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Tower 2000 News - Arts and Entertainment Section
Vol. 17  No. 21 FINAL EDITION
A&E Links
Saturday January 28, 2000
Where the movie screens are big, the theaters roomy!
By Evelyn Sheinkopf

WESTWOOD - Tired of the malls? Miffed by megaplexes that charge $9 to watch a movie on a screen not much bigger than the TV in your living room?

Maybe it's time to get over to the Westwood, where the movie screens are big, the theaters roomy, and there's always a place to grab a bite nearby. This once popular, 2.5 mile village on the South end of the UCLA Campus is undergoing a much needed makeover.

Renovations, refurbishment and an influx of new restaurants are smoothing away a decade of deterioration while leaving one of its main attractions intact: single-screen movie theaters. Sure, it's not as popular as the Promenade, but you'll find the restaurants pleasantly crowded, the movie theaters busy and sidewalks populated by people out for a night on the town.

Westwood Village was developed in the late 1920s as a small town within a city by Janss Investment, which also helped develop the Westwood area. The design was a unifying Spanish Colonial look of three story height. It became a center for arts and entertainment in the 1930s.

But the Village reached the height of its fame during the 1980s. Then, streets were filled with throngs of people who flocked to restaurants and stores, attended UCLA activities and, of course, flocked to the latest film releases. That ended in the late '80s after gang activity and the murder of an innocent bystander scared crowds away. The violence was the topper to an area already fraught with problems. Parking was -- and still can be -- difficult. And newer entertainment centers such as Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade and the revitalized Old Town Pasadena lured people away.

Upscale eateries such as Eurochow are adding to Westwood's appeal.

Today restaurateurs, hospitality companies, real estate developers and art institutions are working for a return to Westwood's popularity. Investments topping $200 million have been poured into restaurants, hotels, arts centers and the renovation of old buildings.

But one of Westwood Village's chief attractions remains its abundance of first-run, single-screen movie theaters. Some have been restored to their former glory, while others await their future.

Locals once saw the proliferation of theaters as the beginning of the end of Westwood's quaint village feel. Ironically, in a millennium of multiplexes, the single-screen theaters now help maintain that small-town atmosphere.

There are five single-screen theaters located north of Wilshire Boulevard in Westwood Village, and each has a character all its own.

A beautiful art deco venue, the Crest has been restored to its original luster. First built for stage shows, the interior is a show in itself. Every inch of the theater's walls is covered by old-style Hollywood cityscapes, complete with searchlights. The ceiling has star-like lights, the seats are velvety with firm backs, and the closed curtain's astrological art is a sight to behold. From the outside, the neon marquee is an eye-catcher in itself.

"Typically, single-screen theaters don't survive in many areas and, in that way, Westwood's unique," says Rimas Tumas, director of construction for Mann Theaters. Tumas believes the reason the Mann chain has kept them is that they are landmark theaters. "Also, they're all very close. It's an easy walk between," he says.

Built in 1931, the Village Theater remains one of the largest and most luxurious movie venues in Westwood.

The first movie theater built in Westwood was the Fox Village. Designed in 1931 by a man named P.P. Lewis, the Village is representative of the architecture of the time. When the theater opened its doors, tickets sold for a mere 50 cents. Since then, hundreds of blockbuster films have premiered there. The theater features white, searchlight-style architecture and room inside for 1,400 people.

There's a high balcony, gold-leaf reliefs on the walls, multiple archways in the lobby, velvet curtains, a tromp l'oeil ceiling and sofas in the restrooms.

Today, it is favored by movie studios and many famous Angelenos. George Lucas likes to test new technology there. Movie theater employees cite Calista Flockhart, Adam Sandler, and many a Lakers player among the elite who often pay the $9 admission fee.

Directly across the street from Village Theater sits the Mann. This 660-seat theater was also built in 1931. Inside you'll find comfortable seats and likely a Hollywood blockbuster on the screen. It has the same amenities as the Village, and premieres take place here, too. But architecturally it can't compete with its twice-as-large, twice-as-spectacular neighbor across the street.

The third-largest theater in Westwood, the Mann National, sports a large glass-windowed lobby, a vast screening room and comfortable seats. It hosts its share of premieres and press screenings, and there's always a line around the corner for blockbuster films on opening weekends. The furniture and carpet are old and fraying, but the screen is big, the sound is good, and the armrests have soda-cup holders. According to Dimas, the theater chain has no plans to refurbish or remodel the National, or any of the other theaters, with the exception of regular repairs.

The Crest Theater features a flashy neon marquee.

The most recently renovated of the single-screen theaters in Westwood is the Festival. Located on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Lindbrook Avenue, this 564-seat venue also has a small balcony. Several months ago, Mann refurbished the inside, adding more comfortable, modern chairs and amenities.

But with all the renovations going on around them the final single-screen theaters -- the Mann Regent and -- look and feel a bit shabby. The seats are older and less comfortable, and first-run films usually start at one of the larger screens in the area before moving to these locations.

Presently the future of the single-screen theaters is unknown. Mann Theaters, the company that owns them, has just been purchased from WestStar Cinemas by WF Cinema Holdings L.P., a joint venture of Viacom Inc. and Warner Bros. after WestStar filed for bankruptcy.

Barbara Brogliatti, Sr. Vice President of Corporate Communications for Warner Bros., refused to speculate about the future of the Westwood Village theaters, saying that the company is exploring all of its options.

Starbucks provides an outdoor cafe setting adjacent to the Village Theater.

As for the Village, there is more development on the horizon. In addition to rumors of a Gelson's grocery store and imminent announcements of retail tenants, there is talk of leveling the current Mann fourplex to make way for a new cineplex. A new state of the art theater at the Armand Hammer Museum for the UCLA Film and Television Archives is due to be completed by September 2001. The theater also will include a bookstore, coffee shop and additional parking.

Westwood Village -- where you can still enjoy the large single movie screens and small crowds, while they last.

[Editor's Note: Laura Flores, Jerome Adamstein, and Shayna Sobol also contributed to this Feature.]

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