posted by Michael Zoldessy on October 30, 2007 at 3:15 pm

LOS ANGELES, CA — The following was sent in by Cinema Sightlines:

“The National Theatre in Westwood is one of the 3 last big-screen, large capacity individual movie theatres still standing in greater Los Angeles. This theatre is a rare example of late 60s-early 70s modern architecture, with some historical significance regarding the motion picture events that have taken place there. Known for superior picture and sound presentation, The National Theatre has been a favorite movie showplace in Los Angeles for over 37 years.

The property owner, Simms Development corp, has definite plans to demolish this irreplaceable theatre, to build condominiums and probably some commercial space.

A group called Friends of the National Theatre is applying to the LA Cultural Heritage Commission to grant the building Historical-Cultural Monument status, which could delay demolition while the case is fully reviewed.

The National application is the final item on the agenda of a meeting scheduled for Thursday, November 1 at 10am in Room 101 of City Hall.

If there is any hope of saving the theatre, this is the opportunity for Friends of the National Theatre, and anyone wishing to speak up with reasons not to destroy it, to come forward.

What: Cultural Heritage Commission Hearing on the National Theatre

When: Thursday, Nov 1 at 10:00AM

Where: LA City Hall – 200 North Spring Street – Room 1010 – Los Angeles, CA 90012

We suggest you make the Cultural Heritage Commissioners aware of your support for the National Theatre, and help them recognize its historical & cultural significance by faxing polite letters to the Cultural Heritage Commissioners:

Mary Klaus-Martin – President

Richard Barron

Alma Carlisle

Glen C. Dake, ASLA

Miriam “Mia” Guttfreund Lehrer, ASLA


Cultural Heritage Commission

Office of Historic Resources, Department of City Planning
200 N. Spring Street, Room 620, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone (213) 978-1200 Fax (213) 978-0017


Just asking to keep the theatre standing isn’t as persuasive without some practical ideas for how the theatre could be made into a profitable venture. We are working on a proposal suggesting that the National could be very commercially viable if adapted into the popular Movie Tavern/Studio Movie Grille/Alamo Drafthouse concept, which has yet to be done in this area and seems particularly suitable for an upscale college community like Westwood.

Keeping the first-rate bigscreen picture & sound presentation, while adapting part of the audience area to accommodate several levels of food service, could greatly increase the theatre’s commercial potential, and make the National desirable for private parties, events, etc. Quality food served directly at the seats, and a wide variety of programming, mixing current hits with cult favorites, retro series, midnight movies, family matinees, live acts, etc. could broaden the theatre’s appeal by offering something for everyone that is not available elsewhere.

Anyone with other ideas is encouraged to write them up and have them ready for the hearing. Please take this opportunity to speak up now, rather than regretting later on that the theatre was lost due to lack of support. TAKE ACTION NOW!

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Comments (22)

HowardBHaas on October 30, 2007 at 4:04 pm

Not to detract from the purpose of this news, but the intro has me thinking that if we are talking about open daily as a moviehouse, and currently seating more than 1000, and not considering a theater on an island, then there would be at least 3 still open: Mann’s Grauman’s Chinese, Mann’s , and El Capitan. Or, if “big screen” means mega sized, then I guess El Cap drops out though it is plenty large.

HowardBHaas on October 30, 2007 at 4:05 pm

I see a word got clipped in the sending: Mann’s Village (original Fox Village).

exit on October 30, 2007 at 4:59 pm

The 3 bigscreen theatres referred to are, The National, Grauman’s Chinese, and the Cinerama Dome.

I love the glorious El Capitan, but its screen isn’t near the proportions of the others, especially relative to the theatre size. That said, the El Cap’s theatrical environment and showmanship put it into a top class by itself.

exit on October 30, 2007 at 6:41 pm

I understand a corrected, more detailed version of this story was sent in to CT, and we look forward to seeing the correct version posted.

HowardBHaas on October 30, 2007 at 8:22 pm

It seems to me that the Village is also a bigscreen theater. (spelled theater when not part of a name).

exit on October 30, 2007 at 8:51 pm

The Theatre vs. Theater is a touchy debate. Theat(er) is no more correct than the original Theat(re) spelling. In fact many see it as a less legitimate variation.

