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Fine Arts Theatre

8556 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211  | map |

The news: The last day of management by the Laemmle circuit was October 31. The theatre continues to be available for public events and private screenings under the management of Screening Services Group, a firm that operated it from 2005 until 2009.


Opening: April 21, 1937 as the Wilshire Regina Theatre. The location is a block and a half west of La Cienega Blvd. On the screen for the 1937 opening was "That Girl From Paris" and "Black Legion" plus a March of Time newsreel and a cartoon. The theatre was a project of local businessman Joseph De Bell. The construction cost was about $75,000. After 1948 the building sported a nice vertical sign at the center of the facade.

Opening day advertising mentioned a "Magic Fountain for Young and Old" and a "Theaterette in Ladies Lounge." That theatrette was a fancy name for the cry room.  The 1938 photo of the "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" double bill from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives can be seen on on page 112 of his Arcadia Publishing book "Early Beverly Hills" and on the Hollywood Historic Photos site. Thanks to Kimberly Reiss of Beverly Hills Heritage for posting it on the LAHTF Facebook page

Phone: 310-478-3836  Screening Services Group: 310-659-3875 | www.studioscreenings.com

Seating: Evidently 800 at the opening, 700 after a 1948 remodel, 410 currently.

Architect: Seattle-based B. Marcus Priteca, who was primarily known for his earlier work in many cities for the Pantages circuit. In the L.A. area, he also did three houses for Warner Brothers in San Pedro (still going strong), Beverly Hills (demolished) and Huntington Park (a retail conversion). The Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres in Los Angeles" notes on page 84 that the building was designed by B. Marcus Priteca and S.E. Sonnichen, the latter being the local "associate architect."  

History: Due to the convenient Wilshire Blvd. location, the house was a favorite for premieres. The theatre got the Fine Arts name in December 1948 after a renovation by Fox West Coast Theatres. The reopening attraction on December 28 was "The Red Shoes" with lots of stars attending.

The Fine Arts premiered George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" in 1951. "Room at the Top" ran 6 months in 1959. In the 60s and 70s, the Fine Arts was one of the major Los Angeles Art houses. "David and Lisa," "Never on Sunday," "That Man From Rio," "Belle de Jour," "Zorba the Greek," "Persona," and "Last Tango in Paris" all had their initial engagements here. In 1974 "The Exorcist" had lines around the block for months, to the ire of local residents.

The theatre continued to be operated by Fox West Coast (then National General and, finally, Mann Theatres) until December 1985 when their lease was up. Laemmle Theatres took over the operation at that time. They had purchased the building for $1.1 million in 1984 after Mann declined. The theatre was operated by Laemmle until 1993.

In 1993 Italian Film distributor Cecchi Gori purchased the building from Laemmle. Joseph Musil, who also designed the renovations of the El Capitan and Crest, supervised a 1993 renovation for the new owners. The management contract went to AMC. After the renovation it was known as as the Cecchi Gori Fine Arts.



Thanks to Mike Rivest for locating this January 1, 1994 ad.

The lobby was pushed into the auditorium a bit and a larger screen (14' x 33') installed in front of the proscenium. The concession area was expanded and restrooms enlarged using what had been adjacent retail space and the cry room upstairs. The space around what had once been an island boxoffice was enclosed with new doors out near the sidewalk line.

Later the house was operated by Landmark. It closed again in 2005 and later that year was leased to Screening Services Group / Classic Movie Theatres. This operation ran a few films commercially but then the theatre just became a venue open for screenings and special events. It got equipped for digital and also added 70mm capability with two Norelco DP70s that had come out of the National in Westwood. Cecchi Gori still owned the building and got it back in 2009. For awhile it was supposedly undergoing renovation work but basically it just sat there. They were in discussions with Laemmle to operate the theatre again but decided to pull the plug and put it back on the market.

In 2010 the building was sold to Singaporean conglomerate Spice Global for $4 million. They had intended to triplex the venue and run Bollywood films. In 2012, those plans were abandoned and the theatre was put up for sale again. Curbed LA posted the story at the time, which they picked up from a Daniel Miller article in Hollywood Reporter. In October 2013 the City of Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage commission issued a preliminary report (available as a PDF) that started the landmarking process for the theatre.

The theatre was purchased in March 2014 by philanthropist Paula Kent Meehan with the intention of preserving it as a community resource. But Ms. Meehan died at age 82 in June, 2014. The L.A. Times ran an obituary. The listing on Loopnet had reported an asking price of $4 million for the 7,767 s.f. building on the 9,281 s.f. lot. Another report had listed the building size as 6,862 s.f. The 2014 sale price was not disclosed but was for less than the asking price. Martha Groves discussed the sale and outlined the history of the theatre in an April 25, 2014 L.A. Times story. She reported at the time that the new owner planned to reopen the theatre and "let it evolve." Sadly, she didn't get the chance. With her death, it went back on the market.

Ms. Meehan, who made her fortune with the Redken hair products line, had been in the news earlier for buying the local Beverly Hills Courier, covered in an April 2014 story in the L.A. Times. Her philanthropic endeavors had included substantial donations for restoration of the Beverly Hills Post Office and toward construction of the adjacent Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. See the Wikipedia article on Ms. Meehan for more career details.

