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Vista Theatre: history + exterior views

4473 Sunset Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90027  | map |
 


Opened: October 9, 1923 as Bard's Hollywood Theatre. The opening night feature was a sneak from Universal of "The Wild Party," starring Glady Walton. Also on the program at "Hollywood's Newest Theatre" were vaudeville acts, a newsreel, and the two-reeler "Tips" with Baby Peggy. She made an appearance at the early show but the second show was past her bedtime. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

Phone: 323-660-6639   Online: www.vistatheaterhollywood.com | on Instagram | on Facebook | tickets on Fandango $2.19 service charge | tickets on Veezi $1 service charge | Video Archives Cinema Club on Facebook | Video Archives on Instagram |

The site: Some of D.W. Griffith's 1915 film "The Birth of a Nation" was shot nearby, perhaps where the Vista now is. Scott Collette comments: 

"Some period articles indicate that segments of the film might have been shot there, either on that empty land or maybe interiors at Griffith's Reliance-Majestic Studios studio, which was located where the Vons now stands across the street. Most say it was where the film was 'made,' which is ambiguous. This is not shared in celebration, of course, but rather just amazement to realize that such an infamous, complicated and detested entry in the history of the medium could have been made, at least in some part, in the same place I've occasionally stopped for groceries." 
 
When Griffith was working on the film, he screened it nearby in one of the area's first soundstages. The building at 4212 Sunset Blvd. was constructed c.1910. The L.A. 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 that building's history. Los Angeles Magazine also ran a piece in 2003. See a c.1940 photo of a reissue run of "The Birth of a Nation" playing the Vista.  
 
 

The Gates of Babylon set for Griffith's 1916 film "Intolerance" was built on the land north of Sunset and east of Hillhurst. See a closer elephant shot. There's a fine selection of photos on the Messy Nessy Chic page "The Monstrous Film Set That Jumpstarted Hollywood." Also see a "Gates of Babylon" page from Martin Turnbull.
 
Scott Collette notes that this location was chosen as it was adjacent to the studio lot for Griffith's Reliance-Majestic Studios, later called later Fine Arts Studios. The "Intolerance" sets weren't demolished until 1919. See a 1923 Fine Arts ad Scott located that lists some of the films produced there as well as "New Buildings Replace Old on Fine Arts Lot," an April 7, 1923 Times article that mentions "Intolerance" and "The Clansman," the original title for "The Birth of a Nation."  
 
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. 
 

This drawing from the architect appeared in a newspaper announcement as construction began. Thanks to Scott Collette for locating this for a 2021 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. The new micro-cinema in the west storefront seats 20.

Pipe organ: It was a 2 manual 6 rank Wurlitzer Style D, opus #701. It was removed long ago.
 
History: The Lou Bard circuit eventually included Bard's Hill Street (later called the Town), the College Theatre and Bard's 8th St. (later called the Olympic), all downtown. He also had theatres in West Adams, Glendale, Alhambra and Pasadena. By 1928 this one was under new ownership and called the Vista Theatre.
 
 

"Every Show One Of Happiness." It's the four column opening day ad in the Hollywood News. Thanks to Scott Collette for locating this. He comments that he saw the spacing of the show times and knew there had to be something else on the program besides a few vaudeville acts and "Tips," a 20 minute short.
 


The Hollywood News review of the opening that appeared in their October 10, 1923 issue. It was another find by Scott Collette.  
 
 

The first matinee! Thanks to the Hollywood Heritage Facebook page for including this 1923 newspaper item in a post about the theatre. Also see a 1923 ad from the post for King Vidor's "Three Wise Fools" plus a "Where East Is West" ad promoting real estate opportunities and "Quick, Large Profits" in the East Hollywood area.



 Problems five days later. Scott located this item in the October 15 issue of the Hollywood News. 
 
 

The L.A. Illustrated Daily News came up with a photo for their October 16, 1923 issue. Thanks again to Scott Collette. He curates the Forgotten Los Angeles Facebook page. He also shares his research on Instagram.   
 
 

A 1923 ad in the Hollywood News. "Red Lights" was a September release with Marie Prevost and Raymond Griffith. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad for a post for the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.  



By the time of this August 11, 1931 ad in the Times they were doing multiple changes of program every week and part of the Fox West Coast circuit. This listing was part of a huge directory ad listing all the Fox houses that they ran on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Note the 1173 Sunset Boulevard address in use at the time. 
 