From my four decades experience in and around professional legit and movie venues, it was always spelled the original British/European way: Theatre, while the Americanized (theater) spelling was usually… well let’s just say that the classier professional places always spelled it Theatre. Just the way I was brought up, but not without basis in fact….

According to Wikipedia, the original spelling is the French/British “Theatre,” as cited in Samuel Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary of the English Language. American Noah Webster, in 1828, for nationalistic and philosophical reasons, tried to initiate a wide spelling reform, including an Americanized spelling of words like Theatre. Many of his self-created spelling changes didn’t catch on. Those of us trying to preserve some classic traditions, tend to use the original spelling.

KramSacul on October 30, 2007 at 11:45 pm

National, Grauman’s, Cinerama Dome, the Village. To bad the Egyptian or Warner Pacific aren’t on that list.

HornerJack on October 31, 2007 at 9:02 am

For the record, I have not lived in LA for many years. My memeory about the National may be a bit blurry, as I was very young when it was built. So please feel free to correct me!

The National was built during changing times for the movie business. South of Wilshire Blvd. in Westwood, one or two theaters like the Avco had been constructed. These were small boutique cinemas. One of them may have had two screens. In any case, the era of the multiplex was in its infancy. Mann Theaters built the National as if in a reaction to this trend. This would have been about 1970. I saw “The Exorcist” there in 1971.

I remember that The National was big, but not as big as older theaters. It was rather plain compared to theaters down the street – The Village, The Bruin. It totally paled in comparison to older venues in Hollywood, such as The Chinese, The Egyptian, The Pantages and The Paramount [now El Capitan]. The National always seemed to sit on some lonely island of its own.

But here is what I think: Its very isolation in the evolution of movie theaters is reason enough to save it. The only other eample of this period still standing that I can think of is the Ziegfeld in New York, which has thankfully been saved.

HowardBHaas on October 31, 2007 at 12:42 pm

M Horner, your excellent analysis needs to also include the Pacific (Warner) in Hollywood. LA moviegoing earlier moved to Hollwyood from even more lavish, expensive, marble & gilt movie palaces of downtown (Orpheum, State, Los Angeles, United Artists, Million Dollar and others).

At the same 1100 seat size as the (Westwood) National, the Ziegfeld is privately owned and leased to Clearview. It continues to show movies, but it isn’t “saved” in some long term way. For new movies, its audiences is too little, because it doesn’t usually have a first run exclusive.

RichardPMay on October 31, 2007 at 3:06 pm

The main thing missing in most of the above pleas to save the National is a viable business plan to support it. The only suggestion with a possible idea is that for a combination restaurant/theater.
To keep this large piece of real estate running as a theater would probably need a box office gross far in excess of most of the more successful situations in Los Angeles. Just the fact that it is big and attractive won’t pay the bills.
Westwood as a theater destination has been in trouble for years, and this is one the reasons for the National’s present plight.
I hate to be pessimistic, but the supporters must be realistic.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on October 31, 2007 at 7:32 pm

Can additional floors be added above the existing theatre in order to make a development financially successful?

exit on October 31, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Nice to hear from you Dick. Lost touch with you after you left WB. As the one who has suggested the dine-In concept, I have also contacted all three leading companies who do it to bring their attention to the National. If you read the recent posts on the National page here on Cinema Treasures, you will see that we already have an abundance of “realistic” pessimism. A look at the National page on CInema SIghtlines will show you that some of us even saw this coming. We are all very well aware of the plethora of reasons for things not working out. It just seems less construcive to sit idly by and enable the loss of one of our last good theatres by not at least trying.

Remember that If one man had not brought a lawsuit against the city, another popular bigscreen venue would have been ruined a few years ago, and there would not now be a proper screen with three projectors to show a certain epic in the WB library the way it was meant to be seen. It would be nice to have such a man in this case, but in absence of that we can at least try.

HowardBHaas on October 31, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Roadshow, as to your 12:37 PM post, the LA theater comparable to the Seattle Cinerama is not the National, but the Cinerama Dome in LA, which has been saved, regardless of the flaws you see there. That’s the theater with 3 projector capacity to show Cinerama. Cinerama movies are in the WB library? Presumably, you wouldn’t be suggesting presentation of non-Cinerama films using 3 projectors or installation of 3 projectors & curved screen at the National?

