Opened: September 19, 1930 as the Fox Wilshire Theatre with the Marx Brothers in "Animal Crackers" as the initial attraction. The premiere was attended by Fay Wray, Jeanette MacDonald, Robert Montgomery and many others.
The opening night photo by Mott Studios is from the California State Library collection. It also appears with several interior views as a collage on Calisphere
from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection. UCLA has a number of
sketches by Lee of various early versions of the tower that can be seen
among their 26 images of the theatre on Calisphere.
Website: www.sabantheatre.org | on Facebook Phone: 888-645-5006. The manager is Dana Morris, who can be reached at 714-658-2423.
An ad in the opening night program. Thanks to Woody Wise for posting it on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.
Seating: 2,295 originally. Now about 1,868 with 887 on the main floor, 197 in the lower section of the balcony and 784 in the upper section. Among other changes, the lobby has been enlarged into space that was formerly the last few rows of the main floor seats.
Architect: S. Charles Lee designed one of the most stunning of all the Los Angeles movie palaces. It was Lee's second theatre in Los Angeles. The Tower had opened in 1927, the Los Angeles would come along in January 1931. The Fox Wilshire was the first of many he would do in the art deco style but he never got a chance to do another large theatre that would rival this one.
This floorplan for the Fox Wilshire comes from an article by S. Charles Lee in the December 28, 1929 issue of Motion Picture News. It seems to be a preliminary version. Many areas weren't built as shown. The article, on Internet Archive, also has sketches of alternate exterior looks for the project.
The new theatre was featured in the October 25, 1930 issue of Exhibitors Herald-World in an article by Tom Hacker titled "The Modern Motif in Fantastic Mood." He comments:
"... A new Fox theatre that challenges
the theory that the modernist can't play make believe. The new
Fox Wilshire in Beverly Hills, Cal., just opened, represents the
ultimate in dazzling and daring treatment. Basing his design on
modernistic principles, S. Charles Lee, the architect, employed a unique
and highly imaginative motif, which is incorporated in both interior
and exterior of the large edifice. The Wilshire seats 2,500 persons,
making it the third largest motion picture theatre in Los Angeles.
"The extreme modern design of the house
extends also to its individual furnishings and seats, all of which were
especially created. The mammoth curtain is a distinct innovation.
Opening like an iris, it develops from three to four phases of color and
design as it unfolds. Coral shades, beginning in the carpets, are
carried into the color scheme of the seats, blending gradually upward
into the many shades of silver and black in the mural and ceiling
decorations. In line with the advanced theory of construction,
the Fox Wilshire has an oval foyer, with curving stairs on either side
leading to the balcony. Toilet facilities are located on a half-level of
these stairs, as opposed to the usual basement location. This position
affords these rooms an abundance of light and air. A cosmetic room adds
to the facilities of the women's department. The treatment of the
main foyer, like that of the balance of the house, is black, coral and
silver, having black walls and a silver ceiling supported on silver
columns. Of the dark shade, three tones are featured, including dull,
medium and bright. Light cast on these tones gives an affect of red,
silver and black.
Upstairs: The office tower had an opulent penthouse apartment for Howard Sheehan of 20th Century Fox.
A look into the penthouse dining room. It's a photo on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection.
The fireplace in the penthouse. It's on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection. There are eight other views of the penthouse in the collection indexed as "Sheehan Apartments."
The Fox Wilshire as a Movie Theatre: The theatre was always a premier first run venue for Fox West Coast Theatres and its successor National General. Later it was operated by Mann Theatres after they took over the remnants of the Fox Circuit on the west coast.
For the second film released in Cinemascope, "How to Marry a Millionaire," 20th Century Fox took it to the Fox Wilshire. The premiere film in the process, "The Robe," had opened at the Chinese on September 24, 1953. See Michael Coate's "Looking Back at CinemaScope" article on the site Digital Bits.
The ad for the premiere engagement of "How To Marry a Millionaire" at the Fox Wilshire in 1953. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for sharing it as a post for the Photos of Los Angeles private Facebook group.
An image from the center of the souvenir program for "How To Marry a Millionaire." Thanks to Jeffrey Nickora for sharing it. Also see the program cover. Their copy noted that CinemaScope had "revolutionized motion picture history... Conceivably, somewhere in the world one man may exist who has never heard of CinemaScope... he must be a hermit, cut off from society in a sealed cave..."
An ad for "The Sound of Music." Thanks to Mark Radley for including it with a post about the film for the Friends of 70mm Facebook group.
