Fine Arts Theatre
8556 Wilshire Boulevard,
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The Wilshire Regina Theatre in Beverly Hills opened Wednesday, April 21, 1937. The first program was “That Girl From Paris”, and “Black Legion”, plus a March of Time newsreel and a cartoon. Seating was general admission at ‘Popular Prices’ – 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children.
Built at a cost of $75,000, the theatre sat 800 people (in smaller seats than today). Initial press coverage mentioned the design firm of B. Marcus Priteca (who also designed the Hollywood Pantages) but did not credit the theatre’s design directly to him. Opening day newspaper advertisements announced a ‘Magic Fountain for Young and Old’, and a “Theaterette in Ladies Lounge” as special features.
It was taken over by Fox West Coast Theatres on December 28, 1948 with Anton Walbrook in “The Red Shoes” and renamed Fine Arts Theatre (occasionally referred to as the Fox Fine Arts Theatre and a tall vertical sign with that name was added to the center of the façade (it has since been removed). In 1951 it hosted the World Premiere of George Stevens' “A Place in the Sun”. In 1959 “Room at the Top”, (‘The Most Daring Film in a Decade’), played there for over six months. Some time after the 1950’s, the original small forecourt and free-standing boxoffice were eliminated for an interior lobby.
In 1974 “The Exorcist” drew long lines around the block into a residential area that didn’t appreciate the attention. Local residents called for changes in parking regulations and even restrictions on the theatre’s schedule. These issues have long since been addressed. It was operated by Laemmle Theatres from 1985 to 1993.
The Cecchi Gori film company took over and renovated in 1993. Theatre designer Joseph Musil, who also redesigned the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and the Crest Theatre in Westwood, brought his colorful theatrical flair to the new Cecchi Gori Fine Arts Theatre. The lobby has been further enlarged by moving in the back wall of the auditorium. A new 14' by 33' screen was installed several feet in front of the old proscenium to accommodate wider aspect ratios. This re-configuring, and the use of somewhat wider seats, reduced the theatre’s capacity to 410. The Cecci Gori people originally wanted an Italian street scene painted onto the screen curtain, but later decided against it. That is is why there is a flat black curtain instead of traditional gathered drapes.
Two stores that flanked the theatre were converted into a full concession stand and an expansion of the ladies room (no ‘theatrette’, just more toilets). The box office window is now located between the front entrance doors. Changes to the interior have been substantial enough to make it difficult to attribute the theatre’s current overall look to any one person, although Joseph Musil’s design touches are everywhere. The theatre’s original marquee and facade remain essentially unaltered.
The Fine Arts Theatre was leased to Screening Services Group and reopened in December 2005 with the US premiere of “Mrs. Henderson Presents”. Primarily a rental venue, the theatre has been equipped to handle multiple film and video formats, including 2K Digital Cinema, and Dolby Digital EX. Parking for the theatre will be available at the Flynt building on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Cienega Boulevard.
Sadly the ‘Fine Arts’ was closed in the fall of 2010. It was reopened as the Ahrya Fine Arts Theatre on September 18, 2015 with “Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer” and was managed and operated by Laemmle Theatres as a public cinema. Laemmle Theatres departed from the building on October 31, 2019. It is now back in the hands of Screening Services Group who will lease out the Fine Arts Theatre as a special events venue open to the public and a private movies venue.
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