Honorable Mary George
President
Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission
433 S. Spring St.
10th Floor
Los Angeles, California 90013

June 2, 1998

Dear Ms. George and members of the commission,

Hollywood Heritage gives its strong support to the nomination of the Cinerama Dome Theater as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

The Cinerama Dome Theater is one of the most famous modern buildings in Los Angeles, not just for its unique, interpretation of and engineering of the geodesic dome principle, but because of its spectacular presentation of the movie-going experience. This is the only concrete geodesic dome of its kind in the world. Its size, weight, and use of pre-fabricated concrete construction were to serve as a prototype for hundreds of similar theaters around the world, but only this one was built.

What is remarkable for Los Angeles is that the Cinerama Dome Theater is almost entirely in its original visual condition, and still serves as a deluxe first-run move theater. This 1963 building still evokes the optimism of its time and embellishment of technology as a design force in and of itself for both the interior and exterior.

The interior has sight lines and seating designed to optimize the view from all seats to involve patrons in the giant 87-foot wide curved Cinerama screen. Though three-camera Cinerama was not shown there, the facility is capable of conversion for such a presentation. Even so, the magnificent visual feast moviegoers receive when they see a film on this screen, today, is unlike any other in the world.

The interior architecture, including the lobby areas, balcony stairs, and the auditorium, have had very minor changes over the past 35 years, mostly concerning the conversion of the concession stand. This interior continues the clean, dramatic design of the theater's exterior entrance that includes the terrazzo floor, the marquee with its Plexiglas ceiling lights, the box offices, stone screens, original landscaping plan, and storefront entryway. One box office is covered over and the two front fountains are filled in with dirt, but these modifications are all easily reversible.

Overall, the theater presents the movie going experience from the moment you approach the Dome to the time you step in front and enter the building, until the time you enter the auditorium and see and hear the motion picture. Los Angeles and Hollywood have a very few other theaters that do this for patrons today, but none of the post World War II vintage, except for the Cinerama Dome Theater.

The Cinerama Dome Theater today represents a unique chance to experience movies in an intact, theater palace of modern vintage. There is no comparable movie theater in Los Angeles, open or closed, built since 1945. There are more intact silent movie theaters in Los Angeles today than there are intact theaters of the Cinerama Dome's era (1945-1970). Only the National Theater in Westwood, not nearly as significant in its interior or exterior as the Cinerama Dome Theater, still functions as a single-screen movie theater from that era.

Other major recommendations for this nomination come from varied sources. The Community Redevelopment Agency's (CRA) 1986 Hollywood Redevelopment Plan cites the building as locally significant and eligible for local landmark status (by its inclusion in the CRA's Historical Resource Survey). The Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Cinerama Dome Retail / Entertainment Center, April 1998 (DEIR) discusses the theater's landmark merits in its Historical Resources sections under the DEIR's "Evaluation of the Cinerama Dome" (page III. B-17). There is stated:

"Based upon visual inspection of the property, site specific and contextual research, and the above referenced criteria ("City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Ordinance" and "National Register of Historic Places Criteria" editor's note), the Cinerama Dome now appears eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C. This evaluation corresponds to the OHP significance rating of 3S. Category 3S properties are eligible for listing in the California Register. Because of the theater's local significance, it also appears eligible for designation as a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument."

These listings also include the canopy / marquee as part of the historic theater nomination (page III. B-17-18).

Based on the theater's significance on federal, state, and local levels, there is no reason why the Cinerama Dome Theater would not become a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. Again, referring to the DEIR prepared for Pacific Theaters:

Section 22.130 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code states that a historical or cultural monument is any site, building, or structure of particular historical or cultural significance to the City of Los Angeles, such as historic structures or sites in which the broad cultural, political, economic, or social history of the nation, state, or community is reflected or exemplified or which are identified with histories personages or with important events in the main currents of national, state, or local history, or which embody the distinguishing characteristics of an architectural-type specimen, inherently valuable for a study of a period in style or method of construction or a notable work of a master builder, designer, or architect whose individual genius influenced his age. (page III. B-17)

The theater's architect was Welton Beckett and Associates, one of the city's premiere modern architects (other projects, at that time, included pavilions at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), based on the revolutionary geodesic dome principle of Los Angeles architect Buckminster Fuller. Pacific Theaters also states that the Cinerama Dome Theater has been the site of more movie premieres than any other theater since 1963. Directors such as Steven Speilberg, who has opened more of his films there than any other Los Angeles theater from Jaws (1975) to Amistad (1997), continue to select the Cinerama Dome Theater as a deluxe venue to showcase their films.

Based on the above information, Pacific Theaters' own DEIR, and the historic determination made by the CRA as approved by the City Council, there is no area where the Cinerama Dome Theater does not excel in its nomination for landmark status. To vote against this nomination would therefore be a violation of the Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 22.130. The Commission must remember that it is to base its voting on the facts of the potential monument, not political favors or expediency. The city law is very clear on this. To do otherwise is to risk litigation to have the Los Angeles Municipal Code enforced.

Hollywood Heritage strongly encourages the Cultural Heritage Commission to review the overwhelming facts supporting Historic-Cultural Monument status for the Cinerama Dome Theater and vote to protect one of Los Angeles' most renowned modern architectural masterpieces.

Sincerely,

 

Robert W. Nudelman
Vice-President
Co-chair, Preservation Issues Committee
Hollywood Heritage, Inc.

 

Barry Milofsky
Co-chair, Preservation Issues Committee
Hollywood Heritage, Inc.

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