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The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously on April 8 to consider whether the Fairfax Theatre should be designated a cultural historic landmark.
The decision is the first step in the designation process for the theatre, located at the corner of Beverly Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. The five-member cultural heritage commission and officials from city’s Office of Historic Resources will now tour the theatre and hold another hearing at a later date to decide whether the theatre should be designated a historic resource. The date of the on-site tour and additional hearing have not yet been set, but the tour will likely take place during the first week of May, and the hearing will occur either on May 20 or June 3, according to Edgar Garcia, preservation planner for the Office of Historic Resources.
The owner of the building that houses the Fairfax Theatre plans to convert the structure into a 71-unit condominium complex and retail space. According to Ira Handelman, who represents the building’s owner, Alex Gorby, the goal is to revitalize the corner by creating a residential and retail complex. The Fairfax Theatre has been closed since January after rains caused the ceiling to partially collapse. Regency Theatres, which operated the Fairfax Theatre, has announced that it will not be reopeing the venue.
A group known as the Friends of the Fairfax Theatre, which is comprised of local residents and preservation organizations, filed the application with the city to have it considered as a cultural landmark. Mitzi Mogul, president of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, one of the groups comprising the Friends of the Fairfax Theatre, said she is optimistic the cultural heritage commission will designate the theatre as a landmark. The Friends of the Fairfax Theatre contend that the theatre is historically significant because it is one of the last remaining examples of a neighborhood theatre, it was built in a distinct art deco architectural style, and that it was once a center of the Los Angeles’ Jewish community. While films were always shown at the theatre, which was built in 1929, it was also used for live theatrical productions and orchestral concerts, and was a gathering place for Jews during the years prior and during World War II.
“I was delighted with the commission’s decision, because it is the first step, and I believe we will prevail,” Mogul said. “It has been part of the fabric of that community for the past 80 years.”
Handelman said the decision to consider the theatre as a historic landmark is not a setback, and added that he is confident the commission will not approve the designation. The plan for the condominium complex includes the preservation of the theatre’s art deco façade.
“We don’t believe that the architectural elements meet the standards for the designation,” Handelman said. “We respect the process and we believe after they do this tour and the evaluation, there is a better than even chance that the that it will not be designated.”
Garcia said the five-member commission will take several factors into consideration, including the condition of the theatre’s exterior and auditorium. He said commission will examine the original features that remain. The theatre was converted into a triplex in the 1980s, but the Friends of the Fairfax Theatre contend that much of the original features remain, including a stage and the mechanical equipment used for moving props.
Garcia said a staff report will be compiled after the on-site tour of the theatre, and that pubic comment is welcome. For information, visit www.preservation.lacity.org.
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