Phone: 323-660-6639 Website: www.vintagecinemas.com/vista
This drawing from the architect appeared in a newspaper announcement as construction began. Thanks to Scott Collette for locating this for his Forgotten Los Angeles Facebook post about the theatre.
Seating: 838 originally. The capacity was reduced to around 400 in the 1990s when the floor was re-terraced. The official capacity on the 2022 plans is 344.
After a long slide down from classy neighborhood house, the Vista hit bottom as a porno venue in the mid-1960s. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting this 1965 L.A. Times ad on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
A 1966 L.A. Times ad for the theatre's clientele of "Rugged Adults." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The Vista's last day as a porno house was July 27, 1980 when the lease expired.
Mike Thomas takes over: In 1980 it was rescued by Thomas Theatres and reopened as a revival house. The theatre was scheduled for demolition with a deal in the works with owner Shan Sayles planning to sell it for use as a parking lot for Children's Hospital. Before that deal was consummated, Mike located a rich guy to buy the building from Shan and give him a lease.
"The Vista's financial troubles are symptomatic of the entire revival film-house industry, which has seen its staples of classics and cult films played repeatedly on cable television and put on videotapes. Since 1982, the number of area revival-repertory houses that print calendars has dropped from 13 to, as of tonight, four, Gilula said. The 700-seat Vista has been attracting audiences averaging about 150, half the break-even figure, said Mark Weber, Vista manager since Landmark acquired it in 1982. 'We used to do well with "Harold and Maude," "King of Hearts," "Road Warrior" and "Gone With the Wind," but they’re all now on videocassette or cable,' he said.
"Even changes in programming, such as Los Angeles premieres for some foreign films and highlighting gay-oriented non-pornographic films aimed at the large gay population in Silver Lake, have failed to boost the box office significantly, Weber said. For example, the Academy Award-winning documentary, 'The Life and Times of Harvey Milk,' about the assassinated San Francisco politician and gay activist, had its local premiere at the Vista but 'died here,' Weber said. In addition, the ‘60s counterculture that helped create cult films has died out. Said Gilula: 'Some of our biggest successes were films of the ‘60s and ‘70s that related to that generation. The kids today don’t relate in that way to movies like "Performance" or "King of Hearts," and they don’t have the same interest in foreign films.'
"Gilula said the Vista’s closing and imminent sale are not directly related to the current three-week-old strike by projectionists against Landmark theaters in Los Angeles over a dispute about planned automation of projection booths, which would cut jobs. But he said that overall labor costs did contribute to the closing. The Vista’s location, at 4473 Sunset Drive at the confusing intersection of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards and Hillhurst Avenue, may have made matters worse, employees said. It can be difficult to park nearby, plus the immediate neighborhood has a somewhat unsavory reputation because of a pornographic bookstore across the street.
"The Vista itself was a porno house for about 20 of its 62 years, moving from soft-core to hard-core and finally gay porn until it was refurbished for revivals in 1980 by the San Francisco-based Thomas Theaters chain, which subsequently sold it to Landmark. Built on the site of the enormous Babylon set for D. W. Griffith’s film 'Intolerance,' the theater opened in 1923 as Bard’s East Hollywood Theater with a two-reeler starring child actress Baby Peggy. In 1927, new owners dubbed it the Vista. Its exterior is in Spanish Mission style, but its glory is its interior Egyptian motif, complete with Sphinx heads and pharaonic masks lining the auditorium’s walls. 'It was always really nice for me to stand in the doorway and see the expression of people seeing the place for the first time,' said Weber, 23, who has worked for Landmark theaters since he was 17 and will continue as manager of the Rialto.
