Much hay has been made over what to do about the perpetually derelict Ramona Theater at 2139 Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park. There’s a suspicious lack of data concerning any official plans for the building outside of some general inquiries on the Echo Park Historical Society message board and a post on Curbed LA dated April 2007. In spite of (or due to) its cloudy future people are watching this place. Some think it should be a club in the vein of Spaceland or The Smell. Others think it should be turned into an organic grocery store or a restaurant.
I say all of those suggestions are stupid. The Ramona needs to be a movie theater again. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, it’s also the least likely fate to come to pass.
Photo via you-are-here.com.
If you clicked on the link that took you to the EPHS forum then you probably already read their brief history of the Ramona and its current status. If you didn’t click on the link (lazy!), here it is in its full text:
The building at 2139-2141 Sunset Blvd. was built in 1914 to serve as a movie theater. On the original building permit, the architect is listed as the Alfred Grayson (sp? it’s handwritten) Co. The builder was J. Louie Pancoast, who was located down the street at 2121 Sunset Blvd, while the developer lived on nearby Reservoir Street.
The theater was known as the Ramona Theater for roughly half a century before going through a series of name and format changes. The theater was modernized and reopened in 1966 under the name Studio One and with the mission of showing German-language cinema (the debut was a screening of Die Fledermaus!). By the early 1980s, the name had been Latinized into Estudio 1, a venue for double features (one photo has it offering Mad Max and A Force of One on the same night!).
The theater was completely closed by the mid-1990s. Around 1998, a member of the Lotito family — which has owned the building and much of the block for at least 75 years — decided to rip out the theater seats, make the theater floor level as part of a renovation to seek new tenants. But the building has remained empty.
Not only did Mr. Lotito remove the seats and fill in the floor, he gutted the whole damn building and is trying to hock it as a retail/restaurant space. There’s a room in the back where the theater used to be, but a new wall has been put up no more than 50 feet from where the screen was, which would turn any potential motion picture exhibition into a neck-cramping affair. Of course, there isn’t a projectionist booth anymore either, so the potential for any future motion picture exhibition is pretty much nil outside of another multi-million dollar renovation.
Echo Park is on the brink of being the Next Great LA Neighborhood. It’s already got some great diners, coffee houses, a variety of retail shops, the aforementioned music venues, parks, and a scrappy little film center (that has reportedly tried to lease the theater property from a reputedly not-so-film-friendly Mr. Lotito on several occasions with no success). It’s even got grocery stores, both large and small.
Also, Echo Park denizens are exceedingly diverse. While big movie theater chains are evolving to compete with the home video market, it’s the smaller, independent houses that are still able to take big risks with programming in an effort to connect with their audience. That being said, I’m convinced that restoring the Ramona/Studio 1/Estudio 1 to a first-run/rep house (or perhaps even a drafthouse a la Austin’s Alamo chain or Oakland’s excellent Parkway Speakeasy*) will add a significant amount of creative capital to the community and serve as a cultural touchstone for its members. To not do so wouldn’t necessarily break the neighborhood, but it certainly wouldn’t help make it, either.
So until some maverick entrepreneur with balls and vision and deep pockets steps in to do what needs to be done, the Ramona is in peril of becoming another movie house turned swap-meet or organic produce market** or worse yet, an extension of the American Apparel shop next door.
And if it’s going to come to that then things would probably be better off just staying the way they are.
*I can’t believe Los-Freakin’-Angeles doesn’t have one of these yet.***
**An unlikely venture considering the property’s high rental value.
***If anyone even thinks about holding up Cinespace as an example of a quality dinner-and-a-movie experience, I’m going to punch a ten-year old in the face.