 A 1942 ad that was located by Ken McIntyre. The Hunley was later renamed the Century Theatre.
 
 
 
Forget your matches? The theatre had you covered. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting this as a post by Nessa on Cinema Treasures and sharing it with the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.  
 
 

A January 1949 ad for "On Approval" and "Jeannie" that was located by Ken McIntyre.
 
In the early 1960s Shan Sayles was operating the Vista, then a foreign film house branded as the Vista Continental. He also had the Apollo Arts, a house on Hollywood Blvd. near Western later called the Star, and the Paris Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd., the former Carmel. This 1961 article discussed the promotion of Robert Cuzan, the Apollo's manager: 


Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article for a post for the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group. Do you care about this Cuzan guy? We also have a photo
 

 
After a long slide down from classy neighborhood house, the theatre hit bottom as a porno venue in the 1960s. In 1962 the Vista Continental was running this three unit "Adult Holiday Fun" show. Thanks to Dave Hunter for sharing this December 21 Times ad.
 

A 1965 L.A. Times ad that Ken McIntyre shared on the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.


A 1966 L.A. Times ad for the theatre's clientele of "Rugged Adults." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a post for another post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group.

The porno era at the Vista is discussed in "The Fascinating, Controversial History Of Quentin Tarantino’s Revamped Vista Theater," Hadley Meares November 17 story for LAist:
 
"The biggest test for the Vista came in the 1960s. During that era, the theater began showing pornographic films, including same-sex films. Irate, the city revoked its operating permit. The Vista fought back, and in 1968 the case was heard in the California Supreme Court. The Vista won the case, in a decisive blow against anti-gay governance. 
 
"'The court ruled, in a 5-2 decision, that the law is "overly broad" and threatens to deny theater operators their rights of free speech and press,' the Los Angeles Times reported in June 1968. 'The Court ruled that Stewart Burton, manager of the Vista Theater, should be granted a writ of prohibition against the Los Angeles Board of police commissioners, which did not renew his license.'" 
 
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.
 
Mike was at the time also running theatres in San Francisco including the Warfield, the Crest (which he was calling the Electric) and the Strand. Earlier, along with Gary Meyer, he had been running the Times Theatre. Mike did a big cleanup and restoration project, including rejuvenating the roof sign.
 
 

A July 27, 1980 Valley News story about the renovation project. Thanks to Dan Ondrasek for sharing it as a Facebook post. He worked on the renovation along with Greg King, Kean Butterfield, Ed Villaipando and the Vista's new manager, Keith Schroeder.  
 
 
 
Kean Butterfield hanging Egyptian decor in the lobby. It's a John Rosenfield photo that appeared with the July 27, 1980 Valley News article.  



Greg King working on a marquee letter. It's another Valley News photo.
 
 
 
Ed Villaipando was painting and scraping above the marquee. It's a John Rosenfield photo that appeared with the July 27, 1980 Valley News article.    
 
The July 31, 1980 issue of the Los Angeles Times featured "East Hollywood Landmark - Vista Converts To Revival House," a story a Harold Atchison:  

"Intuition. A gut feeling. That's the only reason Mike Thomas and Keith Henry Schroeder needed for the Friday reopening of the Vista Theater, 4473 Sunset Drive, as a repertory movie theater. Thomas, head of the San Francisco-based Thomas Theaters, said, 'I drove like crazy and walked like crazy (through the East Hollywood neighborhood) and talked to all the merchants. I used my best intuitions and decided it would work.' Thomas asked Schroeder, another film buff with strong the feelings for the community and its past, to be operating manager...
 
"Schroeder will experiment with the Vista's programming, going beyond the normal repertory house format. He wants to use the theatre as an outlet for seminars and the latest works from the Southland's film schools. And although most of the Vista's films will be from the past, there will be a few premieres. The first schedule includes the Los Angeles premiere of Ranier Werner Fassbinder's 'In a Year With 13 Moons.' Documentaries, classic shorts, and films dealing with the stereotypes of women, gays and minorities are also planned. Schroeder also will make the most of the theater's history. 
 
"It was built in 1923 on the site used by D.W. Griffith for the Babylonian palace set in his classic 'Intolerance' -- 'our claim to fame,' Schroeder said. Business originally started under Lou Bard, whose chain of theaters brought second-run movies to the suburbs. In keeping with the past, 'Bard's East Hollywood' will stay on the Vista's logo. In the late '50s the Vista was picketed for showing Russian films. During the last 20 years, the Vista moved from soft-core pornography -- early 'early Russ Meyer stuff,' as Scroeder puts it -- to hard-core, then gay porn. But the most valuable part of the theatre's past that remains is the Egyptian motif of its interior, Sphinx heads and pharaoh masks stare across the rows. 'It's like being in the middle of a mastabah (Egyptian tomb),' Schroeder said. 

