Saban Theatre

8440 Wilshire Boulevard,
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

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Fox Wilshire

Viewing: Photo | Street View

At the eastern edge of Beverly Hills sits this elaborate Spanish Art Deco style structure. Designed by noted theatre architect Simeon Charles Lee, this was his 3rd theatre design, after the Tower Theatre and the Los Angeles Theatre, both in downtown Los Angeles. The Fox Wilshire Theatre was also the first of many he designed in an Art Deco style. The Fox Wilshire Theatre was built for and operated by the Fox West Coast Theatres circuit, and it opened on September 19, 1930, with seating for 2,296 in orchestra and balcony levels.

Dominating the exterior is a 6-story corner tower, containing luxurious apartments on the top two floors. It was originally topped by a huge rotating sky sign spelling out the name ‘FOX’ in large vertically placed letters. The exterior of the building was originally painted in a buff color and had black vertical stripes running up the tower and Deco style decorations painted in silver.

Inside the hexagonal shaped lobby, there is a decorative metal open balcony surrounding the space, where in the early years, there was placed an Estay Minuette portable organ, which had 2 Manuals / 3 Ranks and was contained in a large grand piano case.

The splendid Art Deco style auditorium was a sight to behold. Designed by interior designer Harold B. Franklin, it was painted in black and silver, with coral colored draperies and seats. The rectangular proscenium arch has ‘zig-zag’ decorations surrounding it, and the anti-proscenium surround contains a highly stylized fretwork design. A full stage was provided, as well as a ‘green room’ and dressing rooms. The Wurlitzer organ was a regular 2 Manual / 9 Ranks that had been enlarged by Louis Mass and pipe-maker Archie Marsh, especially for this theatre.

During the early years in the 1930’s, it was a popular meeting place for lunchtime foyer concerts and occasional midnight matinees which would be attended by film stars who lived in the locality of Beverley Hills. The open lobby on the street front was modernized over the years, losing its street ticket booth and gaining a new marquee, while the exterior of the building was painted plain white, which diminishes the original Spanish Art Deco style of the building. The Fox Wilshire Theatre was the site of numerous premieres, including Walt Disney’s “The Sleeping Beauty” (in 70mm) on January 29, 1959. “The Sound of Music began screening as a roadshow engagement in March 1965, and played for 93 weeks. The Fox Wilshire Theatre was closed as a movie theatre in 1977, and after laying empty for several years, it was taken over by the Nederlander Theatres Group in October 1981.

The Wilshire Theatre was renovated and redecoration was carried out by architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca’s protege, Richard F. McCann. Unfortunately, the original black and silver color scheme was covered in hues of dark red and tan paint, giving a very gloomy look to the auditorium. However, it began housing touring productions of Broadway musicals, and it is reputed to be Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s favourite Los Angeles theatre. It became one of Los Angeles' premiere venues for concerts and other live events.

Over a quarter century later, the newly renamed Wilshire Theatre Beverly Hills is still home to numerous concerts and other live performances. It is also used for film and television production. Recent years have seen the theatre ‘dark’ for long periods and it has been ‘let out’ to be used as a Jewish synagogue on a regular basis.

In 2009 it was announced that Haim and Cheryl Saban would donate five million dollars for the restoration of the proscenium, orchestra area, and marquee. The marquee will say Saban Theatre.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 96 comments)

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on March 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm

The LAHTF Insider’s Peek for the Saban (Fox Wilshire) is now up at www.youtube.com/lahtf; theater historian, manager and restoration expert Ed Kelsey talks a bit about the work done on the proscenium. Also shown is the new marquee with the new name. Ed actually gave me about 15 minutes worth of material covering all areas of the theater, and I’ll be putting a longer, more comprehensive video on the LAHTF channel soon.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on March 9, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Damn! The ; should not be a part of the link above!

Coate
Coate on March 12, 2010 at 9:26 pm

It was forty-five years ago this week that THE SOUND OF MUSIC premiered in Southern California at this theater. With a run of 94 weeks, I imagine THE SOUND OF MUSIC was the most successful film to ever play the Fox Wilshire/Wilshire/Saban.

And in case you missed it last week when first posted, here’s a little retrospective article I put together to celebrate the film’s 45th anniversary.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on March 23, 2010 at 11:52 pm

I just watched Silent Movie again with an eye toward comparing it to the theater we just toured. The name above the marquee resembled the one it had until recently, but I’ve never seen a photo of the Wilshire that had a ticket booth like that one. Also, they don’t show much of the auditorium, so it’s hard to place as well. But that lobby — the pillars are very identifiable, as well as the curved shape of the back wall, the stairs, and that side hall to what are now handicapped-accessible restrooms… that I feel confident about. The rest of it? Who knows?

monika
monika on April 16, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Here is a link to a photo of the Saban from the LAHTF tour. A couple interior shots accompany it: View link

MagicLantern
MagicLantern on August 29, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Walked by the theatre the other day and they were hard at work installing new carpet in the lobby, and possibly throughout.

DonSolosan
DonSolosan on August 29, 2010 at 7:35 pm

There was already new carpet in the auditorium when we held the All About. It’ll be nice when they get the carpet and walls and decorations all matching. Right now the place looks a bit odd.

chococinephile
chococinephile on July 2, 2012 at 1:54 am

This was the location of the L.A. Conservancy’s first screening in Beverly Hills during their annual Last Remaining Seats program. There were two showings of “The Wizard of Oz,” at this theater on Saturday, June 30th.

Homeboy
Homeboy on October 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

The October 2013 issue of “Signs of the Times” magazine tells you more than you could ever want to know about the restoration of the Saban Theatre marquee. The lead contractors were Duarte Design and Alpha Architectural Signs.

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