A cliffhanger at Fairfax Theater

Hoping to halt the conversion of the Fairfax Theater into apartments, neighbors joined preservationists and community activists Saturday to collect petition signatures and to celebrate the cinema’s 80th birthday.

“We view the Fairfax not only as a historic treasure, but as a social and cultural treasure, given the role it has played in the Fairfax District for the past 80 years,” said Hillsman Wright, co-founder of the Los Angeles Historical Theatre Foundation.

“It’s much more than a physical structure,” he said. “It’s in many ways part of the heart and soul of that neighborhood.”

Property owner Alex Gorby announced last week that the Fairfax, which was being operated by Regency Theatres, would remain closed indefinitely after suffering major damage during rainstorms this year.

“The landlord did not want to make the necessary repairs, so we had to terminate the lease,” said Andrew Golin, vice president of Regency Theatres. “We are saddened by the closure.”

Ira Handelman, a spokesman for the landlord, said the tenant was responsible for repairing the damage to the theater, located on Beverly Boulevard at Fairfax Avenue.

Gorby has proposed a mixed-use retail and residential project that would include 71 living units and add 224 underground parking spaces. He has promised to maintain the theater’s historic Art Deco facade.

“The new project will respect the past and look to the future,” said Handelman. “The design is absolutely exquisite.”

But preservationists such as John Thomas, president of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles, said saving the Fairfax is not just about architecture.

“It tells a story about the community,” he said.

During World War II, the theater served as a rallying point for information and fundraising for the district’s thriving Jewish community. It was often used for religious services and political and social events.

“We came here as children. We had our first dates here. We courted our spouses here. We brought our children and grandchildren here,” said Cliff Cheng, president of West of Fairfax Neighbors. “It is the fabric of our neighborhood.”

The Fairfax has been nominated to become a Los Angeles historic-cultural monument.

The city’s Cultural Heritage Commission will conduct the first hearing on the matter Thursday.