Phone: 323-660-6639 Website: www.vintagecinemas.com/vista
Architect: Lewis A. Smith. It's a cute neighborhood house with an Egyptian flavored interior. Lou Bard loved Egyptian interiors regardless of the exterior look of his theatres. There's a stage about 7' deep, enough for limited vaudeville in the silent era when the screen was mounted on the back wall. There's no fly capability.
Seating: 838 originally, now down to 400 for increased leg room.
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.
In 1980 it was rescued by Thomas Theatres and reopened as a revival house. Mike Thomas was at the time also running theatres in San Francisco such as the Warfield, the Crest (which he was calling the Electric), and the Strand. He did a big cleanup and restoration project, including rejuvenating the roof sign.
In 1982 Landmark Theatres took over the operation. Lance Alspaugh's 5 Star Theatres (now known as Vintage Cinemas) acquired the business in 1988 and bought the building in 1997. A $1 million project between 1997 and 2000 designed by Ronald Wright included a new Egyptian style boxoffice, a seismic retrofit, work on projection and sound, restoration of paint and plaster, and reseating the theatre. The entrance has celebrity hand and footprints, nicely chronicled on a celebrity footprints page on the theatre's website.
Status: Until the March 2020 Covid shutdown it was open and doing well with first runs, moveovers and occasional revivals. The Vista has a Sony 4K digital projector but retains 35mm capability for special showings. Vintage Cinemas, the operator until the mid-2021 sale to Quentin Tarantino, also operates the nearby Los Feliz, a triplex.
The Vista in the Movies:
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.
Danny DeVito goes to the movies at the Vista in "Throw Momma from the Train" (Orion Pictures, 1987). He's looking for ideas about bumping off mother and enlists Billy Crystal to help. Yes it's a comedy. DeVito directed a cast that also includes Oprah Winfrey, Rob Reiner, Kate Mulgrew and Branford Marsalis. Thanks to Chas Demster for the screenshot -- he's got it on his page about shooting locations for the film on Filming Locations of Chicago and 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.
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). They spend some time in the lobby and then watch the film. As a date, it doesn't go well. She just wants quick sex, Kevin's interested in something more. Cummings also directed the film.
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 view from the back of the house. Thanks to Stephen Russo for his 2014 photo. It originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.
A wall detail. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018
The house right front exit. 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
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 1930 view of the junction of Hollywood and Sunset, looking east. Note the Vista vertical and a bit of the marquee. We also get a bit of the roof sign peeking up at the left. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.
A 1938 Herman Schultheis photo of the Vista from the Los Angeles Public Library. They're running "The Great Waltz." The Library also has another very similar shot from Mr. Schultheis.
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.
A 1966 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.
A 1980 shot of the Vista, on the occasion of its reopening as a revival house. It's a photo from the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
A 1980 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.
A 1983 photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. This one and the 1980 LAPL view above also appear on "Early L.A. Historical Buildings page 3," a section of the Water & Power Associates Museum website.
An undated Tom LaBonge photo of the Vista playing "Freaks" and "The Haunting." It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
An undated Roy Hankey photo of the crowd for a showing of "Mildred Pierce." It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
A c.1986 Gary Leonard photo of the theatre running "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Salvador." The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
A lovely sidewalk view looking west from Ken McIntyre. It was a post of his on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles in 2012.
Thanks to Sean Ault for this 2017 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.
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, is currently 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 - 2018.
A 2018 night view. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography. Thanks for all the wonderful photos, Mike!
A 2019 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!
"To be continued..." was the message during the virus shutdown. Photo: Bill Counter - April 2020
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.
The Vista Theatre website has a nice array of photos. There are also over 200 pictures of the theatre on Yelp.
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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