8556 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211 | map |
The News: Although it's mostly a rental screening room facility, operator Michael Hall says he tries to have at least some film events for the public every week. An ongoing series has screenings Sunday mornings plus films in 70mm shown in the afternoon on the 2nd Sunday each month. And there are occasional special events. Scroll way down on the website's home page for the public offerings: fineartstheatrebh.com. The site lists some free garage parking options but there's plenty of street parking on Sundays when the meters aren't used. There's now an augmented menu with vegetarian options.
Architect: Seattle-based B. Marcus Priteca, who, among hundreds of theatre designs, was primarily known for his earlier work for the Pantages circuit. Locally that included the downtown Pantages (1920, later renamed the Warner Downtown) and the Hollywood Pantages (1930).
He also did three houses for Warner Brothers: the Warner San Pedro (still going strong), Warner Beverly Hills (demolished) and Warner Huntington Park (a gym conversion). The Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres in Los Angeles" notes on page 84 that the Fine Arts was designed by B. Marcus Priteca and S.E. Sonnichen, the latter being the local "associate architect."
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.
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. One of the projects in 2020 was facade and signage restoration including installation of LED readerboards and a replica of the vertical sign once on the building.
The Fine Arts closed 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 noted at the time that it planned to work with the new operator to host occasional special events.
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.
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.
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!
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:
More exterior views:
1949 - Orson Welles' "Macbeth" at the Fine Arts. It's a 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.
1949 - A Los Angeles Public Library photo showing the vertical sign that had been added during the 1948 remodel.
1951 - The evening of the world premiere of George Stevens' "A Place in the Sun" at the Fine Arts on August 15. It's a photo from the Classic Movie Theatres collection on the Cinema Tour page about the theatre.
1951 - A shot taken during the run of "A Place in the Sun" from the collection of Hollywood Historic Photos. Also see their selection of other Beverly Hills theatre photos.
1952 - Adolph Zukor gets a military welcome at a personal appearance to launch "My Son John." It was the film's premiere. Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for their post of the trade magazine photo on Cinema Treasures.
1952 - 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.
1962 - The film "Jessica" 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.
1974 - Thanks to Nick Faitos for this photo of the Fine Arts he snapped in April. It was a post of his on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.
1974 - The crowd lined up for "The Exorcist." Thanks to David Zornig for posting this one on Cinema Treasures. He spotted it on Alison Martino's Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page.
1978 - An "Autumn Sonata" shot by Anne Laskey in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1978 - A marquee view during the "Autumn Sonata" run. It's another Anne Laskey photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
2005 - A view when the Fine Arts was a rental venue. Thanks to K Blood on Flickr for the photo.
2014 - Thanks to Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography for this neon shot. HunterKerhart.com | Facebook.com/HunterKerhartPhotography
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.
More Information: 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.
Claudia Mullins has some great interior views in her 2017 photo set posted on the LAHTF Facebook page.
See the Cinema Treasures page on the Fine Arts for many interesting comments. 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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