7907 Beverly Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90048 | map |
News: Demo is hopping along with the roof off the building the stagehouse and alley wall gone. The long-ago-approved condo project is underway. The Fairfax was approved for City Historic-Cultural Monument status in 2021 but that only protects certain exterior features. The storefront facades, the theatre marquee, entrance facade and terrazzo will be saved.
Seating: 1,504 when it opened, all on one level. As a triplex it was initially 913 seats. It was down to 786 (172 + 422 + 192) after reseating by Laemmle with wider seats in 2001. Meghan Warner notes that the big house was down to 324 at the end and notes: "During the rain season the big theater went down to about 298."
Architect: Woodbury C. Pennell, born in 1883. He designed hundreds of commercial and residential projects in the L.A. area and was always listed just as W.C. Pennell. His first name was given in a short obituary in the L.A. Times on April 18, 1951. In 1921 he had designed the Strand Theatre, 4409 S. Broadway. Earlier he was in partnership with John C. Austin and in 1914 they designed the Alvarado Theatre, 710 S. Alvarado St.
Initially operated as an independent house, the Fairfax was evidently in an arrangement with Fox West Coast as early as 1935. The Fairfax was listed in the Fox ads beginning February 24 of that year. In 1936 they pulled a permit for a bit of a remodel in the ticket lobby. Metzger evidently kept a hand in the operation as late as 1945. In 1947 Fox West Coast did a bit of renovation work including a new Skouras-style boxoffice and two golden swirls on the organ grilles. In 1957 Fox bought the two lots north of the building that were used for parking. The Stein family sold the building to Haig M. Prince in 1960. The theatre continued to be operated by Fox West Coast and its successor companies National General and Mann Theatres.
In 1969 the Fairfax was the venue for the L.A. engagement of "Oh, Calcutta," a presentation of Lou Shaw Productions. It opened with previews on November 25. A raid and arrests were detailed in a December 18 L.A. Times story. A January 8, 1970 Times story discussed the closure of the show that week. Thanks to Arnold Darrow for finding this program, once for sale on Amazon.
Corky Baines asks:
"Wasn’t there a tunnel in basement that ran under Fairfax?"
Mann Theatres got out in 1979 after selling their lease for $30,000 to the father and son team of Sidney and Christopher Kurstin of Kurstin Theatres. The firm owned the Brentwood Twin and the Sherman and had leases on the Culver, South Pasadena's Rialto, the Fox Fullerton and the Vagabond. In 1980 Sid announced plans to turn the building into a music venue but nothing materialized except one show, the "New Wave Marathon" on March 28. The six band extravaganza was noted in the L.A. Times issue of March 18. In April 1981 the theatre was used as one of the venues for Filmex.
Grant Lee checked out the operation for his September 9, 1981 L.A. Times story "A One-day Laborer at the Fairfax -- It's No Matinee For the Idle." In
late 1981 the Kurstins tri-plexed the theatre, a project given a value of $110,000 on the permit. The front half of the theatre was left
intact with two little theatres carved out of the rear. A hallway
down the middle (between the two rear auditoria) provided an entrance
to the main theatre.
Thanks to Mike Rivest for locating this May 23, 1986 L.A. Times ad.
In 2009 the owner, Alex Gorby of B&F Associates in Santa Monica, first proposed demolishing the building to erect a mixed-use condo building with street level retail and basement parking. Gorby had purchased the building from Haig A. Prince in 1970. The architect for the condo project, Howard Laks, suggested saving the facade and erecting a new building behind it. The Hollywood Conservancy termed this "a facadectomy" and unacceptable. Curbed L.A. did a nice Mad Libs piece about the Fairfax preservation battle in 2009.
Closing: The theatre closed in January 2010 after heavy rains on an already problematic roof made it not feasible for Lyndon Golin's Regency Theatres to continue running films. The building owner was unwilling to make repairs. Deanna Bayless comments:
See a January 12, 2010 L.A. Curbed article "Laks, Gorby Defend Fairfax Project." Three days later Dakota Smith's Curbed story "Fairfax Theatre Saga Day 214" featured some nice Wendell Benedetti photos. The item is still up but Wendell's work has vanished. The L.A. Times ran a January 2010 piece entitled "Fairfax Theater May Do a Slow Dissolve." The Times reported on the LAHTF's preservation battle again in March 2010 in their story: A Cliffhanger at Fairfax Theater."
Hillsman Wright called this "demolition by neglect" in "Historic Fairfax Theatre Could Become Condo Project," a March 2010 story on the blog LAist. In June 2010, the Los Angeles
Cultural Heritage Commission voted to deny the Fairfax Landmark status
citing the division of the auditorium and changes to the facade over the
years. PDFs of the CHC meeting agendas can be obtained from this meeting list.
The owner proposed a five story 71 unit apartment complex with a rooftop pool and ground level retail. The project got approval from the City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee in April 2013. The approval was contingent upon the retention of the facade and the the terrazzo at the entrance. The marquee would get a rehab. The rest of the building would be demolished. The ceiling in the auditorium was removed around 2019.
This rendering of the Howard Lax design for the project is from an April 2013 Curbed L.A. story "Fairfax Theatre Apartments Finally Almost Approved." They also had a followup story about the final city council approval.
