When Your Local Barnes & Noble Is In A 1930s Art Deco Movie Theater

Last week, I was doing some scouting around Studio City (yup, already back to work!), and every time I drove down Ventura…

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…I found myself admiring the simple but beautiful art deco movie theater near Laurel Canyon, which almost feels like an anchor to the neighborhood:

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Except it’s not a movie theater, as I realized when I got out to take a closer look – it’s actually a branch of the Barnes & Noble off-shoot Bookstar.

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Was this just a faux movie theater facade designed to appeal to out-of-towners like me? Had I already been duped on my first day of scouting??

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Nope – it’s the real thing.

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This was once the Fox Studio City Theatre, which opened in 1938 with seating for 880 (the above picture was taken shortly before its premiere screening). A classic example of the streamline moderne style, it was designed by architect Clifford A. Balch, who was also responsible for more than twenty art deco theaters throughout southern California, including the El Rey.

Finding historic exterior pictures of the theater is difficult (and interior pics impossible). Below, a photograph taken eight years later in 1946…

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Note how the entrance has been given a bit of an overhaul, with circular poster windows and a chandelier:

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The last photograph I was able to find comes from one of the most highly regarded repositories for Los Angeles history…

dragnet

In the first episode of the 1968 season, Joe Friday and Bill Gannon head to the Fox Studio City Theatre to investigate a bizarre acid-pouring crime, and we get a view of its exterior once more, now restored to its original design.

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Sadly, unable to compete with nearby multiplexes, the single screen theater finally closed its doors in 1991, and was soon after converted into a bookstore.

But what remains of the original theater? I decided to take a closer look…

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Thankfully, the entrance is nearly the same as it was 77 years ago:

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Taking center stage is the gorgeous ticket booth…

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…covered with dramatic swoops and flourishes:

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A side view – the pattern surrounds the booth, as though a plant bursting up from the ground:

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The original movie poster windows are still in place, now used to display merchandise and ads:

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Finally, the original terrazzo floors, with designs unique to the theater:

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Stepping inside, it takes a moment to get your bearings, but this area would have been the lobby…

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…with the theater just beyond the pair of columns. Head past them…

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…and you’ll find yourself inside the ghost of the old Fox Studio City Theatre, which has been left surprisingly untouched.

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The screen is still visible at the end of the room…

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Thought quite skinny by modern standards, it was originally set up to handle 70mm projections.

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According to movie-goers who once frequented the Fox Studio City, the ceiling design is original to the theater…

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Also original are the deco lamps lining the walls (the adjacent illustrations are modern additions, inspired by the terrazzo pattern outside):

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A close-up:

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Finally, look to the rear of the theater, and you’ll see the original projection cut-outs still in place (the projectionist’s booth is currently being used as the store’s office):

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In its heyday, the theater rented out its two front wings for retail (in the episode of Dragnet, it was apparently occupied by a clothing store called Isabelle’s).

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Today, those areas have been opened up as part of the main store:

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The ceiling design:

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One last little minor detail…

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…a little swoop of art deco goodness…

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…which continues up to the projectionist’s booth (note the banister rails and the circular ceiling):

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When the movie theater closed, the owners, the Rothman family, were adamant that as much of the original structure be preserved as possible. You know a theater has been lovingly converted when you could still mistake it for its original purpose.

Driving by in the daylight, the old Fox Studio City is showing little wear for its 77 years…

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And at night?

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It’s as majestic as ever.

-SCOUT

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19 comments

  1. Nice work, dude. Welcome to Los Angeles.

  2. Great find. Here’s one in Houston that was a theatre, then a Bookstop/B&N and is now a Trader Joe’s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabama_Theatre_%28Houston%29

  3. Houston used to have a movie-theater-turned-bookstore also, though it’s been turned into a Trader Joe’s now.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alabama_Theatre_%28Houston%29

  4. So nice to see how much of the original theatre is still around!

  5. BookStar did the same in San Diego, at the historical Loma Theatre in Point Loma. I saw ET and Top Gun there as a kid, and a few years later it was converted. The remodel included additions to the building, but the original marquee remained.

    http://s3-media1.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/AGE329u19ReangNjyElMxg/o.jpg

  6. That is incredible! Welcome to California! I hope you will be scouting the state as you did in New York. Our state is a bit larger, and you will find every land form on earth except for four here. Start looking!

    Good luck in your new home.