70mm reissue, second run, return and move-over engagements included: "Ben-Hur" (1969, reserved seats), "Sound Of Music" (1969), "South Pacific" (1969), "Doctor Zhivago" (1970), "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1971, 1975), "Around The World In 80 Days" (1971), "MGM Fabulous Three" (1971), "My Fair Lady" (1971), "West Side Story" (1971), "Camelot" (1973, 1974, 1976, 1977), "Fiddler On The Roof" (1973), "Man Of La Mancha" (1973), "This Is Cinerama" (1973 - with a curved screen), "Oliver!" (1974), "Hello, Dolly!" (1975, 1976, 1977), "Gone With The Wind" (1976), "Logan’s Run" (1976), "A Star Is Born" (1977). Thanks to Michael Coate for the research.
Closing as a film venue: The Fox Wilshire closed as a film venue in 1978. Mann Theatres was still operating it early that year.
Going Legit: It got a renovation in
1981 (with a muted color palette) by architect Richard McCann and
reopened as a legit house under Nederlander Organization management as
the Wilshire Theatre. Among other attractions, Liz and Dick appeared in
1983 with a touring production of "Private Lives."
After the Nederlanders stopped using the theatre, they rented it to a group called the Beverly Hills Performing Arts Center (aka Temple of the Arts). In the years following it had only sporadic bookings of Broadway plays, smaller musicals (the stage is only 26' deep), concerts, and religious events. The first film to play the theatre in years was the December 2006 premiere of "Dreamgirls."
The group had been renting for over a decade and had made repeated offers to buy the building but were always rebuffed. Jimmy Nederlander reportedly told them "We buy theatres. We don't sell theatres." But with the closing of their competitive threat, the Shubert, things changed. The building was purchased from the Nederlander Organization in 2006.
At the time they were calling it the Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills. A program of restoration was begun. Early projects were new carpet, reupholstered seats and a repainting of the proscenium area. Tech work in recent years has also included lighting and sound upgrades.
SAS operated the theatre for the new owners beginning in 2006. Bobby Jones comments:
"I worked/ran SAS for ten years from 2006 to 2016. SAS ran the Wilshire/Saban from 2006 to 2013? Or 14? I did a couple 40 hour days at that theater. Show up Friday, leave Sunday. Back when I was young."
The theatre was renamed the Saban Theatre in 2009. Restoration work continues in various areas of the theatre, much of it funded by a $5 million donation from Haim Saban.
Status: Alive and well as a concert venue now booked by promoter
Lance Sterling of Sterling Venue Ventures, a company with the slogan "Where Music Meets the Soul." They also operate music clubs in Agoura Hills, Santa Clarita and Montclair. The theatre occasionally hosts other events as well.
1930 - A great May 8 construction view by Mason Schouler from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection on Calisphere. Also see February 27 and March 27 photos in the collection.
1931 - The marquee with "Monkey Business" playing. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.
1931 - Don't you wish you could see the "Wonder Picture of the Year"? It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1930s - An undated look at the east wall of the theatre. It's a photo from the Security Pacific National Bank collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
1934 - A view of the marquee from the Kate Mercier collection. The gentleman in the photo is her grandfather, Hall Baetz, who managed the Fox Wilshire in the 30s. Also see a photo of Hall in front of the boxoffice.
1935 - A great shot of the Fox Wilshire running "China Seas" with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. Thanks to Kate Mercier for sharing the photo from her collection. Also see an ad for "China Seas" from Kate's collection.
1940 - Looking west toward the Fox Wilshire from San Vicente. It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo, part of a set of 4 in the USC Digital Library collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for including the set on his Noirish post #20227.
1945 - A fine view of the boxoffice that's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1956 - The crowd for the premiere of "Trapeze." It's a Sid Avery photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1956 - A wider Sid Avery shot of the "Trapeze" ballyhoo. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection -- along with about 20 more from that night if you'd care to go looking.
1973 - A great facade view from the Sean Ault collection.
1976 - The Fox Wilshire in 1976 for the premiere of "Led Zeppelin: The Song Remains the Same." Thanks to Maurice Ideses for posting the shot on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
1978 - The closed theatre as seen in a photo by Anne Laskey in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1978 - Looking east in an Anne Laskey photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Also in the collection by Ms. Laskey from the same year: wall and neon detail | marquee detail | tower view | full height view from the west |
1981 - A photo in the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
1983 - Thanks to the now-vanished American Classic Images website for this view.
1986 - A Mike Mullen photo in the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.
