Fairfax Theatre Historic Status Denied

By Hillsman Wright, Executive Director, Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation

The Fairfax Theater nomination went down in flames today as the Cultural Heritage Commission denied HCM status for the historic theater. Like all good disaster movies, there were plenty of stars and hordes of extras. The opposition lead by Ira Handleman, representing the owner Alex Gorby, assembled a cast of 14 characters to testify - many of whom only had tenuous ties to the community.  Some of the heavy hitters were Mark Pantera of Gilmore Properties i.e. the Grove, Nyla Arslanian of the Hollywood Arts Council, and Pierson Blake of the Greenway Theater on Fairfax, who kindly admitted his organization was to be generously supported for his testimony. They continually echoed the party line that the theater was no longer economically viable, that there was no parking, that they need more rental apartments, the demolition of the theater would help revitalize the area, all arguments that SHOULD have had no bearing on the decision.

Our team the Friends of the Fairfax was represented by Brian Curran (Hollywood Heritage), Hillsman Wright (Hollywood Heritage/Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation), Mitzi Mogul (Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation), John Thomas (Art Deco Society) as well as Dr. Cliff Cheng (West of Fairfax Residents Association) and Gaetano Jones local resident. We were joined at the eleventh hour by Mike Buhler of the Los Angeles Conservancy who spoke on our behalf and Charlie Fisher, long time preservation advocate and consultant. With all of this professional experience weighing in favor how could we lose?

While we made our case as to the historic nature of the theater, which the staff of the Office of Historic Resources recommended be designated as an example of an early anchor of economic growth and a rare resource, the lack of support from Councilman Paul Koretz's office, the problems of the site to enable economic viability of the theater i.e. parking, the condition of the theater left derelict by a neglectful landlord and the departure of one of the commissioners split the vote and caused Commissioner Barron to weigh in against the nomination.

We were robbed! Their architectural consultant Teresa Grimes whose name appears on every historic assessment recommending demolition and their Jewish historian who never took the time to rebut our evidence did not sway the commission. What swayed them were political and economic factors. Could we have had more support? Absolutely! Emails, letters and FaceBook friends are great, but warm bodies are essential. If we failed anywhere it was in not recruiting a crowd - man for man - with the developer.

The Friends of the Fairfax will now await the draft Environmental Impact Report. However, with the denial of designation our major weapon to force alternative uses and strategies for reviving the theater are off the table. We will now further advance the options available to insure that the Fairfax Theatre is not demolished.