Cecchi Gori F.A. Cinema

8556 Wilshire Boulevard,
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

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Cecchi Gori F.A. Cinema

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 ads 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 in 1948 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.

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 ArtsTheatre 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.

Contributed by TJ Edwards, Cinema Treasures

Recent comments (view all 70 comments)

RevDORK
RevDORK on September 30, 2010 at 5:21 am

It’s back on the market after Cecchi Gori decided it didn’t want to invest the money to get the theatre running on a full-time basis. I was working on a booking/advertising deal with Laemmle when the plug was pulled. I put up the marquee in the last picture.

There was enough money to redo the lobby, just not enough for projection or concession equipment. Or advertising, or booking, or ticketing stations, or a staff, or parking or anything that would help me get the theatre running. But the lobby… looks great.

So, for a record 3rd time, I’m no longer the manager of the Fine Arts.

If anybody needs a theatre manager/ projectionist with 11 years experience, I can be reached at

shatter
shatter on December 9, 2010 at 10:38 am

this kills me. I live a block away and would love to go to this great theater for a film. I used to love coming here when I lived in Santa Monica. oh well…

markinthedark
markinthedark on December 9, 2010 at 11:01 am

Sad. Was a great theatre.

Dublinboyo
Dublinboyo on January 28, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Will always remember sitting in a packed house to see “Das Boot” in 1981. Was a lovely little theater.

Joel71
Joel71 on June 1, 2011 at 6:51 pm

I did a little research and found out the Cecchi Gori Group sold the Fine Arts to Ferncrest International, INC. back in September 2010. Anybody know what Ferncrest International is? The theatre still looks closed.

Also, found this video of the 1993 restoration on the youtube…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tF909MwgKOI

brianmdunne
brianmdunne on May 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I am a real estate broker seeking a buyer or a joint venture partner for the Beverly Hills Fine Arts Theater. Please contact me if there is an interest.

almaruiz250
almaruiz250 on June 28, 2012 at 11:59 am

Mr. Dunne, we at The Museum of Contemporary Art, are looking for a closed theater in Beverly Hills or Hollywood as a potential exhibition site. Do you have a phone number where I can reach you? Best, Alma Ruiz, Senior Curator, MOCA, 213621-1746.

Homeboy
Homeboy on November 15, 2012 at 10:29 am

The following article appeared in the November 13, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“Historic Theater in Beverly Hills an Empty Shell”

The renowned designer had a mission: to “transform this Wilshire Boulevard cracker box into a sumptuous palace.”

So Joseph J. Musil ordered up red velour seats, gold sconces, a sunburst ceiling and a lobby carpeted in crimson for the 1993 renovation of the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. Shimmery black curtains swept back to reveal the giant screen. The place thrived as a venue for small premieres, drawing A-listers on any given night and plaudits from nearby residents.

But it wasn’t enough. Unable to stay afloat, the Fine Arts closed in 2009. An Indian company’s plan to reopen it to screen Bollywood films fell through. The theater became an empty shell.

And so it remains. Some supporters worry that the Fine Arts will never function as a theater again. Back on the market for $4 million, the Fine Arts is at the mercy of an era and economy that make a tiny, one-screen movie theater a risky investment. And while former patrons view the theater with nostalgia, and a few prospective buyers have made inquiries, no investors have stepped up. Historic as the theater is, it is not quite a landmark.

“It’s a big shame, but you know, it’s a change in the entertainment system,” said Brian Dunne of NAI Capital, who has the listing. “People are going to the big multiplexes with food courts and parking. They want it to be more of a social experience. I don’t mean to say this is a dinosaur going nowhere. This place has a lot of charms. We need somebody who wants to keep its tradition alive.”

That tradition dates to 1936, when it was built. Named the Regina Theater, it would go on to generate a wealth of lore. Actor Peter Lorre once stopped in to catch a showing of “M,” the German film that kick-started his career. He fell asleep.

In 1948 it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater and hosted the premiere of “The Red Shoes.” Invited guests included Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner and Shirley Temple.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori’s film production company bought the theater in the early 1990s and spearheaded the Musil renovation. Cecchi Gori’s 1997 production “Life Is Beautiful” went on to win several Oscars. Its director and star, Roberto Benigni, arrived one day at the Fine Arts to practice crawling over theater seats, a move he repeated the following evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when accepting his best actor award.

Known as a low-key place that showed foreign films or indie flicks, the Fine Arts attracted cinephiles and celebrities.

Casey Rocke, who worked as the theater’s manager and film projectionist, recalled the days when Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft arrived on double dates with Carl and Estelle Reiner. An employee once jokingly carded Charlton Heston for the senior discount. Even Hollywood’s younger generation made their way to the ticket booth. Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio were both good-humored during its pre-credit card days, dashing to an ATM across the street.

