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Aero Theatre

1328  Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403
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Opened: 1939. It was built by Donald Douglas. The story is that he built it so that the workers at his aircraft plant at Clover Field in Santa Monica could have nearby entertainment. Douglas didn't operate the theatre himself, it was leased out.

During the war, the Aero stayed open 24 hours a day. Later the theatre operated as a second-run neighborhood house for decades while Montana Ave. changed from scruffy and working-class to a trendy shopping street. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Phone: 310-260-1528  Website: americancinematheque.com | schedule | on Facebook

Architect: P.M. Woolpert

Seating: Originally around 600, now down to 425.

After a $1 million rehab the theatre is now run by American Cinematheque and offers almost daily changes of program including lots of classics. Projection and sound equipment includes 70mm capability.



A 2005 photo of the installation in progress on the two Norelco DP70 35/70MM machines at the Aero. It's a photo by Paul Rayton on the DP70s in California page of Thomas Hauerslev's wonderful site In70mm.com.

The building is owned by developer James S. Rosenfield who purchased it in 1977 with the idea of preserving it. The Cinematheque came along as a tenant in 2003. They reopened in 2005.

The theatre became 75 in 2016 and celebrated in a big way. The L.A. Times had a fine March 2016 story "Santa Monica's Aero Theatre regulars believe in the joy of movies" by Susan King.

The Aero in the Movies: This theatre is a favorite location for filmmakers looking for a typical neighborhood movie house.



In Barry Sonnenfeld's "Get Shorty" (MGM, 1995) we see John Travolta and Rene Russo strolling down the block from the Aero after seeing a film. The Vista Theatre was used for the theatre interior. See the Theatres in Movies post for more from the film.

The theatre also appears in "Donnie Darko" (Newmarket Films, 2001) and other films.


 The Aero interior: 


The Aero's lobby. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



An auditorium view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



A look to the rear of the house. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



One of the deco ladies on the end standards. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

More exterior views: 


A c.1939 look at the theatre running "Anthony Adverse" (a 1936 release) along with "Jeepers Creepers," from October 1939. Thanks to Margot Gerber, American Cinematheque's publicist, for posting the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



A 1942 Aero view posted by Karl Gerber on the So Cal Historic Architecture Facebook page. He was trying to confirm or debunk the frequently told tale that Douglas built the theatre so his factory workers could have 24 hour movies. See more discussion down at the bottom of this page. The version of the photo we see here, a bit larger than Karl's, is from a later post by Gerald Farovitch on Photos of Los Angeles. As a comment, Gerald also included a 75th anniversary view. 



A 1980 photo from Malibu Times Magazine. Thanks to Michael Hayashi for posting it on the Facebook page You know you're from Santa Monica if....



A May 1981 photo from the American Classic Images collection. Also on the site see an April 1982 view.



The Aero's entrance. It's a 1990 photo by filmmaker and cinematographer Gary Graver (1938-2006). Many of the photos of older single screen theatres he took can be seen in two compilations on YouTube: "Second Run - part 1" and "Second Run - part 2." Thanks to Sean Graver for use of the photo.



A view of the Aero marquee in 2002 from the Santa Monica Public Library collection. It's a photo by Cynni Murphy. Also in the collection are another entrance view and a 2002 shot from across the street.



A nice 2009 view of the line for a sold out showing of the "Back To The Future" trilogy. Thanks to Ori on Flickr for the photo.



The theatre in 2010. Photo: Bill Counter



A closer entrance view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The entrance terrazzo. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The view west on Montana Ave. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



An entrance view added to the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page by Ken McIntyre in 2013.



A 2015 "75th Anniversary" photo appearing courtesy of the Cinematheque's Margo Gerber. It was with "Aero Still Flying High," an article by Kim Devore appearing in the Malibu Times. 



Thanks to Howard Gray for this 2016 marquee photo appearing on Photos of Los Angeles.



The Aero boxoffice. Photo: Howard Gray - Photos of Los Angeles - 2016



The view from across the street. Photo: Howard Gray - Photos of Los Angeles - 2016. Thanks for these, Howard!



The Aero is one of a number of revival venues discussed in Mark Olsen's 2017 L.A. Times article "A film festival every night: The new ecology of the old-movie scene in L.A." It's a photo by Genaro Molina for the Times.



Thanks to Stephen Russo for this look at the marquee he took August 3, 2017. 

A research question: Did Donald Douglas build the theatre so the employees at his aircraft factory could have 24 hour movies? 

Karl Gerber, with his 2015 post of the 1942 photo on the So Cal Historic Architecture Facebook page, comments: "My sister works for the non-profit that occupies the Aero Theater in Santa Monica. They will be celebrating its 75th anniversary. She is putting together information on the theater. She has raised a question I am having incredible difficulty verifying or debunking. Did Douglas build the Aero Theater in order to have a theater to show his Douglas Aircraft workers movies 24 hours a day? She believes this is not true, and soon after he built the theater he sought to lease it out. I am skeptical of this story because the Aero is more in Brentwood and is quite far from where Douglas operated in 1939/1940, and this was before wartime production."

Steve Milner responded: "It's not all that far from his factory in Santa Monica. Though it opened prior to the US's involvement in WWII, Douglas may have been running three shifts to support the British war effort." Other comments to the post relayed second hand information about the story from sources such as Cinema Treasures and the L.A. Conservancy.

Karl replied: "As a historian the goal is to conduct original research. I look for first hand accounts, listings in phone books, real estate records, records from the Secretary of State, the State Contractor's Board, maps, business letters, telephone directories, newspapers (although community newspapers were and are highly inaccurate), pictures, title records, and documents from court cases. The problem I am having with this claim about the Aero is NONE of it can be verified through these methods. It appears many sources have repeated this rumor as it were true, but in 6-7 hours on this issue I have been unable to verify any of it. Given the number of employees of Douglas Aircraft in Los Angeles County and the theater allegedly being available for employees through the 1940s kids of workers or workers would have surfaced by now. Nobody has recounted sitting in the theater and watching a movie run for Douglas Aircraft employees. Some of the thrill of forensic history is debunking a myth." 

Also see Karl's post about Donald Douglas. Of course, Douglas wasn't a theatre operator. It would have made sense for him to stipulate a few conditions, such as hours of operation, and lease the building to an experienced individual to operate it.

More Information: More about the Aero is on Cinema Treasures. The Cinema Tour page on the Aero has some photos by Bob Meza from 2002.

The theatre gets a mention in the Arcadia Publishing book "Early Santa Monica." There's a preview on Google Books. See a page about the Aero on the site From Script To DVD. The L.A. Conservancy also has a page on the Aero. 

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