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Vista Theatre, Los Feliz

Vista Theatre, Los Feliz

Architect: Lewis A. Smith

First Opened: 9th October 1923 (97 years ago)

Former Names: Bard’s Hollywood Theatre, New Vista

Website: www.vintagecinemas.com/vista Open website in new window

Telephone: (323) 660-6639 Call (323) 660-6639

Address: 4473 Sunset Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027 Show address in Google Maps (new window)


The Vista, a single-screen neighborhood movie theatre, opened on 9th October 1923. Originally called Bard’s Hollywood Theatre, opening night consisted of some vaudeville acts and a screening of “Tips” starring Baby Peggy, who made an in-person appearance in for the sell-out crowd of 900.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

Opening night, October 1923
Opening night, October 1923

“Where Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards Meet”

Lou Bard’s movie theatre chain, which built the Vista, would go on to build several other theatres including the 8th St (later called the Olympic) theatre in downtown Los Angeles, and Egyptian-themed theatres in West Adams, Glendale, and Pasadena.

Mission Revival exterior
The Vista’s Mission Revival exterior

The Vista was built as a single-screen neighborhood movie theatre, and although the exterior is designed in a Spanish Mission style, Lou Bard loved the Egyptian themes which were all the rage following the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, and had his architect Lewis A. Smith design an Egyptian interior for the theatre. The highlight was ten eerily-lit life-size pharaonic masks lining the sides of the auditorium.

Directly after its opening the theatre settled into a pattern of two features per week, a reduction in vaudeville acts – which were often replaced by an organ concert, until finally just films were screened.

According to a post on the Cinema Treasures website Link opens in new window “the Vista featured a small Style D Wurlitzer theatre organ (2-manual/6-rank, Opus #701) that was shipped from the Wurlitzer factory in North Tonawanda on 15th September 1923. The organ was later broken up for parts”.

The current and spacious seating
The current and spacious seating

Seating capacity was originally detailed as 838 however for many years the reported capacity was lower, in the range of 600-700. Current capacity is 400, with every second row of seats having been removed to drastically increase legroom.

By 1930 the theatre came under the new management of Fox West Coast and was renamed the Vista. The current neon marquee replaced the original 1923 marquee in 1938 at a reported cost of $1,000.

In the 1960s the Vista was known for screening cult films, however by the mid-1960s became better known as a porno house, moving from soft-core to hard-core and finally gay porn until it was refurbished for revivals in 1980 by the San Francisco-based Thomas Theaters chain.

Thomas Theaters sold the Vista to Landmark Theaters in 1982 and it reopened in as a revival house, however by mid-1985 Landmark could not make the Vista’s programming a success with the direct competition from cable TV and video rentals. Landmark closed the Vista in 1985, it was sold, renamed the New Vista, and went back to screening first-run movies.

Pharaonic masks line the side walls
Pharaonic masks line the side walls

When Five Star Theatres (now Vintage Cinemas) acquired the property in 1993, the Vista was a dilapidated dive with a checkered past. Lance Alspaugh, head of Five Star, was planning extensive improvements when he was approached by designer Ronald Wright, who proposed a complete and thorough renovation and restoration. The floor-to-ceiling process, costing approximately $1 million and including earthquake retrofitting, started in 1997 and was completed in 2000. By going down to the smallest level of detail it took around a year to restore all of the pharaoh masks lining the auditorium. Earthquake retrofitted girders are hidden behind the red curtains adorning the pharaoh masks lining the walls, slightly altering the original shape of the auditorium.

Originally there was no hint of the interior Egyptian theme outside the building, however the addition of a new Egyptian-themed box office at the entrance doors, as part of the 1997-2000 refurbishment, firmly planted the Egyptian theme as starting at the entrance lobby.

Like Grauman’s Chinese Theatre the Vista’s forecourt features cement handprints and footprints, however the Vista’s tend toward icons of independent and cult movies.

The Vista is built on the site used for the massive Babylon set from D.W. Griffith’s biggest and most expensive movie: Intolerance (1916) Link opens in new window. This set is the origin of the design used for the outdoor Hollywood & Highland mall.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Movies

How do I visit the Vista Theatre?

The Vista doesn’t currently offer tours (as of January 2018) so check out the theatre’s website Link opens in new window for events playing at the Vista - it’s a popular and busy venue, and the manager often dresses-up as a character from the movie currently playing.

Further Reading

Online

Technical Information

Movie Projection
Digital Projector
Sony 4K projector
Film Projector
35mm projector
Sound system
JBL Dolby Surround Sound 28-speaker system
Historic Photos & Documents

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Photos of the Vista Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium
  2. Auditorium - Closeups
  3. Lobby
  4. Exterior
  5. Backstage
  6. Projection Booth
Auditorium

The Vista’s auditorium is adorned with 10 pharaoh masks, five on each side of the auditorium. The red curtains surrounding the masks hide modern earthquake retrofitted vertical girders pinned to the walls.

Although the organ has long since been removed, the organ grilles and the chambers behind them remain on either side of the stage and are well-lit as feature pieces.

Current seating capacity is a spacious 400.

Auditorium - Closeups
Lobby

The lobby is heavily decorated with Egyptian hieroglyphics, some including plaster relief sculpture. The bright decoration comes from the 1997-2000 renovation work, and the dark ceiling helps subconciously prepare for the surprise of the splendour of the larger auditorium to come.

Exterior

The exterior is Mission Revival style, completed prior to the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb which likely set the tone for the interior Egyptian theme. The handprints and footprints are those of cult movie stars.

The café space to the right of the theatre entrance is now occupied by Supercool Creamery Link opens in new window.

Backstage

The stage is only a few feet deep, enough to accommodate sound equipment behind the movie screen. The current movie screen sits in front of the original proscenium arch, probably so that a widescreen projection screen can be accommodated without appearing too small. In the photos below it’s clear to see the Egyptian-themed pillars which originally flanked the sides of the proscenium arch, with some original drapery hanging above. The pillars have recesses for striplights which would have originally lit the curtain in front of the movie screen, and mini vaudeville acts taking place on the stage before a movie screened.

On opening night the Vista staged vaudeville acts, a practice which lasted for a short time before organ concerts were favored, and ultimately those gave way to just movie screenings.

Projection Booth

The projection booth contains a 35mm projector and a Sony 4K digital projector. The 35mm projector utilizes a platter system so that an entire movie may be screened without any changeover between projectors.

The original Westinghouse DC generator is still in place, which would have originally supplied DC voltage to the carbon arc lamp projector.



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