By Edwin Folven, 3/11/2010
The future of the Fairfax Theatre remains uncertain while the building’s owner contemplates fixing a ceiling that collapsed in January due to heavy rain, and a local group fighting to save the theatre waits for a hearing on April 1 to determine whether the site is a cultural historic landmark.
The theatre, located at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, has been closed since January 19 after the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety issued an order for repairs to be made to the collapsed ceiling. The building’s owner, Alex Gorby, has proposed developing the theatre and some adjacent shops into a 71-unit condominium complex over retail space and subterranean parking. An environmental impact report is currently being created. In the meantime, Gorby has not disclosed whether he will repair the ceiling, and is evaluating the cost, according to Ira Handelman, a consultant representing the theatre’s owner.
“We are analyzing the situation and determining the economic feasibility of making the repairs,” Handelman said. “We are committed to moving forward with the project as proposed, and we believe it is a good project.”
Luke Zamperini, principal inspector with the Department of Building and Safety, said his office received a tip in January that the ceiling inside the theatre had been leaking and had partially collapsed. He said an order to comply was issued and that the owner will be required to complete the repairs before the theatre can reopen. Zamperini added that an order to comply requires the owner to complete the repairs within 30 days or face fines. Because the work has not been completed, Zamperini said the department would begin the process of assessing fines, but he could not say when they would be levied or how much they would be.
“We will put them on notice, but it could take some time,” Zamperini added. “The theatre will have to remain closed until those repairs are made.”
The theatre’s closure has upset some people, including members of the Friends of the Fairfax Theatre, a group that is trying to preserve the building. Handelman said the development plan calls for the preservation of the theatre’s art deco façade and marquee, but the rest of the 1939 building would be converted into housing and retail space. John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society and a member of the Friends of the Fairfax Theatre, said the group is hoping to get a historic designation for the theatre that would prevent any alterations from being made.
“It’s a theatre that was the epitome of cultural development in the neighborhood,” Thomas said. “We believe it should be taken back to that neighborhood theatre component. We are not just looking at the architecture, but the comprehensive value of the asset and the role the theatre played.”
Aside from showing films, the Fairfax Theatre has been used for special events over the years. Prior to World War II, it was a gathering place for members of the Jewish community who would share news about the war in Europe, said Hillsman Wright, a member of Friends of the Fairfax Theatre. It was also used for religious serves for the Jewish community, and featured symphony performances on Sundays.
“It was always built for movies, but one of the things we think is an important factor is that it has a 20-foot stage and a scenery tower, even dressing rooms,” Wright said. “It could be used in the future for live theatre.”
The Fairfax Theatre was most recently operated by Regency Theatres, and showed mostly independent and foreign films. Calls to the owner of Regency Theatres were not returned.
While Wright and Thomas are optimistic the theatre will receive historic status after the hearing in April, Handelman said the owner is taking a different approach.
“We don’t believe the interior of the building qualifies for historic status, but that is what the process is for. We believe that preserving the façade is the right approach,” Handelman said.
As to whether the theatre will reopen any time soon, Handelman said he did not know.
“We are looking at all aspects of the situation,” Handelman added. “We don’t know, but our decision will be made very shortly.”