetti. 
full size view

Also on the LAHTF Facebook page:
 | lobby view- Don Solosan - 2009 |

See the LAHTF Facebook photo album for many
 more photos of other Los Angeles movie palaces.