If the above photo doesn't tip you off, the Crest Theatre in Westwood is gorgeous. So much so, in fact, that upon touring it last Tuesday I was both shocked and embarrassed to have never been there before.
Opened in 1940 as a stage venue called the Westwood Theatre, it went through several changes in ownership, name, and design over the next seven decades before closing its doors in 2011. (This, in spite of the fact that it had been declared a Cultural Historical Monument three years earlier.)
Newly reopened after 19 months of dormancy, the Crest — on Westwood Blvd. just south of Wilshire — is under new management and determined to stand out from the multiplex crowd. “There are no boundaries” is how President and CEO Weezie Melancon described the 460-seat, single-screen theater's programming plans during my walkthrough, which culminated in a 15-minute preview of the Bolshoi Ballet production of Romeo and Juliet they screened a few days later.
Equipped with 70mm, 35mm, and 4K digital capabilities, the Crest already has a number of other operas, musical performances, and live events in mind over the coming months; Melancon and her team are open to using the space for anything the community expresses an interest in seeing.
For instance, this week it's screening Endless Summer as part of its surfing series, which takes place on the last Friday of every month; An Evening with Ekman, Leon and Littlefoot, Eyal and Behar and Inger, a filmed version of a modern dance performance from the Nederlands Dans Theater, on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 p.m.; and the acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing on Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m.
In describing her plans, Melancon used the phrase “movies with a message” several times. One of the Crest's primary goals is to bring a level of social consciousness to the enterprise, a through-line The Act of Killing fits into rather well.
Thinking about it a week later, what most stands out is the way the space combines the aesthetic of a movie palace with the eclectic sensibility of an arthouse. As for that aesthetic, well, the black-lit murals inside the theater itself — which are meant to resemble the Hollywood skyline circa its golden age — are so striking as to justify a visit in and of themselves. This retro-deco look was designed in 1987 by Joseph Musil (who also renovated the El Capitan). Simply standing in the 73-year-old room feels like a throwback to a time when moviegoing was more of an event than it is now, an increasingly rare opportunity in a city that can't afford to lose any more of its cinematic landmarks than it already has.
The Crest is at 1262 Westwood Blvd., Westwood. (310) 470-1508, crestwestwood.com.
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