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Then and Now

August 06, 1989|EVELYN De WOLFE | Times Staff Writer

Still memorable to some longtime Angelenos is the glamour and fanfare at the opening of the Westlake Theatre on Sept. 22, 1926, when searchlights combed the sky at Wilshire Boulevard and Alvarado Street for the premiere of the silent movie "Other Women's Husbands."

Today, in that once fashionable area of the city, the theater survives as a popular movie house showing Spanish-language films to a predominantly local Hispanic community.

The Churrigueresque structure with a second-story row of arched windows is a "gem of 1920s picture palace splendor" that has not gone unnoticed by the Los Angeles Conservancy. It has been singled out as Wednesday's theater setting for the Conservancy's current film series, "The Last Remaining Seats."

Conservancy's Gregg Davidson makes note of the theater's "resplendent luxury and eerie, alluring beauty," captured by architect Richard M. Bates Jr.

"There was a time, before shopping mall multiplexes, computerized ticket offices and home videos, when buying a ticket at a theater bought you more than a movie. It bought you dreams and make-believe even before curtain time," Davidson said.

"Many of Los Angeles' movie palaces are still standing but their survival is threatened. Only by introducing their splendor to a new generation can we hope to keep them alive for future audiences."

Originally seating 2,000, including a balcony, Westlake Theatre's interior styling is described as Adamesque, a late-18th Century style popularized by the Adams Brothers of Britain who introduced the use of delicate plaster ceilings, swags, garlands and urns.

The gold and ivory lobby has a mezzanine-level promenade and a ceiling muraled with delicate cherubs. The auditorium ceiling is coffered, and a simple proscenium arch frames the 35-foot stage, with ornate organ screens on either side.

During the Depression the theater was closed for a short period for renovation and reopened in 1935 as a showplace that characterized "the return of better times" and the 25-cent matinee.

Westlake Theatre before-and-after photos show the former elaborate electric roof sign ornamented with shooting stars that was replaced by the present "Westlake Theatre" neon sign.

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