"Thomas will follow the same policy with the Vista he's used in fixing up San Francisco theaters -- restore rather than renovate. Workmen are busy restoring the original stipple effect on the ceiling, painting in stylized river reeds and putting in a snack bar that eventually will look like Cleopatra's image. Thomas said close to $40,000 has been spent bringing the Vista up to opening night. Planned restorations, including a Dolby sound system, 70mm projector and period mohair seats, will push costs past $100,000, he said. 

"The Vista will kick off its programming with a one-day mini-marathon of (naturally) Egyptian-themed pictures, including 'The Mummy,' 'The Egyptian' and Cecil B. DeMille's 'Cleopatra.' A '20s two-reel comedy titled 'Sweetie' also will be showing, and its star, Diana Serra Cary, will make an appearance at the Vista. Mrs. Cary was also at the Vista in person, as a 4-year-old child star (named 'Baby Peggy' -- 'The princess to Jackie Coogan's prince,' Schroeder said), when the theater first opened on October 9, 1923. Will the concept work? Thomas thinks East Hollywood is an appealing part of the city, and knows it has a lot of film buffs. 'They'll get more character and personality here than they'd get in a first-run multiplex.' he said. But how does he know about the potential patrons? 'The neighborhood just feels like it,' he said."

The reopening was August 1, 1980. 
 

A 1981 ad that appeared in the L.A. Free Press. Thanks to Adsausage Archives for sharing this and the two items below as comments in a thread about the theatre on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook group.
 


A 1981 flyer for "Shock Treatment" that appears on the Rocky Horror Wiki page about the theatre. Thanks to Troy Martin for noting the page.
 
 

A 1982 ad that appeared in the Free Press.  
 
 

A Free Press ad for the cafe in the east storefront. Adsausage Archives notes: "The adjacent Onyx Cafe. Owned by Fumiko Robinson and John Leech, the Onyx closed in 1986 (landlord dispute). Relocated to Vermont Ave. in Silverlake. Survived until 2000. Leech passed away in 2009."
 
 

"Blue Skies" on the marquee. No, the theatre wasn't running the 1946 Paramount film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. This is a frame from the beginning of a 1980s promo for a "Blue Skies" initiative from the Southern California Air Quality Management District. It was played as part of the pre-show for several programs during the February 2024 "IB Technicolor Festival." Thanks to the theatre for the image, taken from a post on the Vista Facebook page
 
In 1982 Landmark Theatres took over the operation. They were trying to exit in 1985. The Times covered the issue in "Vista Theater May Have Had Its Last Revival," a June 15 story by Larry Gordon:
 
"The Vista Theater, the Silver Lake-East Hollywood revival movie house beloved for its eclectic double bills and its Egyptian-style decor, is closing tonight, a victim, its management says, of the home-video revolution and the increasingly conservative tastes of young audiences. Negotiations to sell the long-term lease on the Vista to an operator of second-run neighborhood movie houses are in the final stages, according to Steve Gilula, president of Landmark Theater Corp., which now runs the Vista. He declined to identify the potential buyer or any details of the deal but stressed that Landmark plans to keep open its other two area revival theaters, the Nuart in West Los Angeles and the Rialto in South Pasadena.

"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.'"

It's unknown who took it over after the closure by Landmark. Conor Holt notes that the Vista had the world premiere of "Swingers" in 1996.
 
Lance Alspaugh's 5 Star Theatres (now known as Vintage Cinemas) bought the building in 1997 and acquired the business in 1988. He did a $1 million renovation 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 handprints page on the Vintage Cinemas website.

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. 
 
Quentin buys it: Quentin Tarantino bought the theatre in 2021 and retained Alspaugh to deal with the remodeling issues and operate the house for him after the reopening. Tarantino also owns the New Beverly. Thanks to Alex Rojas for spotting "Quentin Tarantino Buys Vista Theatre," a July 5, 2021 story by Ryan Parker for the Hollywood Reporter. There were similar stories from the L.A. Times, Deadline and Variety. Also see "What happened behind the scenes with Quentin Tarantino's Vista Theatre deal? The owner explains?," Mark Olsen's July 6, 2021 story for the Times. 
 