The 2nd landmarking attempt: Despite the rejection of the building for landmark status in 2010, a new nomination was prepared by Steven Luftman in 2021. The rules are that to be reconsidered, there needs to be a significant amount of new information. The new application focused on recent research about the theatre's impact on the growth of the surrounding community, especially its Jewish population. The 304 page application can be downloaded as a PDF from a Google Drive folder.
The city's Cultural Heritage Commission had voted at their May 6, 2021 meeting that the Fairfax should get another hearing as far as determining its status as a Historic-Cultural Monument. The theatre was then discussed at the August 5 meeting. The 36 page Power Point album of photos the commissioners took in July is available on an 8/5 Google Drive folder. The nomination got a yes vote at the June 3 meeting. A PDF of the 6/3 meeting agenda has links to the presentation documents. It was then approved by the city council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee on November 30.
By a unanimous vote the city council declared the building to be a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument on December 7, 2021. WeHo Times had the story. It's unknown what specific parts of the building were
part of the designation. This in no way prevents the owner from
executing what he got approved in 2013: gutting the building for a condo
project. What it does do is perhaps put those areas under greater
scrutiny that he was mandated to retain: the facade, marquee and
A rendering from Howard Laks, the architect for the condo project, that appeared with "Life signs for Fairfax Theatre development," an April 2023 Urbanize story by Steven Sharp. There was also a September update.
Interior demolition began in April. By September the roof was off the building and the stagehouse was gone. See demolition photos lower on the page.
The original look of the lobby. Thanks to Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for the photo. It's one of four vintage views that were used to document the application for landmark status for the building's interior. Despite a valiant fight by the LAHTF and other groups, the application was denied. The owner plans to save some facade and entrance elements while gutting the rest.
The LAHTF 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 the buildings. www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official FB page
The view toward the screen after some 1940s Skouras-style redecoration. Photo courtesy of Hillsman Wright - LAHTF
The hallway between the two smaller theatres at the rear that gets you to the big house. It's a Don Solosan photo that had appeared on the Save the Fairfax Theatre! website.
The main auditorium. It's a Wendell Benedetti photo for the LAHTF that once appeared with the 2010 Curbed LA article "Fairfax Theatre Saga: Day 214."
A proscenium detail by Shari Determan from the now-vanished the Save the Fairfax Theatre! website.
The house left area in the main auditorium of the Fairfax in a 2009 view by Don Solosan on the LAHTF Facebook page.
The view from the back of the big house, auditorium #2. The two little ones were carved out of the rear of the auditorium when it was triplexed. Thanks to Don Solosan for the photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.
A main auditorium ceiling view. Thanks to Don Solosan for his 2009 photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.
A view of the art glass in the center of the auditorium. It's a photo by Wendell Benedetti for the LAHTF.
Projection equipment in the original booth. The Don Solosan photo appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page in 2009. He notes: "Fairfax Theater, projection for auditoriums 1 and 3. Because of the unusual way this theater was divided, projection for auditorium 2 is down that long hall at center." Scott Shepard adds: "There was no upstairs hallway connecting the projection booths until the Cineplex remodel. Before that you had to access the front booth from the rear left theater behind the screen."
Booth gear for auditorium #2 -- the front half of the original auditorium. Thanks to Don Solosan for his 2009 photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.
More exterior views:
1930 - A fine view of the marquee soffit and the ticket booth. The terrazzo is still in place. Note that at the time the theatre was built, the sidewalk didn't extend west past the theatre. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library
1930 - Looking from across the Beverly and Fairfax intersection. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library. A cropped version of the photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1931 - The view east on busy Beverly Blvd. toward Fairfax. It's a photo from the Dick Whittington Studio in the USC Digital Library collection. It's image #11 in a set of photos of properties owned by Hugh Evans Co.
1931 - An even closer look at the entrance from the Dick Whittington photo. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for finding the photo in the USC Archives and deconstructing it in his Noirish post #20189.
Also see the Noirish Los Angeles post #20187 by Chuckaluck for more views of the Beverly/Fairfax intersection.
1967 - A lovely view of the theatre on the wall of Marvin Meister's camera store at Beverly and Hayworth. James Bartlett took a photo of it for his 2016 L.A. Weekly article about the shop "Now We're an Abberation: How an Old L.A. Photo Center Survives in 2016." Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Nixols for the link to the story.
2002 - A view east when the theatre was part of the Laemmle circuit. Photo: Ken Roe on Flickr
2009 - Thanks to Don Solosan of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for this view of the Skouras-style boxoffice, dating from 1947.
2009 - A good look at the neon when the theatre was under Regency management. The photo from Kids Need To Read Foundation on Flickr was taken when they sponsored an event at the Fairfax.
2009 - The theatre's tower. Thanks to Don Solosan of the LAHTF for his photo. It was on the vanished website Save the Fairfax Theatre!
c.2009 - The top of the tower. Thanks to Shari Determan for sharing her photo.
2020 - Rioters in front of the theatre on May 30. Thanks to Margot Gerber for her photo, one of 22 she took in the neighborhood that day for a post on Facebook.
The Three Stooges try to play football near the end of the 20 minute short "Three Little Pigskins" (Columbia, 1934). We're at Gilmore Stadium and get a bit of the Fairfax in the background. Ray McCarey directed. Gilmore had opened earlier in 1934. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two additional shots.
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