No city on Earth is more closely associated with motion pictures than Los Angeles. 10% of all movie theaters in the entire country are located in California and Los Angeles County is home to over 100 of them. Although most of Los Angeles’s theaters, like those throughout the country, showcase only the latest Hollywood product, there are also specialty theaters which show art films, adult films, classic films, experimental films, foreign films, independent films, revival films, &c. I’ve previously written about Southern California‘s drive-in theaters (For Ozoners Only) and overlooked commercial foreign language cinemas (Los Angeles’s Secret, Foreign Language Movie Theater Scene). This is my guide to the repertory cinemas or revival houses.
You may ask yourself why you would leave your humble abode to go see a film which can be seen on YouTube, streamed, or owned on the video format of your choice. Well, presumably you don’t have guest speakers doing Q&As at your residence — a common feature of repertory cinema. Then there’s the fact that whether its a bare bones nickelodeon or a grand movie palace, movies should be seen with an audience (although I did see both The Shadow and EdvardMunch in otherwise empty theaters, which was its own kind of fun) — and don’t be a slouch, put some effort into your appearance.
If you too enjoy the experience, it’s important that you show support with attendance or they’ll go away. Pour out some of your 64 ounce Double Gulp for Seal Beach‘s Bay Theatre, South Pasadena‘s Rialto Theatre, Westlake‘s Vagabond Theatre, Westwood‘s Mann Plaza Theater, and all the rest. 312 of Los Angeles’s movie theaters have closed and their screens have gone dark; of those, 173 have been demolished and no amount of wishing will bring them back.
The Streamline Moderne-style Aero Theatre was designed by P.M. Woolpert and constructed by the Donald Douglas Company. When it opened in 1940, the Aero served workers in the aviation industry whose shifts ended around the clock by operating continuously. After becoming a second-run theater in the 1970s, it closed in 2003. The Aero Theatre was reopened in January, 2005 by the American Cinematheque (which also operates the Egyptian) after a renovation which updated the theaters equipment but reduced seating from 600 to 425. The theater shows classic films, foreign films, and independent films. The Aero also co-hosts (with the Egyptian) the annual Mods & Rockers Film Festival, a celebration of 1960s pop culture.
The Aero is serve by Big Blue Bus‘s 3M and 41 lines.
ALAN AND ELAINE ARMER THEATER
(Northridge, Los Angeles)
The 130-seat Alan and Elaine Armer Theater, located on the campus of Cal State Northridge in Manzanita Hall, hosts free film screenings every Thursday night that class is in session. Most of the films, curated by CSUN Cinematheque, are classics although they also screen contemporary works including retrospectives of both.
The Alan and Elaine Armer Theater is served by Metro‘s 150/240, 166/364, 167, 239, and Rapid 741 lines.
The Alex Theatre opened in 1925 as a 2,030-seat picture palace named The Alexander after then-owner C. L. Langley‘s son. The theater was designed by in the Classical Revival-style by Lindley & Selkirk but given a Moderne makeover by the great S. Charles Lee in 1940. After a 1993 rehabilitation its seating was reduced to 1,400. The theatre is primarily used as a performing arts venue but the Alex Film Society does present occasional classic Hollywood films.
The Alex Theatre is served by Metro’s 92 line and the Glendale Beeline‘s 1, 2, 4, and 11 lines.
THE ARENA CINEMA
(Downtown Hollywood, Los Angeles)
The 92-seat Arena Cinema opened in 1972 as the Egyptian 2 & 3, which closed in 1992. The Egyptian 2 & 3 reopened after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake as a live theater and was subsequently used by several theater companies. In 2008 the Theatre of Arts College for the Contemporary Actor took over the building and transformed it into an acting school. In 2010, the venue began again showing films and in 2013 it became the Arena Cinema. The Arena’s programming is among the city’s most adventurous, showing truly independent productions and relatively obscure foreign films as well as older films.