There's now beer and wine for sale at the snackbar. Long-unused storefront space was reactivated on the east for a cafe and and on the west for what was to be a vintage video game arcade. That arcade got nixed by NIMBY neighbors so it's now a micro-cinema with 20 seats. It has both 16mm and digital capabilities. The March 8, 2022 conditional use permit application can be seen on the L.A. City Planning Department website. Thanks to Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles Facebook page for sharing the news on a March 9 post. The lobby, restrooms, storefronts, booth and other upstairs areas have been remodeled but there were no major changes as far as the look of the auditorium. 
 
The expanded booth got a 35/70mm installation. Paul Rayton noted that it was Boston Light & Sound that did the installation of a pair of rebuilt Norelco AAIIs. There is also digital capability. The policy is expected to be primarily first-run bookings, running film whenever possible. A consultant for the project was Theo Kalomirakis of Greece, a well-known designer of upscale private cinemas. He was profiled in "Flipping Quentin's Vista," a July 2022 article by Michael Gaughn. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting it on the site Cineluxe. 
 
The bar design was largely the work of Proctor Companies. Their involvement was detailed in "Once Upon a Time… at the Vista: Quentin Tarantino Breathes New Life into an L.A. Classic," an April 10, 2024 article by Rebecca Pahle for Boxoffice Pro. Thanks to Alison Martino for spotting the story. FE Design and Consulting was the architectural firm for the project with Manny Diaz as the principal. The general contractor was Hansen Construction of Tarzana.
 
 

A main floor plan from FE Design. The X in the lower right was sidewalk seating, initially nixed but later approved. After the video arcade shown in the lower left was also objected to by neighbors, the plans were revised to make that a micro-cinema.
 
 

A second floor plan showing the expanded booth. 
 


A site plan from FE. That angled structure in the middle of the roof represents the theatre's roof sign. Thanks to the Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles Facebook page for posting the link to the plans on the City Planning Department website: planning.lacity.org/pdiscaseinfo/search/encoded/MjYzNDc40   

The news about the Vista renovations and projects at other theatres, including action at the Laemmle and Regal circuits, was covered in "L.A. Movie Theatres Ready For a Big Comeback This Year With Egyptian, Vista and Vidiots," Pat Saperstein's April 2023 story for Variety. 
 
The Vista turned 100 on October 9, 2023. See "L.A.'s Vista Theatre Turns 100 — But No One Is Celebrating," the story by Chris Nichols wrote for L.A. Magazine. Scott Collette did a birthday post on his Forgotten Los Angeles Facebook page and on Instagram

The reopening: The theatre held a pre-opening event November 11, 2023 with two sold-out screenings of "True Romance" hosted by Quentin Tarantino. That was followed by Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" on 35mm beginning November 17. The first 70mm presentation, Ridley Scott's "Napoleon," played November 22 through December 7.
 
Mark Olsen had the news about the 17th date in his November 3 L.A. Times "Only Good Movies" newsletter. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting the item. The full story came out with Pat Saperstein's November 6 story for Variety: "Quentin Tarantino’s Vista Theatre to Reopen With 'True Romance' Special Screening Followed by Eli Roth’s 'Thanksgiving'." The Times followed up the next day with Jen Yamato's story that was spotted by Paul Rayton: "Quentin Tarantino-owned Vista Theatre will reopen..."
 
Hadley Meares celebrated the reopening with "The Fascinating, Controversial History Of Quentin Tarantino’s Revamped Vista Theater," her November 17 story for LAist. Thanks to Donavan S. Moye for spotting it.  
 
 

The new snackbar was ready with beer, wine, freshly popped popcorn, vegan hot dogs and lots of candy for opening day. Photo: Bill Counter - November 17, 2023. See photos of the lobby's previous look as well as construction views on our Vista lobby page.  

Status: The programming is first-run films on either 35 or 70mm with some repertory bookings. See www.vistatheaterhollywood.com or Fandango for tickets and showtimes. 2024 bookings in 70mm included "Oppenheimer" from January 26 to February 1. "Dune: Part 2" ran from February 29 until March 20, a week of "Lawrence of Arabia" began May 10. "The Hateful Eight" ran a week beginning May 31.  
 
 

The theatre's first repertory offering was the February 2024 "IB Technicolor Festival," featuring many prints from Quentin's collection. In addition to the titles seen here there were 11am weekend matinees of comedy classics as well as Friday and Saturday midnight shows. The policy of repertory matinees and midnighters continued after this festival as part of the regular mix along with first-run bookings.  
 