A new owner: In 2015 the theatre was sold to Shawn Far. He's in the clothing business downtown as owner of Vertigo USA and lives in Beverly Hills. After a five year closure the house reopened September 18, 2015 under Laemmle management. The Laemmle blog post about the company's return to the venue noted a new name, the Ahrya Fine Arts. Ahrya is the first name of Mr. Far's oldest son.

The theatre was granted City of Beverly Hills landmark status May 16, 2017. See a PDF that includes the full report from the city's Cultural Heritage Commission. Thanks to Joe Vogel for locating it. The owners also had a Mills Act funding application approved by the City Council in September 2017. The act provides a credit against taxes for restoration projects in a historic building and requires commitment to a ten year program. Specific amounts and details of the initial projects have yet to be determined. According to Sally Fugimoto, who started the process for the owners, work on the signage and storefront restoration would be the first steps.

The Fine Arts will close (again) as a regular commercial exhibitor on October 31, 2019 after four years of Laemmle management. Under their tenure this time around the theatre was sometimes dark. The focus had been on special events and other occasional bookings where its seating capacity was useful. The transition was discussed in "Ahrya Fine Arts News...," an October 31 Laemmle blog post. The circuit plans to work with the new operator to host occasional events in the future.

Status: Michael Hall's Screening Services Group assumed management November 1, 2019. They had been the operators from 2005 to 2009 when the building had been owned by Italian distributor Cecchi Gori. The theatre is available for rentals and private screenings. The Ahrya has been taken off the name and it's once again known as the Fine Arts Theatre. In addition to digital projection, the theatre retains 35 and 70mm capability.


The Fine Arts in the Movies:


Alex and Zoe go out for a first date and find themselves locked in the Fine Arts in "One Last Night" (ASA Pictures, 2019). Featured are Rachele Schank, Luke Brandon Field, Brian Baumgartner, Ali Cobrin and Kelly Stables. Anthony Sabet directed.  He says that the film was based on a real incident, although not at the Fine Arts.


The lobby: 


Looking in from the street. Talking on the left are Ross Melnick, media historian and founder of the site Cinema Treasures, and Escott O. Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019 



A closer look at the south wall. Thanks to Nick A. for posting his 2017 photo on Yelp.



An earlier view showing the decor as designed by Joe Musil. Thanks to Ken Roe for his 2002 photo appearing on Cinema Treasures



A look to the house left side of the lobby and the expanded ladies room area. At the far right it's one of the corrugated glass walls leading into the auditorium. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019 



The house right side of the lobby. The men's room is through the partially open door. The lounges were originally all upstairs. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



Looking into the bar area. It's a space that used to be a separate storefront. Wilshire is through the window at the right. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



An earlier look for the bar. It's a c.2006 photo from the Classic Movie Theatres collection on the Cinema Tour page about the theatre.



Looking out to Wilshire. The theatre used to have a recessed entrance and an island boxoffice. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for this 2016 photo, one appearing with her Avoiding Regret photo essay "The Last Movie Theatre of Beverly Hills," by which she means the one remaining single-screen neighborhood style house. 


The auditorium: 


Thanks to Ken Roe for this 2002 auditorium photo on on Cinema Treasures. See the photos section of the site's Fine Arts page for several more interior views.  The story is that for the 1993 Cecchi Gori remodel they wanted an Italian street scene for a front curtain but obviously that didn't happen.



A great screen view from Kirsten Levison on Flickr. It's part of her 2008 Los Angeles photo set.



A ceiling fixture detail from indefatigable theatre explorer Michelle Gerdes. No, the fixtures aren't original. They're from the remodel designed by Joe Musil.



A Michael Robinson Chavez photo appearing with the November 13, 2012 L.A. Times story by Corina Knoll about the difficulties faced by the Fine Arts Theatre: "Historic Theatre in Beverly Hills an Empty Shell."  Well, hardly.

The photo reappeared in a March 2014 story about theatres trying out discounted admissions one day a week. Of course, there was no chance at the time of buying a ticket at any price to the Fine Arts as it was closed.



Members of the Theatre Historical Society running amuck during a visit as part of their 2017 national conclave. Photo: John Hough / Mark Mulhall - OrnateTheatres.com



A peek behind the drapes house left to see some original decor. Photo: John Hough / Mark Mulhall - OrnateTheatres.com - 2017. Thanks, John and Mark!



A view house right during the Theatre Historical Society conclave. Photo: Bill Counter - 2017



The rear of the house. It's a 2008 photo by Kirsten Levison on Flickr. Thanks, Kirsten!



Thanks to John Hough and Mark Mulhall for this 2017 photo across the back of the house. The lobby has been pushed into the rear of the seating area. Visit John and Mark's ever-growing website OrnateTheatres.com for terrific collections of photos they've taken of many Los Angeles area theatres as well as others around the country.



