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Los Feliz Theater Lifts Last Curtain on Sunday Night

October 08, 1987|DOUG SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The Los Feliz Theatre will show its last film Sunday, ending an era in Los Angeles cinema.

Laemmle Theatres, the family-owned movie company that has operated the theater since the 1940s, lost its lease on the building this summer after negotiations with its new owner fell through. A new tenant has not been found.

Merchants and residents who rallied unsuccessfully to save it this summer said they will continue their fight to preserve the landmark building on North Vermont Avenue as a theater even if it has been lost as the city's venerated art house. The Los Feliz brought the city its first art and foreign-language films in the 1940s.

"It would be a shame not to give it a fighting effort," said Ari Sikora, an urban planner and organizer of Friends of the Los Feliz Theatre. "So many of these malls go in and gobble up perfectly good neighborhood texture."

Sikora said the group will press the theater's owner, an investment company that bought the property last year, to lease it to another theater operator.

If that fails, she said, the group will press for enforcement of city zoning laws that they hope will prevent the owner from replacing the theater with a store or restaurant.

They consider the theater a key to the preservation of one of the city's few remaining business districts that retains the ambiance of older Los Angeles.

"Here is an opportunity to preserve a street before it completely deteriorates under the forces of the market," Sikora said. "The street is in a transition period. It is a question of whether it will transition positively or negatively."

'Part of the Evening'

An informal survey conducted this summer by the group established that the theater played a major role in drawing patrons to the street's restaurants, shops and bookstore.

"It appears that a lot of people make the Los Feliz a part of the evening," said Koki Iwamoto, owner of Chatterton's bookstore just two doors down the street.

"The closing of the theater would severely affect night life, entertainment, restaurant businesses, certainly the bookstore business."

Sikora estimated that the loss of the theater would cost businesses a minimum of $600,000 a year.

Faced with that prospect, Friends of the Los Feliz Theatre rallied around the Laemmles this summer when negotiations with the Denley Investment & Management Co. began to fall apart.

After buying the 7,500-square-foot building in December, Denley granted the Laemmles two temporary extensions of their lease at higher prices. But Robert Laemmle, co-owner of the theater company, balked at an increase in August that would have pushed the rent to $5,000 a month--10 times the amount paid before Denley purchased the property. Laemmle said he later agreed to the price, but was told the building was no longer available.

Other Theaters Queried

The Laemmles were given 60 days to vacate.

Even then, the Friends of the Los Feliz Theatre thought it had arrived at a happy solution when it recruited two other theater operators who, Sikora said, were willing to pay the higher rent.

Sikora said the operators of the Fox International Theatre in Venice and the Vista Theater in the Silver Lake area, both specialty theaters, offered to make proposals for the Los Feliz.

By then, however, the Denley company was negotiating with other possible tenants, said its agent, Steven Book.

Book could not disclose what kind of businesses are under consideration for the building. But he said he expected to have a signed lease in one or two weeks.

Sikora said the neighborhood organization has heard rumors that a restaurant and a store are among the businesses under consideration.

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