"Pam's Coffy," the cafe in the east storefront, opened Valentine's Day, February 14. The micro-cinema in the west storefront opened April 2, 2024. It's the "Video Archives Cinema Club." See the Video Archives Facebook page or Instagram. There are photos on our Cinema Club page.
 
 
 
More exterior views: 
 

c.1924 - Jean Riley and Allan Roscoe in "Flapper of the Hills," evidently a film that, other than this photo, has disappeared without a trace. Jean is listed on IMDb with only two credits. Allan was also in another "Flapper" film, the October 1924 release "The Painted Flapper" from Chadwick Picture Corporation. The Bard's marquee boy forgot the last letter of Allan's last name. As far as his first name, he started out as Albert and was also billed as Al and Alan. Many thanks to Sean Ault for spotting this photo when it was offered for sale online.  



1930 - A view of the junction of Hollywood and Sunset, looking east. Note the Vista vertical and a bit of the original marquee. We also get a bit of the roof sign peeking up at the left. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.
 
 

1930s - A look southeast on Hollywood Blvd. toward Hillhurst with the Vista's vertical visible just beyond the intersection. Thanks to Paul Ayers for sharing this photo from his collection on a Facebook post.



1938 - A Herman Schultheis photo of the Vista from the Los Angeles Public Library. They were running "The Great Waltz" with Luise Rainier along with "Men With Wings," starring Fred MacMurray and Ray Milland. Plus you got the newsreel scoop "SC Beats Duke." The Library also has another very similar shot from Mr. Schultheis. This is our earliest view of the marquee that's currently on the building, seen here with its original milk glass letters. Note the vertical sign on the left, the neon along the parapet, and the neon trim on the roof sign that's surrounding the "VISTA" letters.



1948 - The Vista running a reissue of D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation," originally released as "The Clansman" in 1915. Thanks to Gregory May for spotting this photo. Hadley Meares in "The Fascinating, Controversial History Of Quentin Tarantino’s Revamped Vista Theater," her November 17 story for LAist, cites a July 23, 1948 item from the Hollywood Reporter that appeared only days after D.W. Griffith's death: 

"Coming — D.W. Griffith’s 'The Birth of a Nation' starting July 28, so the Vista Sunset and Hollywood announces. The theater is across the street from the old Griffith Studio and the site of many location shots for the picture. Filmdom last night predicted the departed showman’s hits would enjoy a national revival."
 
In the "site" section near the top of the page there are comments about shooting and production work done in the neighborhood for the film. Scott Collette adds: "I've been musing as to whether moviegoers who showed up to the film's revival screening 33 years after it was made were aware that much of the 'pre' and 'post' work was done just across the street, and possibly some filming as well."
 


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



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.  
 
There over 70,000 Ruscha items now available for browsing. A few places to start: Sunset Boulevard, 1965-2010, undated (58,167 digitized items) | Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2005, undated (4,292 digitized items) | Santa Monica Boulevard, 1974 (4,956 digitized items) | Melrose Avenue, 1975 (3,724 digitized items) |  Specifically about Sunset Blvd., see the Getty Research Institute's site "12 Sunsets." Their October 2020 Press Release discusses the project. 
 
 

c.1968 - An Ed Ruscha photo from the Getty Research Institute collection.
 
 
 
1973 - An Ed Ruscha photo from the Getty collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Riichkay for posting it on Noirish post #55437.



1970s - Thanks to Martin Pal for spotting this photo, taken while the theatre was still on its porno fling. It's in Martin's Noirish Los Angeles post #28095



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 - "Mildred Pierce" with Joan Crawford was running in January when Roy Hankey got this shot. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Also see a black and white "Mildred Pierce" shot by Mr. Hankey that's in the Library's collection. 
 


1982 - Thanks to the now-vanished American Classic Images website for this photo taken in December.  



1983 - A January photo from the American Classic Images collection.



1983 - A photo from the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. This one and a 1980 LAPL view also appear on "Early L.A. Historical Buildings page 3," a section of the Water & Power Associates Museum website. 
 
The original September 9 caption: "Says Gary Meyer of the Landmark theater chain (owners of the Vista and Fox Venice): 'Today's high school and college kids are only into the hottest commercial films that all their friends have seen. Foreign films, American classics? They just don't care about that.'"
 


