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Vista Theatre

4473 Sunset Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90027
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The 1923 opening of "Hollywood's Newest Theatre." It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

Phone: 323-660-6639       Website: www.vintagecinemas.com/vista

Opened: October 9, 1923 as Bard's Hollywood Theatre. The first feature was "Tips" with Baby Peggy. The Lou Bard circuit eventually included the Town, College and 8th St. (later called the Olympic) theatres downtown as well as theatres in West Adams, Glendale and Pasadena. By 1930 this one was under new ownership and called the Vista Theatre.

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 60s and 70s. 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 1983. A $1 million project between 1987 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: Still open with first runs, moveovers and occasional revivals. The Vista is now equipped with a Sony 4K digital projector. Vintage Cinemas also operates the nearby Los Feliz, a triplex. 



The Vista in 2007. Photo: Bill Counter

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 Theatres in Movies post for more about the film and several additional photos.



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.



In Tony Scott's "True Romance" (Warner Bros., 1993) Christian Slater visits the Vista. It's supposedly a Detroit theatre where he meets Patricia Arquette during a triple bill of "Street Fighter," "Return of the Street Fighter" and "Sister Street Fighter." Thanks to Joe Pinney for the alert regarding the theatre's appearance in the film and also thanks to expert researcher Tovangar2 for posting the screenshot on Noirish Los Angeles.



 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 Theatres In Movies post about the film 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 Theatres in Movies post for shots showing the Rialto and Variety Arts.

We see a bit of the Vista's exterior in "Dear White People" (Lionsgate, 2014).

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 lobby:


The snackbar area. Thanks to the Vista Theatre for the photo. It's one of many fine views of their lovingly maintained theatre that appear on their website's photo tour.



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

The event the day Mike's photos were taken was the annual meeting of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. The organization is actively involved in the study and preservation of the vintage theatres in the L.A. area. The group frequently supports events and offers tours of various historic theatres. www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official Facebook page

 

The entrance doors. Thanks to John Hough for the 2017 photo on the page about the Vista Theatre on Ornate Theatres.com, the superb site he runs with Mark Mullhall. 


The auditorium:


A view from the back of the house. Thanks to Stephen Russo for his 2014 photo. It originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The house right wall. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017



A wall detail. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018



A view up toward the ceiling at the front of the auditorium. It's a photo from the Vista Theatre website.



A look toward the house left organ grille area from 7-how-7 on Flickr.



The house right front exit. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018



A look up at the house right organ grille. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018



A detail of the house right organ grille. It's a 2005 photo by Steven Rood appearing on the Cinema Tour page about the theatre.



A closer look at one of the spooky side wall ladies. Thanks to Sean Ault for his 2017 photo. While waiting for "Blade Runner 2049" to begin he did a little swirl around the auditorium. It's on YouTube.



The view back toward the booth. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017


Backstage: 


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



Peering back deeper into the attic over the auditorium. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


Up to the booth:


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



A look over to the left side of the booth. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018



Looking across the booth. The digital machine is hiding over there on the far side beyond the 35mm projector. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018


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.



The Vista running a reissue of "Birth of a Nation." Thanks to Gregory May for spotting this one.

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 great 1951 view of the Vista from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



Thanks to Martin Pal for spotting this 1970s photo of the Vista on Flickr, taken during the theatre's porno fling.  The photo, one he spotted on Flickr, is in his Noirish Los Angeles post #28095



A 1980 shot of the Vista, on the occasion of its reopening as a revival house. It's a Los Angeles public Library photo.



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. 



The theatre in 1991. It's a Gary Graver photo. Mr. Graver (1938-2006) was a a filmmaker and cinematographer. There's an article about him on Wikipedia.  More of his theatre photos can be seen on You Tube on the compilations "Second Run - part 1" and "Second Run - part 2." Thanks to Sean Graver for use of the photo.  



The Egyptian style entrance in 2007. No, that boxoffice isn't original. Photo: Bill Counter 



Thanks to M.V. Jantzen for this lovely night view. It's part of Jantzen's Los Angeles 2007 album on Flickr. 



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.



An entrance view. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017. Thanks, John!



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 office space, 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! 

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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