2002 - A Betty Sword photo of the Fox Wilshire from the Theatre Talks collection of Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle. The Nederlanders were running "Rent." Thanks, Cezar!
c. 2005 - A photo that nicely shows off the office tower. It was a post on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page by Billy Vera.
2007 - The view west. Photo: Bill Counter
2010 - A lovely sunset shot by Don Solosan for the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. 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 various historic theatres. www.lahtf.org | LAHTF on Facebook
2010 - The new deco style marquee. The design work was by Fernando Duarte. Photo: Bill Counter
2010 - The new Saban Theatre marquee at night. Thanks to Don Solosan for the photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.
2010 - The ticket lobby. There was considerable restoration in this area in 2009 including reproduction of the original doors. Photo: Bill Counter
2010 - One of the display cases. Photo: Bill Counter
2010 - A facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter
2010 - The view along the west side of the building toward Wilshire. Photo: Bill Counter
2014 - A luscious view from the west. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography for the photo. In addition to his website, there's also a Facebook page. His work is seen widely on many sites including Urbanize L.A and the the Facebook page DTLA Development.
2014 - A peek into the ticket lobby. Photo: Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography
2014 - A fine look at the marquee soffit. Photo: Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography
2014 - The view west along Wilshire. Photo: Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography
2014 - Another lovely evening view. Photo: Hunter Kerhart Architectural Photography. Thanks, Hunter!
2018 - Mike Hume checks out the neon. And the new digital readerboards. Visit the Saban Theatre page on his Historic Theatre Photography site for many terrific views of the theatre.
2021 - A view from the west. Photo: Bill Counter
2023 - A January "Herman's Hermits" shot. Thanks to Claudia Mullins for sharing this as well as four interior views on a Facebook post.
The Fox Wilshire in the Movies:
The theatre is featured in Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie" (20th Century Fox, 1976) when Mel Funn uses the venue to preview his new film. In this boxoffice view view we get posters up for "Young Frankenstein." The film features Bernadette Peters, Marty Fekdman, Dom DeLuise, Sid Caesar, Harold Gould and Ron Carey. We get cameos by Burt Reynolds, Liza Minelli, Anne Bancroft, Marcel Marceau and Paul Newman. The cinematography was by Paul Lohmann.
A look at the rear of the main floor in "Silent Movie." All draped except you get a view of some decorative plaster on one of the beams. At the time of the filming, the front of the house was also draped -- with a waterfall curtain. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a lobby view.
In Paul Schrader's "American Gigolo" (Paramount, 1980) Richard Gere visits a bar that used to be on the corner of the Fox Wilshire building. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for that shot and views of several other theatres.
Beverly Hills Heritage's page on Facebook has a Fox Wilshire album. At last look it had 83 photos. For a great compilation of information about 70mm engagements in Los Angeles, see Michael Coate's 70mm in Los Angeles page on the website FromScriptToDVD.com. Also see the site's Fox Wilshire page.
Visit the Saban Theatre page on Mike Hume's Historic Theatre Photography site for many terrific views of the theatre.
See "Ed Kelsey on the Saban" a great 10 minute visit to the theatre. The clip features Mr. Kelsey, a noted Los Angeles theatre historian, discussing the 2008 restoration work on the proscenium by Evergreene Architectural Arts along with other aspects of the ongoing restoration including seating, carpet and lobby work. The video is by Don Solosan and appears on the LAHTF YouTube channnel.
Almost all of the Fox Wilshire items in the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection are linked either on this page, the lobby page, or the page of vintage auditorium views. If you'd like to browse the whole collection head to it on the UCLA Library website or on Calisphere.
Beverly Hills Patch had a September 2013 story about a city pilot program for historic buildings allowing a reduction in property taxes if the amount saved will be put toward historic restoration. The Saban's projects included upgrading their readerboard with a black and white LED display, more seating upgrades, restoration work in the lobby, as well as other projects.
A 2014 story in the Hollywood Reporter discussed the creation of the Steve Tisch Cinema Center at the Saban with the venue upgrading its digital projection gear and going after more premieres and film festival events.
The L.A. Times ran a March 2014 profile of Lance Sterling, who also has the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills and books another Canyon Club in Las Vegas. Mr. Sterling was also profiled in a November 2013 Huffington Post article saying at the time that he hoped to book 150 shows, mostly classic rock bands, into the theatre yearly beginning in 2014.
A July 2019 Beverly Press/Park LaBrea News story "Saban Theatre claims subway damage" discussed issues the theatre attributed to tunneling for the Metro Purple Line extension.
Trivia item: John Cassavettes had an office in the building and his 1976 film "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" had a run at the theatre.
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