The Arena Cinema is served by Metro’s 156/656, 212/312, 217, 222, Rapid 780, and Red lines as well as LADOT‘s DASH Hollywood.
THE BILLY WILDER THEATER
(Westwood, Los Angeles)
The 295-seat Billy Wilder Theater, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture, opened at the Hammer Museum in 2006 and is home of UCLA Film & Television Archive (the second largest archive of film and television in the country after the Library of Congress). The theater presents films from throughout cinema’s history (often presented in retrospectives). One area of cinematic culture that they sadly do neglect is the snack bar.
The Billy Wilder Theater is served by Big Blue Bus’s 1, 2, 3M, 8, 12, and R12 lines; Metro’s 20,233, Rapid 720, and Rapid 761 lines; Culver CityBus‘s 6 and 6R lines; and LADOT’s Commuter Express534 and 573 lines.
(Fairfax District, Los Angeles)
The 224-seat Cinefamily is located in the historic Silent Movie Theatre. The Art Deco-style theater, designed by John Hampton, opened in 1942, fifteen years after the end of the silent film era. In 1997 the cinema’s then-owner, Lawrence Austin, was murdered in the auditorium by a hitman who’d been hired by Austin’s lover and the theaters then-projectionist. After that tragedy it was purchased by Charlie Lustman, who continued to operate the cinema as a silent movie theater until it was taken over by its current owners in 2006. The new owners, Cinefamily, introduced talkies to the programming (although they still show silent films once a month). Nowadays the theater primarily presents cult films, foreign films, and retrospectives, and hosts festivals including Animation Breakdown, Don’t Knock the Rock, and the Everything is Festival.
The Cinefamily is served by Metro’s 10/48, 217, 218, and Rapid 780 lines as well as LADOT’s DASH Fairfax line.
THE CINERAMA DOME
(Central Hollywood, Los Angeles)
The 937-seat, geodesic Cinerama Dome was designed by Welton Becket & Associates and opened in 1963. Today the Cinerama Dome is operated by ArcLight Cinemas, who in 2002 built a 14-screen multiplex next to the dome which became the flagship of that chain. Although the Dome, like the ArcLight, primarily shows first-run Hollywood films, they do occasionally there screen the odd revival classic.
The Cinerama Dome is served by Metro’s 2, 210, and Red lines as well as LADOT’s DASH Hollywood/Wilshire and Beachwood Canyon lines.
THE DOWNTOWN INDEPENDENT
(Historic Core, Los Angeles)
The 250-seat ImaginAsian Center, designed by Hsin-Ming Fung and Craig Hodgetts, opened in 2007. The name was awful (a portmanteau and a pun‽), the theater did serve a great function, specializing in the exhibition of films from various Asian countries usually neglected by other cinemas. In 2008, however, the ImaginAsian was sold and became the Downtown Independent. Although the theater primarily exhibits an eclectic mix of new documentaries, independents, live theater broadcasts, and foreign films (among other things), they do occasionally screen some older cult films as they did with their 2013 Jon Moritsuguretrospective or 2014’s Rose McGowan-curated Dawn Festival.
THE ECHO PARK FILM CENTER
(Echo Park, Los Angeles)
The tiny Echo Park Film Center is one of my favorite places to see films in Los Angeles, primarily because of the films shown there by Los Angeles Filmforum, the city’s preeminent presenters of progressive media art and experimental film. The EPFM opened in 2002 and also operates a mobile cinema and film school. Although their focus isn’t on non-experimental repertory films, I’ve nonetheless enjoyed a few there when presented by friends who’ve served as guest curators.
The Echo Park Film Center is served by Metro’s 2/302, 4, 200, 603, and Rapid 704 lines.
