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Cinematheque to Be Built Near Mann’s Chinese Theatre

Times Staff Writer

The American Cinematheque is back on track, two years after a much publicized plan to house it in the Pan Pacific Auditorium fell apart.

The basic plan hasn’t changed: The facility will be a living museum of movies, using state-of-the-art technology and theaters to present films from all over the world to the public. It will also include a book store, a cafe and bar and lecture halls, providing a center for artists to talk about film with each other and the public.

But now the American Cinematheque has moved to Hollywood Boulevard, where it will anchor a $300-million retail redevelopment project next to Mann’s Chinese Theater. Construction is to begin in January, and the facility is scheduled to open in 1991.

The Cinematheque will begin temporary programming next March in theaters at the new Directors Guild of America headquarters on Sunset Boulevard.

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The organizers announced the details of their plan at a press conference Thursday that drew such key city officials as Mayor Tom Bradley and City Councilman Michael Woo.

The announcement of a new $13.4-million shrine to the cinema in the heart of Hollywood came on the same morning that wrecking crews moved in to demolish the famed Schwab’s Pharmacy on nearby Sunset Boulevard.

“Maybe the next Lana Turner will be discovered in the cafe at the American Cinematheque,” said Woo.

The Cinematheque’s organizers announced that the developer of the site, Melvin Simon and Associates, has agreed to pick up $3 million of the facility’s construction costs. This in-kind gift will cover the costs of the land and air rights, construction of a parking structure below, and architectural fees.

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The architect of the Cinematheque and the retail project, known as the Hollywood Promenade, is Jon Jerde, whose credits include designs for the 1984 Olympics and San Diego’s Horton Plaza retail center.

Sydney Pollack, chairman of the American Cinematheque, gave an impassioned pitch for the proposed facility during its official kickoff Thursday.

Several years ago, the film director said, he visited Paris’ cinematheque, “this incredible haven where both film makers and the public could go and have a sense of community.”

The new facility will be the first of its kind in this country.

“I found out that 35 places all over the world are celebrating an art form that is uniquely ours,” said Pollack, who has directed such hits as “Tootsie” and “Out of Africa.”

"(In Hollywood) there is nothing besides stars in the pavement to commemorate it. When people come to Hollywood and Vine, they see a bus stop.”

The organizers of the Cinematheque still need to raise $10.4 million to cover construction costs. Under an agreement with Simon, who is also providing financing for construction of the facility, $2 million must be in hand by next fall.

In addition to Simon’s grant, the organizers say they have received 60 gifts of $10,000 each and have secured three commitments of more than $25,000. They say intensive fund raising will begin now that the plan is firm and has been made public.

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And there is one potential legal hitch: A citizens group called Save Hollywood Our Town, or SHOT, has gone to court to stop Simon’s redevelopment of the area next to Mann’s Chinese Theater. Simon won the first court battle, but the group, which is challenging the city’s 1987 approval of the Hollywood Promenade, has taken its case to the California Court of Appeal. That court is expected to hear arguments in the next 30 to 60 days.

Simon, an Indianapolis developer and one of the country’s largest shopping center builders, made a brief--and unsuccessful--foray into Hollywood between 1978 and 1983, when he ran his own production company. Among the films he produced were “Love at First Bite” and “My Bodyguard.”

The Cinematheque facility is expected to be a big draw for Simon’s Hollywood Promenade.

“He’s a good businessman as well as being altruistic,” Peter Dekom, an attorney and president of the American Cinematheque, noted in an interview.

The developer’s contributions to the Cinematheque, moreover, could increase in the future. Under new city guidelines, developers are required to contribute 1% of their construction costs to the arts. The bulk of Simons’ $3-million contribution under that program is expected to be earmarked for the Cinematheque.

Gary Essert, the founder and artistic director of American Cinematheque, is a longtime fixture on the Los Angeles film landscape. He was a driving force behind the old Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Filmex) but was ousted by its board of directors in 1983 after years of financial difficulties for the respected festival. Filmex later folded.

Essert launched the idea for American Cinematheque more than four years ago. The original plan was to restore the Pan Pacific Auditorium--located on a government-owned park in the Beverly-Fairfax area.

That proposal, which included a hotel complex as well as the Cinematheque, was announced with great fanfare in 1985, and the facility was expected to open in January, 1987. The plan fell apart when the developer, Somerset Co., lost its financing.

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While American Cinematheque would have leased its Pan Pacific facility, it will own the land and its building inside the Hollywood Promenade.

“Having a permanent home means our dream is still alive and moving again,” Essert said.

After the Pan Pacific setback, said Gary Abrahams, Cinematheque’s marketing and development director, “the Cinematheque board made the decision that we had to be quiet until this (new) plan was completely put together.”

Although silent about their intentions, the organizers continued fund raising with two annual events--a winter film premiere and the Moving Picture Ball, which drew consecutively as honorees Eddie Murphy, Bette Midler and Robin Willams.

Those funds enabled the organization to cover overhead costs--rent and salaries--of about $250,000 a year. With a firm plan now in place, said Abrahams, operating costs will rise to $450,000 a year, and then to $1.5 million once the facility is built and staffed.

The 45,000-square-foot facility will contain four theaters, ranging in size from 150 to 550 seats. The theaters will be equipped to show video as well as film, and one of the theaters will present mixed media presentations.

A group of 23 prominent directors and actors signed a statement supporting the new facility. One reason for their backing, said Pollack, is the state-of-the-art technology that will be installed.

“Commercial theater sound systems are dull and not kept up,” Pollack said in an interview this week. “Projectors are old and screens are dirty. The detail you strive for is lost, all those things that contribute to the mood, the details of any art.”

The bookstore will be dedicated to film and will carry videocassette classics and hard-to-find movies, as well as memorabilia. The bar and cafe, Pollack hopes, will become a sort of hangout for artists and film buffs.

“We want to encourage people to stay and browse, to talk about film,” he said.


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