Renovated Mayfair Decides to Go Legit

Times Staff Writer

The Mayfair has had many reincarnations since it opened in 1911 as Santa Monica’s first theater.

In its 74 years, it has been an opera house, a vaudeville showcase, a movie theater and, most recently, an English music hall. The owners believe it is the oldest continuously operating theater in Los Angeles County and Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce statistics confirm that.

And now, after a refurbishing by new owners Gerald Roberts and Herbert J. Kendall, the historic showplace at 214 Santa Monica Blvd. has been reborn, yet again, as the New Mayfair Theatre.


The raucous variety acts of the former music hall have been replaced by professionally produced stage plays like the current show, “Sherlock’s Last Case.”

To provide the right setting for legitimate theater, Kendall and Roberts removed the bar and cocktail tables from inside the music hall and installed more seats instead, increasing the Mayfair’s capacity to 360 from 220.

A huge semicircular bar remains in the lobby and there is a matching bar and a restaurant upstairs, but they are entirely separate from the theater; drinks are not allowed inside during performances as they were when the Mayfair was a music hall.

Thought-provoking and innovative works of new and established playwrights will be the essence of the New Mayfair, said Kendall, a Santa Monica builder.

He and Roberts were co-producers of “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,” which was the longest-running show in the history of the Huntington Hartford Theatre in Hollywood, playing for a year in 1980-81.

The two men bought the Mayfair about a year ago, and after remodeling they brought in Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame” as their first show.


“Sherlock’s Last Case” was given its world premiere by the Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre at the Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival last summer. Performances were sold out at the festival, with more than 20,000 people attending.

The author, Santa Monica playwright and director Charles Marowitz, won first prize for “Sherlock” in the Louis B. Mayer Playwriting Competition.

In the Mayfair’s new production, actor David Fox-Brenton, who originated the role at the Arts Festival, returns as Sherlock Holmes and Benjamin Stewart plays Dr. Watson.

The owners said the play is so popular that they expect to extend its run beyond the scheduled March 31 closing.

The Mayfair is a fitting place to stage Marowitz’s thriller, which explores the relationship between the fabled detective and his bumbling sidekick in Victorian England.

The Mayfair looks Victorian, with high ceilings, soft lighting and massive golden carved panels installed by the theater’s former owner, Milt Larsen, who also created the Magic Castle.


Copy of London’s Mayfair

Larsen acquired the historic Santa Monica theater in the early 1970s and designed the interior to resemble the stylish Mayfair district of London in the Gay ‘90s.

The crimson-and-gold decor remains much as Larsen designed it, and many of the seats (re-covered, of course) are the ones that were in the theater when it opened as an opera house.

Kendall said his job will be finding new plays for the Mayfair, perhaps four productions a year.

“We are trying to create an idiom here of serious yet entertaining theater,” said Kendall, a member and former chairman of the Santa Monica Arts Commission. “We are interested in committed theater. We are looking for something to make people think.”

Roberts, a certified public accountant a former Boston impresario who said his clients included the Beatles and Bob Hope, lives in Malibu and spends most days at the Mayfair managing the theater.

Kendall and Roberts said they hope that quality plays will attract a growing Westside audience. Ticket prices are $15 and $20, considerably less than at Los Angeles’ large theaters.