“We had a solid audience and always booked something no one else had,” Rocke, 34, said. “The theater didn’t make a killing, but it didn’t lose money.”

At one point Landmark Theatres was operating the place; then Cecchi Gori rented it out as a screening room. The current owner, Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who lives in Singapore and has a home in Beverly Hills, is selling the Fine Arts after deciding its operation didn’t fit his company’s business plan.

City officials and staff have spoken in favor of keeping the site a cinema. Michele McGrath, senior planner for Beverly Hills, said city officials have been looking at how to invigorate the neighborhood and have even talked of creating a theater district.

“I think the city cares about theaters in general — they’re part of our cultural heritage,” she said.

Area residents say they have felt the loss. But most see it simply as a sign of the times.

“It seemed like it was part of our neighborhood and that we had a stake in it,” said Brenda Castiel, who has lived within walking distance of the theater for two decades. “I would love for it to remain a theater, but I imagine it’s not economically viable.”

Across from a gas station and an auto repair shop just west of La Cienega Boulevard, the theater is easy to miss on traffic-clogged Wilshire Boulevard. Display cases that once held movie posters are empty and the marquee blank.

Inside, boxes of Red Vines and Junior Mints still linger at the concession stand. A purple couch fringed in gold awaits a visitor. Although the entry shows some wear and tear, the auditorium, with its rows of plush seats and gold and silver decor, still exudes glamour. It is in need of a ruler but remains the sumptuous palace Musil envisioned.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 31, 2014 at 1:59 pm

A City of Beverly Hills Cultural Heritage Commission report on the theater (PDF here) says that Fox West Coast Theatres took over the Regina Theatre in 1948, and renamed it the Fox Fine Arts Theatre. The house was still owned by Fox when I first became aware of it in the early 1960s, but I don’t recall it being listed as the Fox Fine Arts by that time. It’s called simply the Fine Arts in the earliest newspaper listing I have for it, which is from February 10, 1971.

Also, the report has a couple of photos (badly copied) from ca. 1948-1950, and the name Fox does not appear on the marquee, and if it was on the vertical sign it isn’t discernible in the photocopies. I don’t know if the house was actually called the Fox Fine Arts for a while, or if the Fox name just got attached to it in people’s memories.

In any case, the theater was designated a city landmark earlier this year. It’s too bad Beverly Hills wasn’t so eager to landmark theater buildings when the Beverly and the Warner were still standing.

dyban
dyban on December 8, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Los Angeles Times article from April 25, 2014 –

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-0426-fine-arts-theater-20140426-story.html

Philanthropist adds Beverly Hills' Fine Arts Theater to purchases

The Fine Arts Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills has gone through a succession of owners and has been sitting empty for five years – By Martha Groves

The Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, a classic Art Deco venue with a celebrity-studded past, has been sold to Paula Kent Meehan, the philanthropist who also is buying the Beverly Hills Courier.

Built on Wilshire Boulevard in 1936 as the Regina, the compact, single-screen theater served for years as a venue for small premieres that drew Hollywood A-listers.

In 1948, it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater and showed the premiere of “The Red Shoes.” Among the invited guests were Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner and Shirley Temple.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori’s film production company bought the theater in the early 1990s and spearheaded a 1993 renovation by the late Joseph J. Musil, a theater designer who also restored the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Musil installed red velour seats, gold sconces, a sunburst ceiling and crimson carpeting in the lobby.

Roberto Benigni, the director and star of Cecchi Gori’s Oscar-winning film “Life Is Beautiful,” popped in to the theater in 1999 to practice crawling over the seats, a move he reenacted the next evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when he accepted his best actor award.

Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft used to watch movies at the Fine Arts on double dates with Carl and Estelle Reiner. Years ago, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio had to dash across the street to an ATM when they learned that the theater did not accept credit cards.

The venue has been shuttered since 2009, a victim in part of patrons' shift to multiplexes with parking and food courts. Spice Global, an Indian conglomerate, bought the theater in 2010 with plans to reopen it to screen Bollywood films. That scheme did not pan out, and the company put the theater on the market for $4 million.

Brian Dunne, a Bentley Global broker who represented the seller, declined to specify what Meehan paid but said it was less than the asking price.

A Beverly Hills native, Meehan, 83, got her start as an actress in TV commercials and series. She co-founded Redken Laboratories, a maker of hair care products that was later sold to L'Oréal. She recently agreed to buy the Courier, a weekly tabloid.

Meehan was a major donor to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts adjoining the historic Beverly Hills Post Office, which is now named for her.

The Fine Arts, designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca, is dominated by its marquee and stepped tower. It is expected to be approved soon as a local landmark. Priteca also designed the Pantages in Hollywood.

Meehan expects to “clean it up, reopen it and let it evolve,” Dunne said of the theater. “They want to bring in more live performances and take care of the Beverly Hills community, including schools and seniors.”

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