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Fox Wilshire/Saban Theatre: history + exterior views

8440 Wilshire Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211 | map |

More pages about the Fox Wilshire/Saban Theatre: lobby areas | recent auditorium views | vintage auditorium views | stage | booth |


A great May 8, 1930 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.



The new theatre ready for business. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library

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. 

Phone: 888-645-5006   Website: www.sabantheatre.org | on Facebook



An ad in the opening night program. Thanks to Woody Wise for posting it on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

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.

The interior color scheme of black and silver was enhanced by coral colored seating and drapes. The uniquely styled "curlicue" front curtain opened iris fashion in several stages. Almost all of the original color scheme is gone with the exception of the proscenium -- restored in 2008 to all its silvery wonder.



An opening night photo by Mott Studios in the California State Library collection. The photo 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: tower study | tower study | tower study | tower study | tower study | tower study | tower study |

Seating:
  2,295 originally. Now about 1,900. Among other changes, the lobby has been enlarged into space that was formerly the last few rows of the main floor seats.
 
Status:
Alive and well as a concert venue booked by promoter Lance Sterling. The theatre occasionally hosts other events as well. Restoration work continues in various areas of the theatre, much of it funded by a $5 million donation from Haim Saban.




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 Fox Wilshire was constructed around basic acoustical and projection plans. Beginning at the extreme rear of the stage, the auditorium is fashioned in the shape of a mammoth horn to attain perfect sound reception. The color scheme is silver and black and coral, with an elegant organ screen forming the proscenium arch. The organ console carries the same design and is flanked on either side by glass panels overlaid with bright silvery metal. Various colored lights are installed in the rear of the two panels. The electric lighting fixtures are multi-colored and the light is reflected in the silver, changing the entire color effect of the auditorium as the light dissolves from one shade into another.

"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.

"As extra insurance against casualty, the building was constructed of monolithic concrete, which is said to be both fire-proof and earthquake-proof. Fire exit facilities exceed by 25 percent those required by law. Special equipment for the hard-of-hearing is another of the refinements. The headphones are plugged in a socket near the seat by an usher. A volume control regulates the sound.

"The projection room has been developed to accommodate wide-film projectors or any new innovation that it might be necessary to install. The stage has also been built with wide-screen in mind. Ventilating and cooling equipment balances the humidity of the air with the number of patrons present. The balance of the building is devoted to stores and offices, the managers' headquarters being located off the right stairway leading to the mezzanine and balcony. The exterior of the seven-story building is modernistically designed in a dull gray finish, with the theatre marquee in bright black tile. A revolving neon tube sign carrying the name of Fox has been installed on the tower."



The theatre with its opening attraction, "Animal Crackers," on the marquee. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library

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 run at the Chinese.



The ad for the premiere engagement of "How To Marry a Millionaire" at the Fox Wilshire in 1953. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



Marilyn Monroe attended the premiere for "How to Marry a Millionaire." Some footage of the festivities is on YouTube.

70mm at the Fox Wilshire: In the 1959 the theatre was was equipped for 70mm and hosted the exclusive premiere run of Walt Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" in 70mm Technirama and 6 channel stereo.

The theatre played a number of long run reserved seat 70mm engagements including "Exodus" (1960), "Sound of Music" (1965), "Sand Pebbles" (1966), "Far From the Madding Crowd" (1967), "Star" (1968), "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1969), "Fiddler on the Roof" (1970) and "Man of La Mancha" (1972).

Going legit: The Fox Wilshire closed as a film venue around 1977. 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. The theatre was renamed the Saban Theatre in 2009.



1930 - Another opening night view. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library. A version of the photo is also on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection.



1930 - An "Animal Crackers" shot from the east. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library

The California State Library photos: In addition to what's shown on these pages, there are many more 1930 Mott Studios photos in the collection. They are cataloged rather haphazardly in six sets -- each with a mix of shots from different areas of the theatre: #001443784 - 8 views | #001443782 - 2 views | #001443449 - 11 views | #001386544 - 17 views | #001386542 - 18 views | #001386306 - 17 views 



1930 - A photo from Kate Mercier's collection on Facebook. It's unknown what the gathering of kids was all about. Her grandfather managed the theatre. Thanks, Kate!



