Saturday, September 21

A Majestic Revival

Starting as live entertainment, historic single-screen theater has survived decades and changing tastes

The Majestic Crest Theatre, previously named the UCLAN Theatre, was founded in 1941 by Frances Seymour Fonda. Fonda built the venue to bring a live entertainment theater to Westwood.

The Majestic Crest Theatre, previously named the UCLAN Theatre, was founded in 1941 by Frances Seymour Fonda. Fonda built the venue to bring a live entertainment theater to Westwood.

Blaine Ohigashi

Jim Summers

The Majestic Crest Theatre on Westwood Boulevard has recently undergone a change in owners and has revamped some of its equipment.

After nearly 70 years of entertainment, numerous changes of ownership and four different names, the Majestic Crest now stands as one of the few single-screen theaters left in Westwood. Now, the historic Crest has been given an upgrade by its new owners, Bigfoot Entertainment Inc. and movie theater operator Carmike Cinemas.

“When people saw (the Majestic Crest), they thought that they were in a unique theater in Los Angeles … and people always told me (it had) this fantastic old-time theater feeling to it, and they just delighted in it,” said Westwood expert and author Marc Wanamaker.

The Crest was founded by Frances Seymour Fonda, Henry Fonda’s former wife, in 1941 as the UCLAN Theatre. Fonda created the UCLAN for the purpose of having a live entertainment theater in Westwood, which was given its name because of UCLA, Wanamaker said.

When World War II came around, Fonda converted the live theater into a newsreel projection house and showed footage of the war. UCLAN became a movie theater in 1946 and began showing independent and foreign films, according to Wanamaker.

“(Going to the movies) was an evening’s entertainment, and by the ’70s, it was really starting to fade, except in a few locations. Westwood was one of those (places) that still had single-screened theaters in the ’70s and ’80s,” said film and television professor Jonathan Kuntz.

In 1948, the UCLAN Theatre screened movies such as “Sofia,” starring Gene Raymond, and the historical drama “Anthony Adverse,” starring Olivia de Havilland and Fredric March.

“It would be nice if we could keep (classic movie theaters) just for the tradition. I realize that they might not be big money-makers, but I think in the long run, it will be useful to the city if we kept some of our classic theaters,” Kuntz said.

With the help of Wanamaker and designer Joe Musil, the theater’s interior was remodeled in 1987 in the Hollywood art deco style, with murals depicting the golden age of Hollywood.
“I was actually one of the people who gave (Musil) the historic pictures of theaters and other details of vintage theaters, and he used those motifs that I gave him to create that interior we have today there,” Wanamaker said.

The Walt Disney Co. actually hired Musil to design the Crest’s interior, since the theater was its Westwood showcase ““ Musil later designed the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Musil created nighttime murals of Los Angeles, complete with a shooting star in the ceiling.

“The problem is that single-screen theaters aren’t really viable in the modern era, no matter how nice they are,” Kuntz said.

As large entertainment companies, Bigfoot and Carmike will have less difficulty managing the theater than previous independent owner Robert Bucksbaum. However, Bucksbaum leaves his mark on the theater, as he titled it the Majestic Crest after “The Majestic,” one of his favorite films.

“(Bigfoot and Carmike) are elevating the Crest movie-going experience to another level ““ taking the historic landmark to where it should be, because it is a gem of a movie palace,” said Christian Meoli, Bigfoot’s director of marketing.

With new owners, the Crest has also received some revitalizing touches: a top-notch digital projector, upgraded surround sound, a new screen and, finally, the ability to show 3D movies. Also, with Carmike’s connections, the theater will be able to bring in first-run films such as “Saw,” “Tangled” and “Tron.”

Many single-screen theaters face the difficult reality of the multi-screened modern era of film, in addition to a new generation which has grown up with various alternatives, including DVD rentals and the internet, to going to a movie theater, Kuntz said.

“(The Crest’s historic image) is something that we would never touch, because it is so dear to a lot of movie-going audiences’ hearts,” Meoli said. “For generations, people have come as children, and then they brought their own children to the Crest, wanting to show them that.”
The Majestic Crest Theatre earned its place as a Los Angeles City Historic-Cultural Monument in 2008, and is one of the first three movie theaters in Westwood, the other two being the Village and the Bruin theaters.

“I believe that we should try to preserve ““ particularly here in Los Angeles, the world’s capital of the movies ““ I think it would be nice if we kept some of our old, classic theaters here as historic landmarks, if we kept them in use,” Kuntz said.

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