HowardBHaas on October 31, 2007 at 7:53 pm

A further comment: you don’t need a wealthy man. Disney lavishly restored the El Capitan and redid the Crest (Westwood). A nonprofit reopened the Egyptian. Between private & nonprofit operators, countless other historic cinema treasures show movies full time or sometime in Los Angeles, more than anywhere else in the US.

What is needed is sufficient audience. And, if that’s not there- as obvious for a long time at the National, movies cease.

exit on October 31, 2007 at 8:32 pm

I drew no parallels between the National and Seattle.

People seem to have forgotten that the Cinerama Dome would no longer exist in its current form had it not been for one man leading a fight to save it. And it was not the petitions, nor the letters, nor all the public support that saved it. As much as Pacific likes to pat themselves on the back for “preserving” the Dome, the fact is they didn’t give a damn about the public outcry and fully intended to render the Dome interior unrecognizable, with a flat screen where the seats are, stadium seats where the screen is, and a fastfood restaurant in the lobby. But they also wanted a few million from the city to build their parking structure.

The only thing that stopped Pacific from ruining the Dome was this one man. He informed the city that if they gave Pacific the money for the parking structure, he would sue the city for not following their own guidlines to fully designate the Dome as a landmark. It qualified as a landmark inside and out, but, for some reason, they chose not to protect the interior.

Because the proposed lawsuit would have halted $10-11 million for their parking garage, Pacific agreed to specific stipulations to protect the Dome, and agreed to meet with Cinerama experts, who suggested equipping the place for Cinerama in the 3 portals that were already there in the booth. They also recommended a proper louvered screen for better contrast, and relocating the standard projector to the rear of the mezzanine to eliminate the horizon sag keystone distortion in the picture. Pacific chose not to follow all the suggested guidelines, and that’s why they have a dim distorted picture on a low-gain sheet screen.

But without that one man, the Dome as we know it today would not exist.

And yes, there are two Cinerama movies in Warner’s library. Pacific owns the rest of them. There were new 3 strip prints struck of 2 features, (NOT restorations) WB took good care of theirs, which is why HTWWW is the best looking Cinerama film you can see today.

exit on October 31, 2007 at 8:43 pm

I wasn’t suggesting a wealthy man, Tevye. ; ) Disney paid for those renovations to get showcases for their product. And we know some of us have been hoping Warners would do the same for the Warner Hollywood Pacific, but what Disney did with those theatres is obviously a rare case.

As for drawing an audience, Like the National, The El Capitan is a single screen theatre with no adjacent parking in an evolving neighborhood. Disney manages to draw an audience to the El Capitan largely BECAUSE it is a unique showplace, and they apply enough showmanship to keep it that way.

HowardBHaas on October 31, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Because Disney presents some live entertainment? because there’s a pipe organ at El Capitan? Because El Cap has gorgeous ornate decor that’s very exciting to tourists? Because El Cap is near the Chinese Theatre so lots of tourists find it convenient?

I really wish things were otherwise, and movies were showcased in sngle screens rather than being released on billions of movie screens at one time.

exit on October 31, 2007 at 9:13 pm

Yes. Yes. Yes. Maybe.

Agreed. I imagine a time machine back to the Roadshow era would be very popular among our crowd.

A somewhat more realistic fantasy is one I have of building a cluster of beautiful private theatres like Theo Kalomirakis does, and being able to program them with classic showmanship and presentation. More on that topic coming elsewhere…

markinthedark on November 1, 2007 at 1:31 am

To bad Paul Allen didn’t go to the National when growing up. Also too bad Mark Cuban with his billion dollars can add the National to the Landmark chain and also buy up the NuWilshire and keep it in his chain.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on November 1, 2007 at 9:32 pm

Anyone who’s ever set foot in The Landmark knows that Mark Cuban doesn’t know jack sprat about movie theatres!

exit on November 1, 2007 at 9:47 pm

Have to agree with you there. Some of the rooms in the landmark gave me a “what the F—K were they thinking?” feeling.

exit on November 2, 2007 at 12:38 am

I have a report that Charlie Fisher made an impressive presentation, and that the Cultural heritage commission voted unanimously to consider the National for designation as a culturally historic building. The demolition may be temporarily halted, but the owners have already begun to strip away the interior of the theatre. This is at best a temporary reprieve, so this is when efforts to show support should accelerate. The theatre’s fate lies in the commissioner’s hands for the moment, so letters to them could stil count for something.

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