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SANTA MONICA : Remodeled Theater Even Has Cup Holders

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One of the oldest movie theaters in Santa Monica has lost its drab 1970s look in favor of something futuristic with a dash of Art Deco.

The Monica 4-Plex Theater, part of one of the oldest art and foreign film chains in the country and long noted among Westsiders for its popcorn with real butter, has just completed a $350,000 remodeling.

The redesign is aimed, in part, at turning the 25-year-old venue into a place where newly released art films are premiered. In the past, the theater hasn’t screened first-run art films but has shown them after they opened at other West Los Angeles art theaters.

“What the remodel will do is increase the potential for films that we’ve always played,” said Gregory Laemmle, assistant to Robert Laemmle, the family patriarch and company president. “It will help Santa Monica play art films upon their release, like art theaters in West Hollywood and West Los Angeles. Our (theater) was not considered a first-run house because it required a certain level of comfort that we didn’t have.”

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Gone are the squishy seats with low back support that cut off the circulation in your legs--even before the movies began. No more are the oppressive vinyl, wood-grain columns in the lobby. Never again will there be burnt orange, chocolate-brown and banana-yellow felt coverings lining the walls. (The gold, frosted mirror behind the candy counter remains, however.)

“It’s amazing, but the thing that the public wants to know most is whether or not we have cup holders in the new seats,” said Robert Laemmle, owner of eight Los Angeles-based Laemmle theaters. “Yes, we do have cup holders.”

Project architectural designer Steve Giannetti said: “We were trying to take that old ‘70s box and give it a sort of Art Deco-ish look and give the place some scale. There’s a 1920s tradition of doing movie theaters where the lobbies were done up like a courtyard with a night sky. So we painted the ceiling dark blue with the gold-leaf dome left intact.”

Giannetti’s vision for the lobby is a mix of the futuristic and celestial, but with Art Deco accents. Hanging from the gold-domed ceiling are six spiky, asteroid-like glass light fixtures, remnants of the original design. And along the walls on both sides of the lobby are new vertical, opaque tube lights, reminiscent of transporter on the TV series “Star Trek.”

State-of-the art, ergonomically correct seats with high backs have replaced the old seats, and the theater is now accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Ticket prices have increased 50 cents to $7.50.

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