1983 - Thanks to Meredith Jacobson Marciano for sharing this photo she took. 



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.
 
 

1990 - The theatre was featured on the Suicidal Tendencies album "Lights...Camera...Revolution!" Thanks to Michael Blythe for locating the image.


 
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.  

 

c.1993 - Thanks to Virginia Jacks for sharing this shot of the theatre and her 1966 Charger as a post for the Mid Century Modern private Facebook group. They were running "Fried Green Tomatoes" (1991) and "Noises Off" (1992) plus advertising a midnighter of Fred Baker's 1992 film "White Trash."
 


2007 - "Across the Universe" -- and the ice cream parlor open next door. Note the return of all the detail at the top of the facade following the renovation by Vintage Theatres. Photo: Bill Counter
 


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



2007 - Thanks to M.V. Jantzen for this lovely "Across the Universe" view. It's part of his Los Angeles 2007 album on Flickr. 
 
 

2007 - "No Country For Old Men." Thanks to Arnold Darrow for locating this shot by an unknown photographer to share on a Facebook post.  



2009 - "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" was a July release. Many thanks to Don Saban for sharing his photo in a post for the SoCal Historic Architecture private Facebook group. More of his fine work can be seen on DonSaban.com.



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. 
 
 

2011 - "The Descendants" was a September release with George Clooney and Shailene Woodley. Thanks to the Los Feliz Improvement Association for the photo. It's on their lovely map of the neighborhood where you can enter an address, street, architect or any word you want for a search. 
 
 

2014 - Theatre manager Victor Martinez during the run of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Thanks to Tony Pierce for the photo. It's one appearing with "The Costumed Vista Theatre Manager Unmasked," his Hear In LA article about Victor.



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.



2017 - An entrance view taken by John Hough for his website Ornate Theatres. Thanks, John!



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


 
2018 - A night view. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography
 
 

2018 - A view during the run of "Roma." It's a photo credited to Shutterstock that appeared with the July 2021 Secret Los Angeles article "Quentin Tarantino Acquires..."
 


2018 - Barry Bostwick gets his hand prints in the cement at the theatre's entrance. Thanks to Troy Martin for noting that this photo appears on the Rocky Horror Wiki page about the theatre.



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



2020 - An April view from the east. Photo: Bill Counter 
 
 
 
2021 - A bit of maintenance was needed after a year of Covid shutdown. It's a photo Mike Hume took in March.
 
 

2021 - "California has reopened. My beloved local theater hasn't. Why?" was a June Times article by Ryan Faughnder. Vista owner Lance Alspaugh discusses the problems. The "illustration" by Nicole Vas used a Times photo by Jay L. Clendenin. 
 
 

2022 - Still "To Be Continued..." Photo: Bill Counter - March 10
 
 

2022 - An early April view of work beginning. Thanks to Kevin Muldoon for sharing this photo and the one below as comments on a Facebook post about the theatre from Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles
 
 

2022 - A closer look from Kevin Muldoon. Thanks!  
 


2022 - The stripped and primed marquee on April 27. The storefront on the right had been an ice cream parlor when it was last used. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for sharing this photo and eight others in a post on Facebook.  
 
 

2022 - The ticket lobby. Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - April 27. She notes that the posters in the display cases are all for Tarantino films.
 
 

2022 - The west side of the marquee. Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - April 27.  Thanks, Sandi! 
 
 

 2023 - A white basecoat plus a few beige paint samples on the corner. Photo: Bill Counter - March 7
 


2023 - A look to the cornice. Photo: Bill Counter - March 7
 
 

2023 - The arch above the marquee. The "B" stands for Lou Bard, the original operator of the theatre. Photo: Bill Counter - March 7
 
 

2023 - Another facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter - March 7
 
 

2023 - There are "B"s everywhere. This is part of the arch over the doors to the east storefront. Photo: Bill Counter - March 7 
 
 

2023 - New ornamental elements added under second floor balconies. Thanks to Ben Rodgers for sharing his March 18 photo. He notes that these yellow/white fiberglass pieces are replicas of what was there originally. By the 1960s they had gone missing and since then there had been only angled steel brackets visible under the balconies.  
 
 

2023 - A closer look at one of the new sections of ornament. Thanks, Ben! 
 
 

2023 - The gold era begins. Thanks to Ben Rodgers for getting this April 4 photo. He commented: "Gone are the cafe doors and it’s a return to the original style of windows."
 