1931 - A view of suburbia with lots of free parking at the Fox Wilshire. Playing the week of the photo was "Don't Bet on Women" with Edmund Lowe and Jeanette MacDonald. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



1931 - The marquee with "Monkey Business" playing. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.  



1931 - A view of the theatre's entrance with a Packard "Eight Deluxe" out front. 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.



1932 - A lovely view looking east on Wilshire toward the Fox. It's one of several hundred photos taken by Anton Wagner while in L.A. working on his PhD thesis about the relationship of topology to character. It's on the website of the California Historical Society. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BiRayRock for spotting this photo in the collection. He has it on his Noirish post #37501.



1932 - A detail from the Anton Wagner image above. You can browse the hundreds of photos in the full "Los Angeles: 1932-33" collection on the California Historical Society website.
 


1930s - A view east on Wilshire toward the theatre. In the foreground is the Wilshire Links, a miniature golf course owned by Mary Pickford. Thanks to Los Angeles transit historian Sean Ault for the photo.



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 on Facebook. 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.



1934 - A photo from the Marc Wanamaker collection. On the corner that's the Wilshire Links, a miniature golf course. See the Beverly Hills Heritage Fox Wilshire album on Facebook for more than 80 photos of the theatre from a variety of sources. This photo (along with other Wilshire Links views) can also be seen, in a non-watermarked version, on BifRayRock's Noirish Los Angeles post #20496.



mid 1930s - A look east from Wilshire and La Cienega from the collection of Kate Mercier on Facebook



1935 - A great exterior shot of the Fox Wilshire. They're running "China Seas" with Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery. Thanks to Kate Mercier for the photo from her collection on Facebook. Also see a flyer for "China Seas."



1936 - Thanks to Jerry Beck for this lovely 1936 view of the theatre, a post on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.  



c.1937 - A Herman Schultheis photo looking east toward the Fox along Wilshire from La Cienega. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



late 1930s - An amazing look east toward the Fox Wilshire from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives and the Beverly Hills Heritage Facebook page. 



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.



1940s - On the Fox page of the site Scenes of L.A. During WWII is this photo by Dennis Lewis Sr. looking east on Wilshire Blvd. toward the theatre.



1945 - A fine view of the boxoffice that's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



1953 - Thanks to Bruce Kimmel on the L.A. Now and Then Facebook page for this great "How To Marry A Millionaire" photo.



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.



1962 - Headed west on Wilshire. It's a photo from the Richard Wojcik collection on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Look at that Fox sign!  There was also a repost by Dave Urov.



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 Herald Examiner photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1986 - A Mike Mullen photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



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. 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!  

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. Here's a view of the boxoffice area -- note the posters up for "Young Frankenstein."



Mel Funn and his crew in the lobby in "Silent Movie." 



A look at the rear of the main floor in "Silent Movie." All draped -- except you get a view of some decorative plaster on the balcony rail. At the time of the filming, the front of the house was also draped -- with a waterfall curtain.

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 Theatres In Movies post for that shot and views of several other theatres.

The Fox Wilshire also puts in an appearance in 1983's "Terror on Tour."

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."

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page for lots of data and stories about the theatre. Of particular interest are a number of posts by Vokoban reproducing articles about the theatre's construction and opening. The information about 70mm roadshow runs at the Fox Wilshire comes from Michael Coate's list on Cinema Treasures. Also check out the Cinema Tour page on the Saban.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Trivia item: John Cassavettes had an office in the building and his 1976 film "Killing of a Chinese Bookie" had a run here. 

Pages about the Fox Wilshire/Saban Theatre: back to top - history + exterior views | lobby areas | recent auditorium views | vintage auditorium views | stage | booth |

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