Monday, August 03, 2009

Say It Ain't So: Mann Village Theatre's Days Are Numbered?

The bad news came in this weekend's LA Times:

Preservationists are...bracing for the potential loss of [Westwood Village's] two most architecturally distinctive theaters: the Village and Bruin, which date from the 1930s. Encino-based Mann Theatres has given notice that it intends not to renew its leases on the Broxton Avenue theaters -- one Spanish Mission style with the famed neon-lighted Fox tower, the other Art Moderne with a distinctive wraparound marquee. Both are city historic-cultural monuments.

The Mann Village Theatre is my favorite movie theater in the whole wide world. I've been frequenting it since my high-school days (often with some of the other Sons) and to me it embodies the glamour and magic of moviegoing.

It wasn't a summer blockbuster if it wasn't at the Village. In 1999, when we thought Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace was going to be, well, the next Star Wars, there was only one place to see it: the Village. If you were to add up the hours I've spent waiting in line on Broxton (Avenue, not Jonathan), Le Conte and Gayley, it could quite possibly be measured in weeks.

Stepping into the lobby is a timewarp experience, making me nostalgic for a time I've never even experienced. The whorehouse-red (but in a good way) carpeting and curtains and the art-deco touches make me feel as if I should be wearing a suit and a hat. The front-row balcony seats are my favorite, even if they're not necessarily in the theater's "sweet spot." Bolting up the staircases to claim choice seats is a fond moviegoing ritual.

The thought of losing another vintage theater is distressing, but I can see why it's happening. Parking has always been a problem in the area, and I admit the last movie I saw at the Village was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull — more than a year ago. So I haven't exactly been supporting my favorite moviehouse.

The article mentions that new operators may revive the theaters' fortunes, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen. So until that next inevitable announcement arrives, we'd better catch a few flicks at the Village — while we still can.

photo 1 from Los Angeles Time Machines; photo 2 from the History Department at the University of San Diego; both via Los Angeles Theatres


Fred's Brim said...

what would happen to it if a new theater operator doesn't sign on? Old theaters around here seem to get turned into churches

Delino DeShields, Sr said...

A seemingly impenetrable structure in Westwood, rendered obsolete due to neglect and disinterest. For a second, I thought you were talking about UCLA Football.


But seriously folks - I loved that theater. It's there my old roommate and I deemed the Matrix as "meh" - only to barely escape the night alive.

Josh S. said...

Sad. I haven't been to the Village in such a long time since it's too far away for regular moviegoing. I will, however, always remember waiting in a line around the block to see Return of the Jedi there on opening day.

The Vista better not be next.

Steve Sax said...

Beautiful piece, Orel. Strangely, I, too, look back fondly on my days of seeing all the powerhouse blockbuster movies at the Mann Village, having my friends hold places in line throughout the week as we all took shifts in the queue (driving an hour to get there from high school, missing classes here and there as a result). Racing up the stairs to secure first row balcony seats. Cheering and booing through the previews. Occasionally talking back to the screen during moments of tension or ill-placed romantic interludes (which have no good spot in a real action movie).

How bizarre is it that we have such similar childhood memories?

rbnlaw said...

Even though I did most of my growing up in OC, I remember getting advance tickets to see "The Deer Hunter" at the Village. Got there just before the show started and sat in the very front row, looking straight up at that hyooge screen.

Been there a couple of times since, but that memory stands out.

Neeebs (The Original) said...

Josh S.: I think that we were in line together for that movie.

Steve Sax said...

@Neeebs, were you wearing your jedi robe at the time?

Josh S. said...

Neeebs, do you remember the guy handing out McDonald's cheeseburgers in line? Or maybe that was a different screening.

Kyle Baker said...

There are too many great old theatres in the area closing down. Sadly, and admittedly, though, most folks including myself end up going to the ones closest and most convenient to us. Or the ones with the latest and greatest digital screens and sound systems. Nothing wrong with that, but I wish owners of the older ones could find a solution that would involve updating their equipment while making an aggressive PR move to remind moviegoers what a great experience that these old movie houses really can be.

I didn't grow up in the area, but I had a similar experience at what was called the UA 150 - one of those huge cineramadome type things. I can remember note for note every big summer blockbuster movie I saw there, and my experience, standing in line, where the candy counter was, etc. Can anyone say that of their more recent movie going experiences in bland theaters that look exactly like the next one?

Orel said...

With movie attendance down, a single-screen theater unfortunately seems like a sure money-loser, especially compared to multiplexes.

Delino DeShields, Sr said...

rbnlaw - I would have seen Deer Hunter in the theater, but I was four :-) Love that movie.

I still miss my Vista theater in Los Feliz. Not as big as the Fox. Not as splashy. But quite special.