2023 - Finally, some color back on the facade. Thanks to Chris Nichols for sharing his June 2 photo on a Facebook post. And thanks to Patrick Tierney for a bit of geometrical correction. Chris said: "What does everyone think of the new paint job at the Vista theater? It went from ketchup to mustard!" His post got many responses. 
 


2023 - Work beginning as far as new paint on the marquee. Thanks to Ben Rodgers for sharing his July 8 photo. He also called our attention to the new tile work under the cafe windows.  



2023 - A view from the west. Photo: Bill Counter - July 8
 
 

2023 - The repainted letters. Photo: Bill Counter - July 8
 
 

2023 - New readerboard faces going up. Thanks to Ben Rodgers for sharing his September 12 photo. 
 

 
2023 - Neon tubing back on the VISTA letters. Photo: Ben Rodgers - September 12. Thanks!  



2023 - The west side later in the day with the horizontal runs of tubing installed above and below the readerboard. Photo: Bill Counter - September 12
 
 

2023 - New tubing installed on the roof sign. Photo: Bill Counter - September 12
 
 

2023 - The smaller "VISTA" on the back. Photo: Bill Counter - September 12. Also see a closer look at this north-facing sign.  


 
2023 - More trim pieces up on the marquee. Photo: Estefan Bravo - September 15
 


2023 - The sidewalk view of the piece for the nose of the marquee. Photo: Estefan Bravo - September 15. Thanks for taking these! 
 


2023 - A little "Coffy" vertical was up for the cafe, named in honor of Pam Grier. Thanks to Marc Chevalier for getting the September 16 shot. Also in Marc's shot note the new tubing in place on the nose of the marquee.
 


2023 - A closer look at the new panel on the nose of the marquee. Thanks to Scott Carlson for the photo. It's one of six he shared in a September 30 post on the Facebook group Lost Angeles.



2023 - The marquee came alive again! Thanks to Estefan Bravo for capturing the action in five short video clips on a September 30 Facebook post
 
 

2023 - The first copy went up on the marquee on November 9. The photo was a post on the Vista Facebook page. Thanks to Corky Baines for spotting it. 
 
 

2023 - "Did a quick flyover and snapped this image." Thanks to Ted Soqui for sharing his photo in a Facebook post. Visit the Ted Soqui Photography website and Instagram
 
 

2023 - Thanks to Ben Rodgers for this November 10 photo.
 


2023 - As a pre-opening event Quentin hosted two 35mm screenings of "True Romance" on November 11. Thanks to Ben Rodgers for this shot. Also see a view by Jack Fields that he included in a Facebook post about the evening. There's also a seven second marquee clip on Facebook from Carlos Ramos. The official opening was a 35mm run of Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" from November 17 to November 21.
 
 

2023 - Ridley Scott's "Napoleon" was the first 70mm booking for the theatre, running from November 22 until December 14. Thanks to Paul Rayton for getting the shot. It's one of many he took appearing in a photo gallery on the site In70mm.com
 
 

2024 - Pam's Coffy, a coffee bar and cereal emporium, opened in the east storefront on Valentine's Day. Photo: Bill Counter - February 14



2024 - The opening of Pam's warranted a review by Rebecca Roland in The Eater. This is one of her ten photos included with the piece. "'The whole vision was let’s make it funky,' says Mayra Garcia, who works at the Vista Theater and Pam's Coffy. 'Let’s make it like two high school kids are putting together a little coffee shop.'"
 

The Vista in the Movies: 
 

We get a quick look at the theatre in the two-reeler "Standing Pat" (FBO, 1928). The film stars the "Ton of Fun," the comic trio Frank 'Fatty' Alexander, Hilliard 'Fat' Karr, and 'Kewpie' Ross. Earl Montgomery directed. The cinematography was by Earle Fox Walker. The guys are trying to deliver a piano but their truck is out of control. Thanks to Marc Chevalier for spotting the Vista in the film and getting the screenshot. The marquee looks like it says "Four Acts of Standard Vaudeville" and "Helene Costello in 'In Old Kentucky.'" See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Vista shots plus a look at the Garden/Ramona Theatre in Echo Park.  



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.
 
 

The Vista is over on the right in this shot looking north on Virgil toward Sunset from "Hot Rod Gang" (American International, 1958). The film, directed by Lew Landers, is about a kid who joins a rock band to earn money to support his drag racing habit. It stars John Ashley, Jody Fair and Gene Vincent. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Vista shot, two views of the Monica Theatre and two very fuzzy images of the Los Feliz.



