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Advocates fear Warner Bros. Theatre is at risk

By Aaron Blevins, 7/03/2014

Developers say they are mulling their options


Hollywood theatre supporters and historic preservation advocates are concerned about the future of the Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre, a closed and now vacant theatre built in 1928 on Hollywood Boulevard, between Wilcox Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard.

Robertson Properties Group has no definitive plans for the property that houses the Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre. (photo by Aaron Blevins)

No definitive plans are in place, but Robertson Properties Group is beginning to have conversations about the future of the site. Attempts to redevelop the property, though, have stalled or failed in years past.

Hillsman Wright, co-founder of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, said he would like to see the theatre restored. He said the theatre may need to be re-seated, but the work should be relatively minimal.

“It really has viability as a live performance venue,” Wright said, adding that the theatre has enough capacity and that there is room to expand the stage. “So in effect, it could become home for an event show.”

He said attempts to redevelop the property in the past have not moved forward, though he didn’t know why. Wright said he hopes any new project does not lead to the loss of the theatre’s auditorium.

“It would be a real shame,” he said. “All the way around, it’s a unique theatre in L.A.”

The theatre opened in the spring of 1928 as the Warner Brothers Hollywood. The architect was G. Albert Lansburgh, who also designed the Wiltern Theatre in Koreatown. A Warner Bros. radio station, KFWB, and Warner Bros. Theatres once had offices in the building.

According to information provided by the foundation, the theatre was built when Warner Bros. was “riding high,” having found success with its Vitaphone sound-on-disc process. The company wired its theatres for sound, and then released a series of “hit sound films” throughout the U.S. When the theatre opened, it had the largest seating capacity in Hollywood, with 2,756 seats.

Pacific Theatres took over the property in 1968, and renamed the theatre the Hollywood Pacific. It was renovated in 1978, but suffered damage during the Red Line construction (flooding) in the 1980s and during the Northridge earthquake in 1994. The theatre closed later that year.

From 2002 to 2006, the main floor of the structure served as the Entertainment Technology Center, where films were screened to display digital projection technology. A church leased space in the theatre until last summer.

“The Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre is significant in a number of ways,” the foundation’s executive director, Escott Norton, said. “When looking at the National Register District, it fills an important gap on Hollywood Boulevard, and reopening the theatre would bring new life to that section. Historically, it is special because it has been converted to so many formats, from Vitaphone, Vitascope, to 3-strip Cinerama, 35mm and 70mm. …Architecturally, the Warner is special because it is the only surviving theatre I know of in Los Angeles that was built in an ‘atmospheric’ style, where the interior of the auditorium looks like it is under a night sky. Four cloud projectors were originally used to enhance the effect.”

Now, Hollywood Heritage, a historic preservation organization, has placed the theatre on its Hollywood’s Most Endangered 2014 list. Richard Adkins, chair of the Hollywood Heritage Museum Committee, said the theatre has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been honored by the city as a historic-cultural landmark. It also sits in the heart of the Hollywood Boulevard National Register Commercial District.

Adkins said Hollywood Heritage has been made aware that the potential developers of the property have begun to meet with neighborhood groups and city officials. Hollywood Heritage, however, has not been contacted, he said.

“It’s of major concern to us,” Adkins said about the future of the property.

He said Hollywood Heritage is the local agency in charge of the commercial district, and the organization serves as a liaison between the property and the state. Adkins said the California Office of Preservation would need to sign off on any major alterations to the theatre.

“It’s really an important property,” he said. “It’s the center of the boulevard.”

Adkins said the redevelopment plans would not be the first attempt at repurposing the property. He said the Hollywood Entertainment Museum once proposed placing a tower behind the building for offices and workspace.

“Their plans didn’t involve any changes in the theatre,” Adkins added.

He said he can understand why the property would be attractive to developers, but he too is concerned that the auditorium could be demolished. Adkins said he hopes Hollywood Heritage is consulted in the near future.

“We actually know very little for fact,” he said.

Wright said demolishing the auditorium would not only be a shame, it would be shortsighted. He said it is almost completely intact, and acoustic paneling has been placed over the murals.

“I don’t see any reason why they can’t redevelop that land and make provisions for keeping that theatre,” Wright added.

He said the orchestra pit has enough space for a Broadway orchestra — not for a big show like “The Lion King”, but perhaps smaller musicals, such as “The Book of Mormon”. Eventually, the owner could tear down the back wall, extend the stage and add support facilities, Wright said.

“Maybe the climate is suitable now for the financing to make it work,” he added. “It ought to happen in Hollywood.”

Wright said Hollywood would have a “real live theatre district” with the Pantages Theatre, Warner Brothers Theatre and the Ricardo Montalban Theatre. It would be only a couple subway stops from downtown Los Angeles, where the Broadway theatres are located, he said.

“There’s no reason why, at any given time, there shouldn’t be four or five Broadway shows playing in L.A.,” Wright said, citing the large amount of tourists who attend Broadway shows in Los Angeles and other major cities. “It’s just time.”

