8556 Wilshire Blvd. | map |
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
The news: Laemmle Theatres is managing the Fine Arts again after a September 18, 2015 re-opening. Their blog post about the company's return to the venue noted the new name, the Ahrya Fine Arts. The name is that of the eldest son of the building's new owner, Shawn Far. Mr. Far is in the clothing business downtown (Vertigo USA) and lives in Beverly Hills.
Original opening: April 21, 1937 as the Wilshire Regina Theatre. On the screen was "That Girl From Paris" and
"Black Legion" plus a March of Time newsreel and a cartoon.
The construction cost was $75,000.
The building once sported a nice vertical sign at the center of the
facade. According to TJ Edwards on
Cinema Tour the opening day advertising mentioned a "Magic Fountain for
and Old" and a "Theaterette in Ladies Lounge."
Seating: 430 currently, 700 after the 1948 remodel, allegedly 800 at the opening.
Architect: Seattle-based B. Marcus Priteca, who was primarily known for his earlier work in many cities for the Pantages circuit. In the L.A. area, he also did three houses for Warner Brothers in San Pedro (still going strong), Beverly Hills (demolished) and Huntington Park (a retail conversion).
Priteca is credited in an October 2013 City of Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission report that started the landmarking process for the theatre. The Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres in Los Angeles" has a photo of the Fine Arts on page 84 and their copy says the building was designed by B. Marcus Priteca and S.E. Sonnichen, the latter probably being the local "associate architect."
Status: Alive and well again under Laemmle management. It's still a single screen house.
History: The name was changed to the Fine Arts Theatre in December, 1948 after a renovation by Fox West Coast Theatres. The opening attraction on December 28 was "The Red Shoes" with lots of stars attending.
The Fine Arts continued to be operated by Fox West Coast (then National General and
finally Mann Theatres) until December 1985, then by Laemmle Theatres.
Laemmle had purchased the building in 1984 after Mann declined. The theatre
was operated by Laemmle until 1993.
In 1993 Italian Film distributor Cecci Gori purchased the building from Laemmle.
After Laemmle's exit, Landmark Theatres was then the operator for a while.
Joseph Musil, who also designed the renovations of the El Capitan and Crest, supervised a 1994 renovation for Cecci Gori. after the renovation the theatre was known as the Cecci Gori Fine Arts.
The lobby was pushed into the auditorium a bit and larger screen (14' x 33') installed in front of the proscenium. The concession area was expanded and restrooms enlarged using what had been adjacent retail space.
It closed in
2004 and was then leased to Screening Services Group / Classic Movie
Theatres in 2005. This operation ran a few films commercially but then
the theatre just became a venue open for screenings and special events and got equipped for 2K digital. In 2009 it again became the Cecci Gori Fine Arts Cinema and for a while was undergoing renovation work.
In 2010 the building was sold to Singaporean conglomerate Spice Global for $4 million. They had
intended to triplex the venue and run Bollywood films. In 2012, those
plans were abandoned and the theatre was put up for sale again. Curbed LA posted the story at the time, which they picked up from the Daniel Miller story in Hollywood Reporter.
The theatre was purchased in March, 2014 by philanthropist Paula Kent Meehan with the intention of preserving it as a community resource. But Ms. Meehan died at age 82 in June, 2014. The L.A. Times ran an obituary. The listing on Loopnet had reported an asking price of $4 million for the 7,767 s.f. building on the 9,281 s.f. lot. Another report had listed the building size as 6,862 s.f. The 2014 sale price was not disclosed but was for less than the asking price.
Martha Groves discussed the sale and outlined the history of the theatre in a March 25 L.A. Times
story. She reported at the time that the new owner planned to reopen
the theatre and "let it evolve." Sadly, she didn't get the chance. With
her death, it went back on the market.
Meehan, who made her fortune with the Redken hair products line, had
been in the news earlier for buying the local Beverly Hills Courier,
covered in an April 2014 story in the L.A. Times.
Her philanthropic endeavors had included substantial donations for
restoration of the Beverly Hills Post Office and toward construction of
the adjacent Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. See the Wikipedia article on Ms. Meehan for more career details.
Major Films: Due to the convenient Wilshire Blvd. location, the house was a favorite for premieres. The Fine Arts premiered George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" in 1951. "Room at the Top" ran 6 months in 1959.
In the 60s and 70s, the Fine Arts was one of the major Los Angeles Art houses. "David and Lisa," "Never on Sunday," "That Man From Rio," "Belle de Jour," "Zorba the Greek," "Persona," and "Last Tango in Paris" all had their initial engagements here.
In 1974 "The Exorcist" had lines around the block for months, to the ire of local residents. The Fine Arts had 70mm capability with two Norelco DP70s that had come out of the National Theatre in Westwood.
More Information: Take a look at Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret photo essay "The Last Movie Theatre of Beverly Hills," by which she means the one remaining single-screen neighborhood style house. Sandi has some nice marquee views and shots of interior details to share.
See the Cinema Treasures page on the Fine Arts for many interesting submissions. Of special interest are the posts by Vokoban from the L.A. Times and other sources. See the story about Peter Lorre posted in February 2006.
We're indebted to a detailed history of the theatre by TJ Edwards on Cinema Tour (also showing up on Cinema Treasures). The Cinema Tour page also has some nice photos, including interior views.
K Blood on Flickr
www.flickr.com/photos/lipsticktracesA 2005 view when the Fine Artswas a rental venue. full size view
Early Beverly Hills
A 1938 view of the Fine Arts, then known as the Regina Theatre, from the Marc Wanamaker
collection. It's featured in his Arcadia Press book
"Early Beverly Hills" (2005) on page 112.
Google doesn't want to show it to us anymore
so go look at the version Kimberly Vinokur Reiss
posted on the LAHTF Facebook page.
In 70mm www.70mm.com
A photo of the Fine Arts booth on Thomas Hauerslev's
DP70s in California page. Theatre operator Michael Hall
is seen with two Norelco DP70 35/70mm machines he bought
when the National in Westwood closed. When his lease
was up, he left them in the booth.
Los Angeles Times www.latimes.com
The photo reappeared in a March 2014 story about
theatres trying out discounted admissions one day a week.
Of course, there was no chance at the time of buying a
ticket at any price to the Fine Arts as it was closed.
Also discovered by Ken:
1950 ad - "Cyrano"