Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre – Majestic Crest Edition

Apr 25, 2010 by Lisa Newton

The Majestic Crest Theatre, designed by architect, Arthur W. Hawes, has a long and unique history.

Originally built in 1940 to showcase live theatre, the Crest’s main benefactor was Frances Seymour Fonda, the second wife of Henry Fonda, and mother to Peter and Jane Fonda. Why Frances Fonda decided to build the theatre isn’t fully known, nonetheless, due to the onset of World War II and the need for the community to watch newsreels, the “UCLAN Theatre,” named after UCLA, was refitted as a single screen movie house to serve the community.

Interestingly, Frances Seymour Fonda committed suicide in 1950, and the news was kept from her daughter, Jane Fonda. Apparently, Ms. Fonda was only informed that her mother died of heart failure. Household newspaper and magazine subscriptions were canceled, and the staff and student body of Fonda’s high school were instructed not to discuss the incident.

Fonda was to learn the truth about her mom’s death, a few months later while leafing through a movie magazine in art class.

Over the years, the Majestic Crest has financially struggled. Although it’s located only a few blocks from the formerly ultra hip and thriving area of Westwood Village, the theatre never garnered the popularity that so many others did. Perhaps the slide in the village’s popularity also affected the Crest’s success which it rightfully deserves.

With only 500 seats, small by many standards, the Crest has been a somewhat popular location for movie premieres. In the 1970s, it was temporarily renamed the Metro, and its then owner, MGM, made some minor design changes. But when the Pacific Theatre chain took control of the Crest in 1985, it was renamed the Pacific Crest.

Afterward they initiated and forged a successful and long-standing partnership with Disney. The auditorium was reconfigured, the screen was brought forward, new curtains were put up, a new marquee was designed, and the wall Cyclorama was assembled.

Designed by theatre aficionado and architect, Joseph J. Musil, who also designed the El Capitan Theatre, today’s Majestic Crest is a theatre goers’ enchantment.

Inside the lobby there’s a wonderful tiled concession stand, and a ceiling that playfully uses mirrors which provides enough artistic temperament for both amusement and to provide a realistic perception that the entrance and interior is much larger than it really is.

On every wall inside the theatre, there’s hand painted murals that feature “real establishments from Westwood and Hollywood during the 1940s; Bill’s Chili was named after the theatre’s then-manager, and Rick’s was named for the construction manager.”

By 2002, sagging box office returns and an overzealous landowner almost brought an end to the magic. The cinema was in danger of being converted into an adult film venue, a swap meet site, or a church. In the face of these events, a single-screen theatre owner from the community, Robert Bucksbaum, purchased the building and arranged to take over theatre operations from Pacific in January 2003. Source: The Majestic Crest Theatre

Today, the Crest is fighting for its life. With competition from the Landmark Multiplex, which has first run movie exclusivity, and only a few blocks from the Crest, the Crest isn’t at the top of everyone’s movie house list.

What’s better, watching a movie in a cookie-cutter multiplex to maximize the corporation chain’s profits, or be able to enjoy the experience of a theatre that was built so that people could fully enjoy the entire movie viewing experience in a theatre which was designed specifically for that purpose—whatever the answer, my money is on the Majestic Crest.

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Architecture, Culture, West LA
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