Robertson Properties Group is an affiliate of Pacific Theatres and its subsidiary, ArcLight Cinemas. In a statement, company representatives confirmed that they are evaluating their options for redeveloping the property.

“The company is beginning a dialogue with the community and is seeking input as it works to shape a development proposal,” the statement reads. “There currently is no specific development plan for this property. Conceptually, the size and location lends itself to a varied mix of uses that would enhance the district and serve the neighborhood.  Robertson Properties’ discussions with stakeholders will continue over the next several months.”

Representatives of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office said any redevelopment at the site will be done with the theatre’s historical status in mind.



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10 Responses to “Advocates fear Warner Bros. Theatre is at risk”

  1. Scott Zwartz says:

    Since they want to attract tourists, tearing down historic theaters is myopic — but the quick buck is all Garcetti cares about.

    A few developers are beginning to caach on that garcetti is a nag of wind who often cannot deliver. His incompetence was a major factor in the CRA’s being abolished; he flopped Keloing Los Angeles, he lost on the Hollywood Community Plan Update, he alienated voters so that no sale tax increases will pass, he got Blv6200 and Millennium to build over an active earthquake fault line, he allowed Millennium try to build the towers to block the view of the hills from The W Hotel Condos, he ran his own CD 13 into the ground so that it ceased to qualify as a legal council district, he took $200 M from the paramedics and as a result, per the LA County Grand Jury, people needlessly died. And, those are just a few of his screw ups.

  2. Bill Counter says:

    A fine article. Thanks, Aaron. The Warner is obviously crucial to the future of that whole section of Hollywood Boulevard. We’ll all be watching to see what’s next.

  3. Bill says:

    Just like his boss, the Mayor, O’Farrell does not have the guts to come out and speak himself, because he has NO intention of protecting this historic gem..Just like Millennium was a done deal, so will this be. No one is stupid enough to believe anything O’Farrell says at this point. He is so in bed with developers, doing all he can to accommodate them, as his boss is, he does not know the meaning of the word truth. All he has done since he took office is lie. With Millennium, he lied on the backs of people’s lives. He is destroying Hollywood,accommodating his skyscraper boss, Millennium, while pandering to east side communities getting heights scaled down to ‘low rise’ buildings over where he lives to curry favor in those communities since Hollywood has no use for him,except C.I.M. BID, and The Hollywood Chamber, his partner in selling out Hollywood to developers, and whose PAC got him elected to assure he would help them and Garcetti (also supported by the developer funded Chamber PAC)sell out Hollywood to developers. Garcetti wants Hollywood to be NYC. He has accomplished some of that by creating the bad parts of NYC, inviting skyscrapers, good for NYC but not for Hollywood, wanting higher density, that no one can get around in now, in what will always be a car culture, a really bad grotesque west coast version of Times Square before the revitalization. Crappy shot bars, and other cheap crappy boardwalk type businesses line the once glamorous Hollywood Blvd. Too many dirty looking nightclubs (what he calls ‘revitalization’),and nightclub related on going shootouts and crime. Hollywood Blvd. is a pit, Cahuenga is a pit, ..This is the result of all his years as councilman repping this area…This is C.I.M. Bid, and The Hollywood Chamber.Notice they are silent about saving this Theatre. What he is ignoring is, Hollywood will never be NYC..NYC has BROADWAY, Theatres, Elegant Supper Clubs, with Elegant Piano Bars, Culture, The Arts..and this developer funded inept leader would rather tear any potential for that down in Hollywood, to make way for high rises and skyscrapers.. There was a time, not too long ago, you could see Broadway Shows, with the Broadway casts at The Henry Fonda, The Doolittle Theatre. Vine St., Hollywood, was vibrant with Theatre goers..Shows at The Las Palmas Theatre, among others..Now..just The Pantages Theatre. Garcetti was councilman of this district for many years. And that is all gone and what did he do about it? Nothing. Look at what he left us with..His legacy in Hollywood:Mega grotesque developments, crappy cheap shot bars and dirty looking nightclubs, party buses coming in to Hollywood to party, get drunk, get drugged out, and ofcourse it won’t be a party without shootouts ,and knifings. garcetti held onto this area for many years, always getting elected with the help of Millennium funds, and take a close look at what he left.. That’s how much he cared about Hollywood. He’d like to demo the whole Blvd. to make way for the mega developer’s projects, problem is, the Blvd. is on the National Historic Register, this Theatre is an L.A. Historic Cultural Monument..so how to get around all that? Garcetti cleverly sat and did nothing with it and waited for the treasures of Hollywood to decay and rot, did nothing about the Blvd., allowed the area to rot, probably planning for this day,he and his enablers and accomplices like O’farrell would be able to tell Angelenos and the preservation orgs. they are so badly damaged they would cost too much to save, and are not worth saving.
    Wouldn’t it be great if he could get city council to cough up money to restore this Theatre, the way he got them to cough up over a million dollars for his Millennium boss’s Hollywod Cap Park, and if the Govt. Promise Funds he got to go to his Millennium boss’s Hollywod Cap Park, could go towards restoring Historic Hollywood Blvd. If Old Town Pasadena could do it, why not Hollywood, which is the place everyone comes to see?….Bad leadership…leaders being bribed by every developer that comes into town, to give them what they want, even if it means tearing down Hollywood landmarks for them. .
    The only way to STOP this butchery of Hollywood is to get rid of them..before it is too late.
    Garcetti got the illegal (thrown out by a judge), higher density Hollywood Community Plan approved unanimously in spite of overwhelming opposition and LAFD warnings..”higher density in Hollywood is dangerous and irresponsible..people will die, fires will burn out of control, we can’t get to people now” He got O’Farrell to get dangerous Millennium projects passed unanimously, in spite of overwhelming opposition and the state geologist warnings to city council to not vote .. people could die if projects straddling fault line strands got built.
    They have shown they place no value on human lives, why would they value an old Theatre.
    Demo Hollywood History and bring on the skyscrapers..the future of Hollywood Blvd. will be high rises and skyscrapers, if he has his way.
    Generictown, USA.

