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Theater Opening Brings Back Past

April 28, 1985|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Durante, James Cagney, Loretta Young, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. were just some of the stars who walked across a special bridge over L. A.'s Wilshire Boulevard to attend opening night at the Wiltern Theatre movie palace on Oct. 7, 1931.

This Wednesday, at the "glittering '20s" opening of the Wiltern as a performing arts center, the crowd that will attend--at up to $150 a head to benefit the Los Angeles Conservancy and National Trust for Historic Preservation--is not so celebrity-oriented.

Still, expected participants are opera star Dorothy Kirsten, actor George Takei, Ken Kragen (executive director of United Support of Artists for Africa Foundation and organizer of the recording "We Are the World"), movie producers Howard Koch and Tony Bill, and Bill Graham of Bill Graham Presents, one of the world's biggest concert promotion firms and now the Wiltern's operating company.

There will also be some very special people in the history of the Wiltern in the crowd. Among them: movie and TV producer Jack Warner Jr. (who attended the 1931 opening as a little boy with his father, movie mogul Jack Warner Sr.) and Alyce (de Roulet) Williamson, daughter of Henry de Roulet (who owned and built the Wiltern) and great-granddaughter of Germain Pellessier (who bought the 160-acre tract, which he named the Pellessier Ranch, for $3,200 in 1882.)

Decorative plasterer Art Reischel, one of the Wiltern's two original craftsmen who also helped on its restoration, is also planning to be at the opening. And what about Frank Bouman, the other craftsman? Bouman helped the late A. B. Heinsbergen create the theater's interiors, including the sunburst ceiling decoration, which has been described as the "finest example of Art Deco left in the country."

Said Dawn Heinsbergen of the Heinsbergen firm, where Bouman has worked all these years:

"He's the head man on our San Diego Symphony project, which must be finished by Nov. 2, so whether or not he will come up for the Wiltern opening, I don't know." The San Diego Symphony Hall, which opened in the early 1920s as the Fox Theatre (with interiors designed by the Heinsbergen Co.), is being refurbished to be incorporated in a larger, multi-use development that will be known as Symphony Towers.

Alyce Williamson took a moment out from helping the L. A. Conservancy get ready for the Wiltern's opening. "I'm very proud of the fact that my father did so much at such an early age, and it was at the height of the Depression when he did it. He built about 23 buildings in the area before he was 30!"

One more item about the Wiltern: For anyone who wants to get a peek at what it looks like now that the restoration is complete, the Conservancy plans a lecture there on Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m., followed by a tour of the theater and the rest of the historic Pellessier Building. The lecture, a slide show given by theater historian John Miller, will focus on the movie palaces of L. A. Tickets at $10 each ($7 for Conservancy members) are available from the Conservancy in advance or at the door.

Renovation seems to be the name of the game these days. The South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce and Board of Realtors is planning an open house/mixer at 5 p.m. Tuesday at a 71-year-old building that is in the final stages of a $1.2-million restoration.

The 800 Fair Oaks Building is being converted from a Masonic Temple to a restaurant, retail shops and office space. AJB Enterprises of Pasadena is the contractor/developer. Cushman & Wakefield is handling leasing.

Robert Floyd, chairman of the board of Fitz & Floyd China--the firm that designed and donated the official china pattern for the Reagans at the White House, has put up his Palm Springs house for sale at a cool $6.5 million.

A hefty sum in an overbuilt market? Not to Jim Retz, executive vice president of Sotheby Parke Bernet, which has the listing. Retz considers the house "the finest residence for sale in Palm Springs or in the desert area."

What makes it so great? "Its location on a hill that overlooks the Coachella Valley and the glass doors that open to this view. It's also a house that's magical at night because of its customized floor-to-ceiling lighting."

There is a bonus: The house comes "fully furnished and equipped." That means, it even comes with Fitz & Floyd china!

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