"Employees and customers say they fear that a second-run chain may let the architectural details decay and that a second-run house will not have the Vista’s cozily avant-garde atmosphere of toleration for eccentricities in movies, moviegoers and employees. The Vista’s last calendar featured opera movies on Sundays, Pasolini on Mondays, Tennessee Williams on Tuesdays, Australian films on Wednesdays, Japanese films on Thursdays, heroic actors on Fridays and women stars like Greta Garbo on Saturdays On tonight’s bill are 'Polyester' and 'Desperate Living,' underground classics of comedic bad taste directed by John Waters and starring the plump transvestite Divine. After the last curtain, there will be a party. 'I think a lot of people will miss it,' Weber said. 'People took it for granted that it would always be here, and it won’t. But I guess they’ll find alternatives.'"
Until the March 2020 Covid shutdown it was open and doing well with first runs, moveovers and occasional revivals. The theatre had a Sony 4K digital projector but retained 35mm capability for special showings. Vintage Cinemas also operates the nearby Los Feliz, a triplex.
The house left side of the lobby. Thanks to Mike Hume for his 2017 photo. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for hundreds of great photos of the theatres he's explored. And, of course, he has a page on the Vista Theatre.
A peek into the auditorium. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A wall detail. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A view across the shallow stage from house right. In the silent days he screen would have been on the back wall, allowing room for vaudeville acts in front. The current screen installation is out in front of the proscenium columns. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A closer look at one of the proscenium columns. Note the recess for a strip light down low on the column. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A peek into the auditorium from the house right organ chamber. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A look across the front part of the attic from above the house left organ chamber. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018
The stairs to the booth back in the house right corner of the auditorium. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018. This set of stairs was removed during the 2022 renovations.
Outside the booth, a motor-generator set remaining from the carbon arc era. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
A pre-digital booth photo from the Steven Rood collection. It's a Simplex XL machine with an LP Associates xenon lamphouse. The photo is on the Cinema Tour page about the Vista where there are 51 photos to browse, including many more booth views from 2005.
A view between the Simplex XL and the Sony 4K digital unit. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017
More exterior views:
A neighborhood note on "Birth of a Nation"- When Griffith was working on the film, he screened it nearby in one of the area's first soundstages. The location, 4212 Sunset Blvd., was constructed c.1910. The Los Angeles Public Library has a 1927 street view as the Jail Cafe. It was rebuilt in 1961 as a cabaret space and is now the El Cid Restaurant. Wikipedia has an article about the building's history. Los Angeles Magazine also ran a piece in 2003.
1966 - A view by Ed Ruscha that's in the Getty collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Riichkay for posting it on Noirish post #55437. Nile Hight posted the image on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page but somehow didn't bother to credit it.
1980 - A shot taken on the occasion of the August 1 reopening as a revival house. It's a photo from the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
1980 - A look at the theatre from near its peep show neighbor across the street. Thanks to Joe on Flickr for the photo. "The Tin Drum" was a 1979 release.
1981 - Another Roy Hankey photo of the crowd for "Mildred Pierce." It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
c.1985 - An undated Tom LaBonge photo of the Vista playing "Freaks" and "The Haunting." It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Jeff Hamblin calls our attention to the "East Hollywood" line on the roof sign. It was evidently added by Landmark when they took over the house.
c.1986 - A Gary Leonard photo of the theatre running "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Salvador." The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Note the Onyx Cafe on the right, operated by John Leech.
2009- A lovely sidewalk view looking west located by Ken McIntyre for a post of his for the private Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles. "Julie and Julia" was an August release.
2017 - Thanks to Sean Ault for this shot he took when he went to see "Blade Runner 2049." Even more fun is his short video on YouTube where you can see the neon in action.
2018 - A view east along the facade. That Hollywood Camera Exchange sign in the storefront window was painted for the Woody Allen film "Café Society." Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography
2018 - A peek out along the marquee from a second floor balcony. The upstairs area, once rental apartments, was at the time just used for storage. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography
2018 - The rear of the building, showing off its seismic retrofit work. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography
2019 - A photo by Franck Bohbot, one in series he's calling "L.A. Confidential." It appears with many other shots from the series in "Neon Dreams: Los Angeles by night - in pictures," a November 2019 spread from the Guardian. Bohbot notes: "At night, everything changes and the neon lights help to create the scene… this could be the LA from the past but also from the future." Thanks, Franck!