Among the remaining features from the 30s are the two corrugated glass walls leading from the auditorium to the lobby. Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - 2016


In the booth: 


A c.2007 photo of the Fine Arts booth on the DP70s in California page of Thomas Hauerslev's terrific site In70mm.com. Michael Hall, the operator of the theatre at the time, is seen with two Norelco DP70 35/70mm machines he bought when the National in Westwood closed. When his lease was up, he left them in the booth. It's a Robert Weisgerber photo. As of late 2019, Mr. Hall's Screening Services Group is once again managing the theatre.


A few more exterior views: 


A 1942 view of what was still called the Regina Theatre added to the Beverly Hills Heritage Facebook page in 2013 by Kimberly Reiss. The occasion was the beginning of the landmarking process for the building. They're running a newsreels + feature policy. Here "Juke Box Jenny" is the feature film. The photo also appears on the LAHTF Facebook page.



Orson Welles' "Macbeth" at the Fine Arts. It's a 1949 Los Angeles Public Library photo showing the name change following the 1948 Fox West Coast remodel. Note that the area around boxoffice wasn't enclosed until much later.



A 1949 Los Angeles Public Library photo showing the vertical sign that had been added during the 1948 remodel.



The evening of the world premiere of George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" at the Fine Arts on August 15, 1951. It's a photo from the Classic Movie Theatres collection on the Cinema Tour page about the theatre.



A 1951 "A Place in the Sun" photo from the collection of Hollywood Historic Photos. Also see their selection of other Beverly Hills theatre photos.



"Adolph Zukor gets a military welcome at a personal appearance to launch 'My Son John' in 1952 at the Beverly Hills Fine Arts Theatre." Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for their post of the trade magazine photo on Cinema Treasures. It was the film's premiere.



Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler for sharing this "My Son John" photo from his collection. It's on Flickr in the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation photo pool. 



A 1952 "My Son John" photo from Ken McIntyre on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



A 1959 view when the Fine Arts was in the 19th week of their run of "Room at the Top." The photo, from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives, appears in his Arcadia Publishing book "Postcards of America - Beverly Hills 1930-2005." It's also on a post of the blog My Love of Old Hollywood. The photo is also on the website of Hollywood Historic Photos. Other Fine Arts photos on the site include "The Ghoul" from 1939 and "The Group" from 1965.



The film "Jessica" from 1962 featured Angie Dickinson as a character who rode around on a scooter. The two ladies were out doing promo for the film by cruising around. Thanks to David Dingo Kenny for posting the photo on the Facebook page for the non-public group Mid Century Modern Los Angeles.



Thanks to Nick Faitos for this photo of the Fine Arts he snapped in April 1974. It was a post of his on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.



The crowd lined up for "The Exorcist" in 1974. Thanks to David Zornig for posting this one on Cinema Treasures. He spotted it on Alison Martino's Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page.



A 1978 "Autumn Sonata" shot by Anne Laskey in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A marquee view during the "Autumn Sonata" run. It's another Anne Laskey photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A 1982 view from the American Classic Images collection.  



"Gabriella" with Marcello Mastroianni and Sonia Braga in 1984. Thanks to American Classic Images for the photo.



A 2002 photo by Betty Sword from the Theatre Talks collection of Cezar Del Valle. Thanks, Cezar!



A 2005 view when the Fine Arts was a rental venue. Thanks to K Blood on Flickr for the photo.



A 2006 entrance photo by Tejana on Flickr as part of her Wilshire Beauty set.



Thanks to Tejana on Flickr for this great detail of the marquee neon.



Another 2006 marquee detail by Tejana on Flickr. Also see a view of the signage from across the street. Thanks for the photos!



The theatre in 2007. Photo: Bill Counter



Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this 2008 photo looking east.



A 2009 photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr nicely showing off the neon. There are many more great pictures in his Los Angeles Neon set.



A rainy afternoon view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



Thanks to Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography for this 2014 neon shot. HunterKerhart.com | Facebook.com/HunterKerhartPhotography



An entrance view. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014. Thanks, Hunter!



"Ahrya" added to the west wall signage. It was later removed with the signage then saying only "Theatre." Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein - 2016. Thanks, Sandi!



October 2019, the last month of Laemmle operation. Photo: Bill Counter 



A virus lockdown view by Ian Logan that appeared with "LA's Shuttered Movie Theaters and Venues Are Using Their Marquees to Speak to the City," an April 2020 Los Angeles Magazine story by Mr. Logan and Cindy Whitehead that included eleven additional photos. Thanks to Yasmin Elming for spotting it.  

More Information: Claudia Mullins has some great interior views in her 2017 photo set posted on the LAHTF Facebook page.

Take a look at Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret photo essay "The Last Movie Theatre of Beverly Hills," by which she means the one remaining single-screen neighborhood style house. Sandi has some nice marquee views and shots of interior details to share.

See the Cinema Treasures page on the Fine Arts for many interesting submissions. Of special interest are the posts by Vokoban from the L.A. Times and other sources. See the story about Peter Lorre posted in February 2006.

Some of the data on this page comes from the detailed history of the theatre by TJ Edwards on Cinema Tour (also showing up on Cinema Treasures). The Cinema Tour page also has some nice photos, including interior views.

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