  7. It’s real! I thought that you were joking with the ScoutingLa site. So glad it is real.
    Really liked your NY site — it almost made me want to go back east for a visit. (Haven’t been any rush to return east since I left in 1966).
    I hope you find lots of interesting things in LA (and the rest of California?) This story is a great start.
    Welcome to California.

  8. Yes! Welcome to Los Angeles! I’ve been an avid reader of Scouting NY for years. Never thought you’d ever end up in the west coast. This is really exciting!

    Los Angeles has a habit of covering up its past. As you’ll soon find out, there is so much to be uncovered. My theory is that the film industry has provided a sense of non-permanence. What was once the original Disney studios is now a grocery store. The west coast operations for NBC is now a Walgreens (formerly a Borders). Los Angeles is beginning to take note of its past, but it has a long way to go to uncover everything.

    Speaking of which, if you ever make it up to Palo Alto, the former Varsity Theatre was a Borders. Similarly to the B&N in Studio City, much of the theater was preserved when it was converted to a bookstore. Not sure what became of it once Borders vacated.

    Anyway. Yay! You’re in L.A.! I’m looking forward to your stories about a city I live in!

  9. Well as a former New Yorker watching from my current vantage point in Des Moines, I’ll begrugdingly continue to follow your adventures in LA since you’ve still got one of coolest blogs around. Maybe with your help, I’ll take a little more shine to LA, and recover from the virtual voyeuristic loss of leading me around good ‘ol NYC.

  10. Great job on the new LA site.

    Love this post. Weirdly enough I just saw mention of this theatre/book store on Imgur in the last few days. Very strange.

    I’ll miss the New York posts but will continue to follow the LA blog since I really enjoy your style of presentation.

    All the best from Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Todd

  11. But will you be able to find the Spider Pool?

    http://laist.com/2008/04/19/every_city_has.php

  12. I was going to mention my local Bookstar in San Diego (formerly the Loma Theater) too, but Ara beat me to it! My kids love running down the sloping aisles toward what would have been the screen (and is now the children’s books section). Welcome to California!

  13. I too will miss your New York posts (I live on long island a half hour train ride into Manhattan) they were the best, and I made an effort to visit many of the places you mentioned. But that being said I will now look forward to your California posts . thank you for making the effort to continue this wonderful journey in over looked architecture.

  14. Seems to me that bookstore owners would be reasonably respectful of movie theaters. It’s all intellectual property of a sort, and unless the bookstore is just into “Literature”, a theater would be a great fit.

    Lots of old movie theaters here in Brooklyn are now serving as retail or banking spaces. Very few have retained much, if any, of their movie theater glory (unless it’s only been covered over).

    Great first post.

  15. I didn’t think you were going to be able to find as much cool stuff in L.A. as you did in New York. It has only been about a week and you have done it again! I guess your scouting skills travel with you, like an angry poltergeist. Very nice.

  16. Ah, LA. We tear down everything with impunity (do NOT get me started on the 1920s/1930s redevelopment of downtown), yet we like to repurpose old theaters (I guess we think we’re showing some respect to the industry that built our city?). I’ve seen them turned into churches, stores, and perhaps most famously, the old United Artists theater is now an Ace Hotel.

  17. Patrick Rafferty

    Welcome to the west coast! I’ll miss your NY adventures. As you explore your new home..be sure to visit Riverside and the Mission Inn Hotel..near by is a Julia Morgan building and an endangered mid century library building. Riverside was once the Palm Springs of California…the city is doing its best to erase what remains of its architectural history and legacy…downtown is worth a bit of exploration.

  18. So by the numbers :
    1) Coolest bookstore EVAHHHH!!!!!!
    2) Congrats on the move….should only take you about 12 years to cover the area…..before you flit-off to Scouting Paris, or some such.
    3) Hope we have some stories/pics built up for future posts about the move…..ALWAYS a fun time!
    4) This is LA-based and born Mark Evanier’s blog, who is incredibly knowledgeable about all-things LA (entertainment biz, architecture, restaurant history, magic castles and burger joints :+)
    http://www.newsfromme.com/
    and another LA-based sitcom/playwright/scriptwriter whose work you might have heard of…..truly hilarious much of the time always :
    http://kenlevine.blogspot.ca/
    5) Also looking forward to blasting you for throwing your weather in our faces come winter……how COULD you not take us with you???

  19. Please go back and finish this tour: we need to see the projection room, dang it.