2020 - "To be continued..." was the message during the virus shutdown. Photo: Bill Counter - April 26
A shot of the Vista from inside Stan's Drive-In seen in "The Crooked Web" (Columbia, 1955). Thanks to Jonathan Raines for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more about the film and several additional photos.
We get a look at the Vista as part of a montage displaying many of L.A.'s high culture sites near the opening of "The Swinger" (Paramount, 1966). The film stars Ann-Margret and Tony Franciosa. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of five other theatres seen in the little travelogue.
The Vista when it was having a fling as a porno house. It's a shot from a Charlie's Angels episode "Catch A Fallen Angel" in 1980. Thanks to Daniel Siwek for posting the photo on Vintage Los Angeles.
Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are fooling around outside the Vista in Tony Scott's "True Romance" (Warner Bros., 1993). It's supposedly a Detroit theatre where they meet during a triple bill of "Street Fighter," "Return of the Street Fighter" and "Sister Street Fighter." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for six additional shots from the scene at the Vista. The screenplay was by Quentin Tarantino, who now owns the place.
In Barry Sonnenfeld's "Get Shorty" (MGM, 1995) we have John Travolta and Rene Russo seeing a film at the Vista. At least it's the Vista inside. For the exteriors, we're at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for that shot.
The Vista in Wes Craven's "Scream 2" (Dimension Films, 1997). The exteriors and lobby shots for this sequence near the beginning of the film were done at the Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena. The film also used the Variety Arts Theatre downtown for scenes near the end of the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots showing the Rialto and Variety Arts.
We get a bit of marquee footage in "Dear White People" (Lionsgate, 2014) when there's a gathering of students at their local theatre to protest the inanities of the latest Tyler Perry movie. But other shots in the scene were done elsewhere. The story of four Black students at an Ivy League college stars Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Kyle Gallner and Teyonah Parris. Justin Simien directed.
The Vista is one of a half dozen theatres to get a marquee shot included in the title sequence of "Entourage" (Warner Bros., 2015). The film, directed by Doug Ellin, stars Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Connolly plus many others doing cameos. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more screenshots.
We get nice a facade view of the Vista in Woody Allen's "Café Society" (Lionsgate, 2016) when Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart take in "The Woman In Red" with Barbara Stanwyck. Earlier Eisenberg checks out the footprints at Grauman's Chinese. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for that shot as well as a view of a New York theatre lobby that Woody is passing off as being in Hollywood.
Brain researcher Julia Brizendine (Whitney Cummings) heads to the Vista to see a silent movie with Kevin (Toby Kebbell), a participant in one of her research studies, in "The Female Brain" (IFC Films, 2018). As a date, it doesn't go well. She just wants quick sex, Kevin's interested in something more. Cummings also directed the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot outside as well as one in the auditorium.
More Information: The Cinema Tour page on the Vista has 51 photos by Bob Meza, Steven Rood and Mark Campbell. Also see the Cinema Treasures page on the Vista Theatre.
TJ Edwards and Garan Grey's Cinema Sightlines page on the Vista Theatre has a great photo spread and commentary. Curbed L.A. had a 2015 Bianca Barragan piece "Watch a Brief History of the 1923 Vista Theatre...."
John Hough has some great photos of the theatre on the Vista Theatre page of OrnateTheatres.com, the site he runs with Mark Mulhall. Mike Hume's Historic Theatre Photography site has a terrific page on the Vista Theatre. See the Los Feliz Ledger's "The Vista Theatre," a 2007 article in PDF format by Laura Massino Smith and Karen Numme.
The Laguna Beach Indy had a September 2017 story "Historic Theatre Readies for a Sequel," about Vintage Cinemas taking over the South Coast Cinema, a twin in Laguna beach.
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