THE EGYPTIAN THEATRE
(Downtown Hollywood, Los Angeles)
Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, a lavish, silent picture palace designed by Meyer & Holler, opened in 1922 as part of developer Charles E. Toberman’s efforts to establish a theater district in Hollywood to rival the dominant theater district along Broadway. From 1927 until 1944 the Egyptian operated as a second-run theater, after which it reverted to a first-run one. It closed in 1992 and sat shuttered until1998 when it was renovated and reopened as The Egyptian by the American Cinematheque. At that point it began mostly showing both Hollywood and cult classics. Downstairs from the 616-seat main theater there’s the small, 78-seat Steven Spielberg Theatre, which is along with the Echo Park Film Center, one of the main exhibition venues of the Los Angeles Film Forum.
The Egyptian is served by Metro’s 156/656,212/312, 217, 222, Rapid 780, and Red lines as well as LADOT’s DASH Hollywood line.
THE LEO S. BING THEATER
(Miracle Mile, Los Angeles)
The 600-seat Leo S. Bing Theater is located on the campus of Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Along with most of the original LACMA buildings, the Leo S. Bing was designed by mid-century futurist William L. Pereira and opened in 1965. The theater screens mostly Hollywood classics, new releases, and retrospectives on weekends and mostly Hollywood classics on their popularTuesday matinees. Unfortunately, like the Billy Wilder, they don’t have a concession stand.
The Leo S. Bing Theater is served by Metro’s 20, 217, Rapid 720, and Rapid 780 lines as well as LADOT’s DASH Fairfax line.
THE LINWOOD DUNN THEATER
(Central Hollywood, Los Angeles)
The 286-seat Linwood Dunn Theater opened in 2003 and is located in the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences‘ the Claude Beeman-designed, Late Moderne-style Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study, built in 1948. Most weekends there are screenings of classic Hollywood and foreign film retrospectives. As with the Billy Wilder and Leo S. Bing, there is no concession stand. Furthermore, patrons are patted down for popcorn as they enter the auditorium. However, on at least one occasion there was food offered in the lobby although to me it smelled more like something I would serve my cat Alan than consider eating myself.
The Linwood Dunn is served by Metro’s 210 line and LADOT’s DASH Hollywood line.
THE MILLION DOLLAR THEATRE
(Broadway Theater District, Los Angeles)
The Million Dollar Theatre is a Churrigueresque-style silent picture palace that was designed by Albert Carey Martin (interior) and William Lee Woollett (exterior). The 2,088-seat (originally 2,345), single screen theater opened in 1918 and is part of the nation’s oldest and largest historic theater district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1945 it adde live entertainment to the bill and in 1950, reflecting the demographic shifts in Downtown and on Broadway in particular, The Million Dollar converted into a Spanish-language theater and live performance venue. After several decades as such it closed in 1993 and the space was taken over by a church. From 2005-2008 it was restored by Robert Voskanian and reopened featuring live performance and films presented in partnership with the UCLA Film Archive before once again closing in 2012. Right now it shows the occasional classic film.
The Million Dollar Theatre is served by Metro’s 2/302, 4, 10/48, 30/3320, 40, 45, 81, 90/91, 94, Rapid 745, Rapid 794, Purple, and Red lines as well as LADOT’s DASH Downtown Route D.
NEW BEVERLY CINEMA
(Fairfax District, Los Angeles)
The 300-seat New Beverly Cinema was designed by architects John P. Edwards and Warren FrazierOverpeck and opened in 1929, apparently, as a candy store. Over the years its name and purpose changed quite a lot. In 1937 it became a famous nightclub Slapsy Maxie’s. In 1943 and it became a French restaurant, La Lafayette. In 1947 it was became a nightclub again, The Blackhawk. In 1948 it became Jackie Green’s Café.
The space only began showing movies in 1950, when it became The Century and shortly after, The New Globe — although it was primarily a playhouse. By 1958 it had become the Dahl Theater and then The Riviera-Capri which by 1962 was presenting repertory programming as well as new programming.