    The only way to stop this butchery is to get rid of them.
    Before it is too late.

    The prominant Hollywood Warner Pacific Theatre Designer..

    The Theatre:

    O’Farrell will throw a bone ..pretending to care..to save the facade only.
    Don’t let that happen!

  4. Ruth says:

    “Representatives of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office said any redevelopment at the site will be done with the theatre’s historical status in mind”..which means only the facade will remain.
    Both O’Farrell and Garcetti speak through their ‘representatives’when it’s a subject they don’t want to deal with, because they know they are going to screw everyone over about.
    They are too ashamed and cowardly to face up to all they are up to, selling Hollywood to their developers, pretending to care about historical preservation, when in fact they don’t. If he really intended to help preserve this theatre wouldn’t O’Farrell speak for himself and not through a representative? It will never happen. This is probably a done deal. O’Farrell will pretend to be the preservation hero and offer up the facade only of this magnificent theatre.
    Leaving the Blvd. to a future of nothing but cheap shot bars, dirty nighclubs, and corridors of skyscrapers wherever they can get them.
    By the time he and Garcetti are done, there will no longer be any Hollywood left on Hollywood Blvd. or anywhere else in Hollywood. How painful, the Garcetti/O’Farrell train wreck destruction of Hollywood.. watching them tear down, and destroy the famous, once glamorous historic city, it’s past, it’s history, that garcetti has no use for at all..and turn it into an ugly, generic mish mash of horrible tin box, and steel and glass non descript, no character architecture ..just cheap, tall, and big.
    Dept. of Planning should remove from their ‘Real Planning’ website, the lies that new construction must ‘go with the flow of the existing architecture in the area’ There is no ‘Real Planning’ no aesthetics going on in Hollywood, just selling it off piecemeal to developers to do what they want, and sadly and tragically Hollywood Landmarks like The Warner Pacific Theatre are just getting in their way.

  5. emmy says:

    The leaders obviously are trying to turn Hollywood into NYC, so they should act like NYC..
    Have real, LIVE Theatre in Hollywood…not just The Pantages..
    This Theater could be that opportunity..
    Preserve Landmarks.

    The L.A. Mayor has a Film Czar, an Earthquake Safety Resiliency Czar..
    L.A. should also have a Landmark Preservation Commission, (like NYC)..Czar.
    The terrible loss of stunningly beautiful Penn Station was felt by all..
    And to think magnificent Grand Central Station, had it not been for Jackie Kennedy, calling everyone to arms, could have been destroyed too.
    Do not allow that to happen to our Hollywood Landmarks, call everyone to arms, for once they are gone, there is no turning back.

  6. emmy says:

    ‘The company is beginning a dialogue with the
    The ‘community’ input is that it is appalled about possible demo
    of this theatre and being told it is so badly damaged it is not worth saving. Which obviously according to preservationists interviewed
    in this article, is not true.

  7. Great article, thanks for getting the word out. We are very concerned about the future of this beautiful and important theatre, and are working with other preservation groups to monitor plans. The community response is clear from the comments and the people I have talked to. Preserving the facade alone is NOT a solution, this section of Hollywood would be improved dramatically with another operating THEATRE. This building is in better condition than many theatres that have been successfully restored and reopened around the country, and Hollywood Blvd, the “Entertainment Capital of the World” should be home to as many beautiful theatres as possible!

  8. Bill Counter says:

    Lots more about the theatre appears on the 10 web pages devoted to it on my Historic Hollywood Theatres website. Here’s the page on the auditorium, with both vintage and recent photos:

  9. Dale Evans says:

    One thing unmentioned here matters: atop the theater are two towers also of significant historic value. Several years ago these towers were outlined in blue light as part of a campaign to save such signs. Does anyone know what happned to ts effort, other than an obvious lack of funding?

  10. Terry Wade says:

    Time for the Forman’s Pacific Theatres and their Robertson Prop people to get on the ball. Bring back entertainment to the former Warner Cinerama Hollywood. Lease It out to the NYC Shubert’s and give some compettion to the Pantage’s down the street, they run the same shows over and over.

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