Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Happy 90th Birthday To The Vista Theatre!

The Vista Theatre, then and now: 90 years from Baby Peggy to Sandra Bullock.

Today is the 90th birthday of everybody's favorite old-school theatre - The Vista Theatre, which opened on October 9, 1923 and showed the silent film (well, they were all silent back in the day), Tips (which was filmed locally at the Ambassador Hotel), starring child actress Baby Peggy (who is still alive today at 94). Back then, the theatre was called Bard's East Hollywood Playhouse, one of a chain of local theaters owned by Lou Bard, who also operated a number of theatres in Downtown Los Angeles (The College Theatre, the 8th Street Theatre and the Olympic Theatre). If you look above the marquee in the ornate center window, you can see the letter "B" monogrammed at the top. The "B" stands for "Bard's" (And speaking of "B," B-movie director Ed Wood once had his office behind that window).

Even before it opened, The Vista was literally sitting on Hollywood history: Just across the street was D.W. Griffith's Fine Arts Studio, which stood from 1914 to the early 1960s as a Columbia Pictures facility before being burned down in a fire (the lot is now the Vons Hollywood supermarket). The block where The Vista now stands was the ginormous Babylonian movie set for the 1916 film Intolerance. As you may or may not know, the Babylonian movie set was the architectural inspiration for the Hollywood and Highland shopping center, just 3 miles down the street. The set was torn down in 1919, the property sold and subivided and The Vista was built on the corner of Sunset and Hillhurst. And Hollywood. And Virgil. And Sunset Drive.

In the early 1920s, the discovery of King Tut's treasures in Egypt caused Egyptomania to flood American popular culture. Among them was the construction of Graumann's Egyptian Theatre (now the home of American Cinematheque). Yes, people Walked Like An Egyptian years before The Bangles were even born!

The Vista was no exception. Though the facade was Spanish Revival in design, the interior had a decidedly Egyptian theme. Word to your mummy.

The monogrammed "B" atop the center window above the marquee stands for "Bard" - the original name and owner of the Vista Theatre. 
Aside from silent films, the 838-seat capacity theatre also lived up to its Playhouse name by hosting Vaudeville performances (totally old school).

Over the years, cinema evolved into various forms from the single-screen, architecturally ornate style of cinema venue form the early days of movies. Sound was introduced, screens got bigger, theatres got larger, screens got even bigger, multiplexes emerged, sound GOT REALLY LOUDER, movies went digital, they went 3-D, and screens got even more ginormous.

But The Vista held on to its old-school, single screen flavor. After a period in the 1960s-1980s The Vista was more (in)famous for ghetto second- and third- run screenings (Though for a time it was popular in '80s-era hipsterness as the Friday night midnight screening venue for The Rocky Horror Picture Show). In 1993 it was purchased by Five Star Theatres (now Vintage Cinemas) who gave it a major restoration from 1997 to 2000. Today it shows first-run pictures (like Gravity starring Sandra Bullock), giving moviegoers an old-school option from the multiplexed-3D-THX-really nasty overpriced popcorn experience of modern cinema.

The theatre isn't doing any 90th-anniversary events, but do stop by to give this old classic a b-day greeting. Maybe in its big Centennial in 2023, we can be treated to a screening of Intolerance and Tips (hopefully Baby Peggy will still be around then) for old time's sake.

1 comment:

angel said...

I miss seeing the Vista Theatre on my walk to work and back each day...It always brought a smile to my face.