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 called the Starbrite. 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. And thanks to Becky Bradley for commenting on a Lost Angeles Facebook post with a share of a collage of Vista shots from the episode. 



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. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in the Movies post for two shots inside the theatre.
 
 

On the right aspiring filmmaker Kevin Bacon is walking with Jennifer Jason Leigh in this shot from Christopher Guest's "The Big Picture" (Columbia, 1989). The film also features Michael McKean, Emily Longstreth, J.T. Walsh, Teri Hatcher, Martin Short, Eddie Albert and June Lockhart. The cinematography was by Jeffrey Jur. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots of the Vista as well as five shots where we see the top of the Cinerama Dome when Kevin shoots a music video.



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.
 
 

Adam West and Burt Ward enter the Vista in the 2003 TV Movie "Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt." Thanks to Tom Rombouts for the screenshot. 
 
 

At the beginning of "Black Limousine" (Cineville, 2010) David Arquette is watching a movie in the theatre. His character was the composer of the score. The film, directed by Carl Colpaert, also stars Bijou Phillips, Vivica A. Fox, Nic Bishop, Carla Ortiz, Lin Shaye, Patrick Fabian and Tom Bower. The cinematography was by Seo Mutarevic. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots at the Vista.
 
 

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. 
 
 
 
Michael Cassidy takes his his new friend Hazz Slieman to see "Superman" at the Vista in the gay Muslim rom-com "Breaking Fast" (Vertical Entertainment, 2021). The film, directed by Mike Mosallam, also features Amin El Gamal, Patrick Sabongui, Veronica Cartwright, Rula Gardenier, Aline Alasmar and Diane Sellers. The cinematography was by Anka Malatynska. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the scene at the Vista.  
 
 

Some of the gang in "Summertime" (Good Deed Entertainment, 2021) end up at a burger joint where they're offered the use of a limo by two new rap stars. Here it's sailing by the Vista while they were running Quentin's "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" in 2019. Carlos Lopez Estrada directed this story of 27 young Angelenos with much of the material written by the young stars. The cinematography was by John Schmidt. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Chinese, Arcade, United Artists and Los Angeles theatres.

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. Stevo Rood has many shots of the projection booth he took in 2005 on his site A Rood Photo.

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...."
 
Check out "The Costumed Vista Theatre Manager Unmasked," the Hear In L.A. story by Tony Pierce. 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. In 2023 Mary Mallory did a fine "Landmark Vista Theatre Turns 100" article for the Daily Mirror site. 

Troy Martin notes that there's a page about the Vista on the Rocky Horror Wiki site. Urbanize had a July 2022 story about the owner of the property just west of the Vista planning to build a new residential complex on that site. There are 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. 
 
 

Vista projectionist Leah Saint Marie and the art of film projection got some nice press in "A film projectionist once more, now in L.A. - resurrecting a dying craft," the December 31, 2023 L.A. Times article she wrote. The image with Leah and "Napoleon" on the platter didn't appear in the Times but had floated around on several sites, including the Friends of 70mm private Facebook group. 

The Vista Theatre pages:back to top - history + exterior views | lobby | auditorium | backstage | booth + offices | east storefront: pam's coffy | west storefront - cinema club |
 

11 comments:

  1. I used to go here as a kid saw Four Rooms

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  2. Saw my first movie, the land before time here as a kid

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  3. The Vista can be seen clearly, if briefly, in locarion shooting for some Monogram films.

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    1. Thanks, Otis. I'd love to get some specific titles to include on the page. And eventually screenshots. Do you have any specific data? You can leave a note here or via my email: counterb@gmail.com

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  4. Went there as a kid and saw the usual cowboys and Indian movies and catoons. I sold newspapers outside of Stand Drive-in. Next store for many years was Burls Coffee Shop and around the corner on Hill burst the upscale Burl Room. Between the Vista Theater and Burls was Good Drugs. It had a direct entrance into the coffee shop from the interior of the drug store. The last movies I saw there were first run, I believe Starwars. Excellent combo sound as I recall

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  5. My firm, Relativity Architects, did the ice cream shop to the right of the theater. Happy to provide you those plans if you’d like.

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    1. Hi! Well, if the plans show the theatre and not just that one storefront, I'd definitely like to see them. I'm at counterb@gmail.com Thanks!

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  6. Saw a porno film here in 1977. The ticket taker, Jim, became my friend and I visited him from Canada several times before his untimely death.

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