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Gardena Cinema

14948 Crenshaw Blvd. Gardena, CA 90249 | map |

The news: The theatre continues to operate as a first-run single screen venue. The Kim family that has run it since 1976 is trying to sell it. Judy Kim is keeping the theatre open with the help of volunteers until she finds a buyer.

Opened: December 11, 1946 as the Park Theatre. It's on the east side of the street between 147th St. and Marine Ave. The 2023 photo by Mel Melcon is one of many appearing with "One of L.A.'s last family-owned cinemas is in limbo. Its fans aren't ready to give up," a May 19 story by Grace Toohey for the L.A. Times.

Phone: 310-217-0505    Website: | on Facebook

Seats: 800

Architect: Unknown

In the 1940s and 1950s the Park was run by Harry Milstein's Grand Theatres as a second run house like their Grand and Stadium theatres in Torrance. At some point is was called the Morning Calm Theatre. Pacific Theatres was later involved. Sometimes it ran Spanish language films as well as occasional Korean and Japanese films.

The theatre was purchased by John and Nancy Kim in 1976 and then operated by them with assistance from their son and daughter. In the late 70s and into the mid-90s it was the Teatro Variedades with Mexican films and the occasional live variety show. 

In 1995 the Kims turned it into the Gardena Cinema, running as an independent single screen house with first run films. John's daughter Judy took over management duties in 1996.

It closed in early 2020 as a result of pandemic restrictions. They did several drive-in events in late 2021 but nothing indoors. 

Status: The family reopened the theatre in October 2022. The website for ABC7 discussed the difficulties in maintaining the business in their November 15 story "Independent Gardena Cinema in South Bay offers old Fashioned movie-going experience."  

The theatre is currently operating but in January 2023 the family started looking for a buyer. Nancy Kim died in 2022 and John wants to do some traveling. 

In 2023 the theatre received a $5,000 grant from the L.A. Conservancy as one of five businesses selected for awards in round one of their Legacy Business Grant program. See their February blog post "Time, Taste and Tradition: Preserving L.A.'s Legacy Businesses." The program is supported by a donation from Wells Fargo Bank.

Interior views:

Looking into the lobby. Thanks to Granola for the photo, a 2018 post on Cinema Treasures.  

A 2017 snackbar shot from the theatre's Facebook page
Judy Kim working the snackbar, assisted by volunteer Kay Shisima. It's a 2023 photo by Mel Melcon that appears with "One of L.A.'s last family-owned cinemas is in limbo. Its fans aren't ready to give up," the story by Grace Toohey for the L.A. Times.  

John Kim, 82 at the time of this shot, with his daughter Judy at the snackbar. It's a 2023 photo by Mel Melcon for the Times. 

Judy and John at the boxoffice. It's a photo by Adelaide Brannan that appeared with "Nostalgic Joy Awaits at One of the Last Family-owned Movie Theatres," the 2024 article by Scott Sanford Tobis for the site Our Southbay. Thanks to Judy for sharing the article in a Facebook post.  

Judy in the letter room. It's a photo by Zaydee Sanchez that appeared with Victoria Alejandro's March 2024 LAist article "Gardena Cinema - A story of love, sweat and repertory films." Thanks to Joel Pell and April Wright for spotting the story. The LAist page has a link to their 22 minute audio story "Revival House: The Gardena Cinema's Fight to Stay Open."

 A view toward the screen. Photo: Granola - Cinema Treasures  - 2018

A look down the aisle. It's one of four views of the theatre included in a 2023 Facebook post by April Wright. She also included a similar view in a big 2022 post highlighting all the adventures she had during the year. Visit her Going Attractions - entertainment, amusements, americana Facebook page.
April is a board member of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. The organization 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. | LAHTF on Facebook

The rear of the house. Note the cry rooms adjacent to the projection booth. Photo: Granola - Cinema Treasures  - 2018

Another view to the rear -- but no blue cove lights. Thanks to April Wright for the 2023 photo. 

In one of the cry rooms. Photo: Granola - Cinema Treasures  - 2018

A pre-digital shot of the booth. The photo was a 2012 post on the theatre's Facebook page

The theatre's digital projector. It was a 2012 post on the theatre's Facebook page.  

Programming the digital projector. Photo: April Wright - 2023

A porthole view. Photo: April Wright - 2023. Thanks, April! 

More exterior views:

Thanks to the now-vanished American Classic Images website for this January 1983 view of the theatre as the Teatro Variedades.

A 2008 photo by Ken McIntyre.

A 2011 view. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for his photo, a post on the private Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles.

A 2014 photo that once appeared on Loopnet. 

Looking south on Crenshaw in 2015. Photo: Google Maps.

A 2019 shot that appeared on the Gardena Cinema Facebook page. Also see another 2019 shot from the Facebook page. 
The Gardena in the Movies:

Eddie Murphy, playing Rudy Ray Moore, checks out the theatre in Craig Brewer's "Dolemite Is My Name" (Netflix, 2019). He's made a film called "Dolemite" but can't get a distributor. While doing PR for a club date in Indianapolis a DJ in town (Chris Rock) says he knows the owner of a theatre.

He does a deal for a midnight show at the "Uptown Cinema" and when checking out the theatre asks the owner "When do I get my money?" and learns what a four-wall deal is all about. When asked if he can get a share of the popcorn revenue he's told "No, that's mine." We see more of the auditorium and, later, lobby and exterior views. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for lots of shots of the Orpheum Theatre from the film. 

The Gardena on TV:

It's seen as a theatre called the Capitol supposedly somewhere in the San Fernando Valley in 1975 for "Summer of the Shark," episode 1 of "Voir," the 2021 Netflix "documentary" series. Thanks to the Cinema Heritage Group Facebook page for the screenshot.   

More information: For a lovely tour of the theatre see Sandi Hemmerlein's 2023 Avoiding Regret photo essay "The End of the Line for the Last of its Kind, Gardena Cinema." Thanks, Sandi!

Check out the Cinema Treasures page on the Gardena Cinema. The Cinema Tour page has several 2003 exterior views. There's a nice minute and a half video tour (even going to the booth) on YouTube, dating from 2012 when the venue was for sale. 

See our page on the Gardena Theatre, a house on Gardena Blvd. that closed in 1955. There's also a page on an earlier theatre in Gardena, the Embassy, located on Vermont Blvd. There was also an earlier venue at 918 Palm Ave. in Gardena. In the 1922-23 Watts-Compton city directory and the 1925 Watts directory it's listed as The Auditorium. In the 1927-28 city directory it's listed as the Gardena Theatre.

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