Although it had by then occasionally shown adult films, in 1969 it began exclusively showing adult films, specifically those produced by Alex de Renzy. In 1970, as The Eros, the theater continued showing porn, albeit largely Danish imports. In 1972 it became The Beverly. In 1977, the Los Angeles Times stopped running ads for porn theaters and faced with declining business, owner Howard Ziehm leased the building to Sherman Torgan in 1878 and it transformed it into the New Beverly. Torgan died in 2007 and afterward the building was purchased by Quentin Tarantino, who assumed complete control of the theater in 2014. Anyone familiar with Tarantino’s own films, or those released by his Rolling Thunder Pictures, will have a good idea of the sort of cult films screened at the theater, as the prints are from his own collection.
The New Beverly is served by Metro’s 14/37 and 212/312 lines.
THE NUART THEATRE
(Sawtelle, Los Angeles)
The 660-seat Art-Deco Nuart Theatre was constructed in 1929. In 1974 the building was bought by Gary Meyer and it, along with the UC Theater in Berkeley, served as the flagship in what would become the Landmark Theater chain. In the early 1980s, Douglas Brian Martin shot a “no smoking” PSA in which John Waters appears, relishing a cigarette, which was shorn before films in Landmark Theaters back in the 1980s. The theater was remodeled in 2006 and now seats 303. Its programming includes classics, cult films, foreign films, independent films, and special programming such as weekly screenings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The Nuart Theatre is served by Big Blue Bus’s 1 and 4 lines, Culver CityBus’s 6 line, and Metro’s Rapid 704 line.
OLD TOWN MUSIC HALL
The 188-seat Old Town Music Hall, converted from a pre-existing structure by engineer Edward L. Mayberry, Jr., opened in 1921 as a live performance venue called The State Theatre and originally catered to employees of the nearby Standard Oil Refinery. It was converted into a cinema shortly after but closed in the mid-1930s. It reopened in 1944 as The El Segundo Theatre before again becoming The State Theatre in 1951. In 1967, two local musicians, Bill Field and Bill Coffman (The Two Bills) rented the theater and installed a Wurlitzer pipe organ and began presenting silent films, Hollywood classics, and live performances. Since 1990 it has continued to do so as the Old Town Music Hall. Coffman passed away in 2001 but continues to be operated by Bill Field.
Old Town Music Hall is served by Beach Cities Transit‘s 109 line.
THE ORPHEUM THEATRE
(Broadway Theatre District, Los Angeles)
The Beaux Arts-style Orpheum Theatre was designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh and opened in 1926. It was the last theater on Broadway still showing films when it closed in 2000. After a renovation, the Orpheum reopened in 2003, primarily as a live music venue but also as a exhibition space for the Los Angeles Conservancy‘s Last Remaining Seats classic film series.
The Orpheum Theatre is served by Metro’s 2, 4, 10/48, 33, 35, 40, 45, 55/202/355, 66, 83, 91/91, 92, and Rapid 745 lines; LA DOT’s DASH Downtown D; and OCTA‘s 701 and 721 lines.
THE ROYAL THEATER
The Laemmle Royal Theater first opened in March 1924 as the neo-classical, 600-seat, single screen Tivoli Theatre. Since the 1972 it’s been the flagship of the family-run Laemmle Theatres art house chain which at present includes seven theaters. Although best known for introducing new, foreign films they do show revival films, as with their Throwback Thursday series. It was subdivided into three screens in 2012.
The Royal is served by Big Blue Bus’s 1 and 4 lines as well as Metro’s Rapid 704 Line.
SAMUEL GOLDWYN THEATER
The 1,012-seat Samuel Goldwyn Theater opened in 1975 and is located within the office building headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. It’s primarily used by the Academy but it also presents events and screenings that are open to the public. Additionally, the building’s fourth floor includes a gallery devoted to the exhibition of film-related ephemera.
The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is served by Metro’s 20, 220, and Rapid 720 lines.
So save what you can, see you at the movies, and special thanks to Film Radar for being the Los Angeles’s best film calendar. Credit goes to Cinema Treasures and the Los Angeles Conservancy for information on theaters used in this piece.
Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.