The Crest Theatre, An Endangered Movie Showcase
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Majestic Crest Photo © 2007 by Daniel Paul

The Majestic Crest has a long and varied history, from its opening in 1940 as a legitimate (live stage) venue, several years as a newsreel house, and a long run as LA's premier art-film showcase, through a very creative renovation in 1987. 

The theatre's new retro look was completely designed by Joseph Musil, including the handsome new facade and eye-catching marquee.  Mr Musil is the same artist who transformed the rundown Hollywood Paramount into the glorious El Capitan.  His designs go beyond the physical look of the theatre, to include how everything works.  His unique brand of showmanship came with the knowledge that the former is lacking without the latter, and his personal attention covered details from way the marquee flashed to the way the curtains moved. 

Both the Crest and Paramount were then owned and operated by Pacific Theatres.  The Crest was later bought for $3.2 million in 2003 by Robert Bucksbaum, a man with a passion for classic movie theatres.  Bucksbaum, inspired by the family-run movie palace in the Frank Darabont film THE MAJESTIC, replaced "Pacific's" on the marquee with "Majestic" and officially renamed the theatre The Majestic Crest.


© by James Gordon Everett

In addition to its spectacular marquee,  the Majestic Crest featured a beautifully ornate lobby, rare classic three dimensional showcase displays, amazing black-lit wall murals of 1939 Hollywood landmarks, and a celestially accurate star field, with a star that shot across the twinkling ceiling at showtime. 

© by James Gordon Everett

This theatre exemplified the kind of showmanship that is missing from today's cineboxes, proving how much a theatrical atmosphere and showcase presentation can enhance the moviegoing experience.   At the Crest, movies were not merely shown, they were presented.  Patrons would want to arrive early enough to fully experience the theatre, and the unique way it began a show. 

In the early 90s, when the LA Times ran an article about local celebrities' favorite places to see a movie, one pointed out "that theatre in Westwood where the star shoots across the ceiling."  In the summer of 2007, a patron who had seen HAIRSPRAY at ArcLight and hadn't been overly impressed with it, saw the same movie at the Crest and loved it.  He wrote on Cinema Treasures that it was the theatrical ambiance and presentation at the Crest that made his moviegoing experience memorable. 

Joseph Musil designed two sets of curtains for the Crest, and personally programmed the impressive opening curtain prologue (synched to music from "That's Entertainment!") that unveiled every film.  However, the original front curtain was eventually ruined during a photo shoot involving Paris Hilton, and Mr. Bucksbaum had to bear the expense of having a new one made, which is not as elegant or elaborate as Musil's design.  Careless film crews left significant damage around the theatre as well, which increased the financial challenges of maintaining the theatre.

© by James Gordon Everett

Imagine sinking your life's savings into your dream, which eventually begins to cost more than it brings in.  With most high-profile films going to venues run by large chains, an independent exhibitor faces a constant struggle to book enough good pictures to fill the place.  The studios take about 90% of the ticket price in a film's first weeks, and the Crest's ornate neon marquee alone adds considerably to the electric bill.  Those are just a few of the challenges involved in keeping this theatre open.  In the Spring of 2008, with his operating costs becoming a heavy burden, Mr. Bucksbaum was seeking a buyer for the building, preferably one who would allow him to continue to operate the theatre. 

When the property was listed for sale, the Westwood Homeowners Association engaged architectural historian Daniel D. Paul, who has successfully argued for preservation of numerous significant buildings.  After extensive research into the building's history and condition, Mr. Paul realized that even though the additions to the theatre were made in 1987, the sheer artistry of Joseph Musil's design enhancements made the Crest worthy of landmark status.  in March of 2007, on behalf of the Westwood Homeowners association and Friends of the UCLAN Crest Theatre, Daniel Paul filed a comprehensive and convincing study, requesting that the Cultural Heritage Commission consider granting landmark status to the Crest. 

Concerned that it would limit his options, Mr. Bucksbaum initially opposed the motion for landmark designation.  After being appraised of some possible economic benefits of landmark status, he withdrew his objection. 

© 2007 by Daniel Paul

On May 14th, 2008, The City of Los Angeles officially designated the Majestic Crest Theatre a cultural historical monument - a Landmark!  The decision is certainly a victory for theatre preservation, as it does protect the building itself, but let's remember the story does not end there.  Landmark status, especially in Los Angeles, does not ensure that the building will continue to operate as a theatre.  The Crest still needs to pay its bills, or it could end up as another former theatre converted into a bookstore or other commercial use. 

As Bucksbaum was told at the landmark meeting, the promised tax relief was not due for months.  With a longterm lack of viable attractions, the Majestic Crest reportedly continued to lose money, and the owner said that a huge tax bill from the city had forced him to put the theatre building up for sale again at $4.75 million. 

As of Summer 2010, the Majestic Crest was still held by the same owner, had been featuring some high-profile independent and major studio pictures, and was listed in studio-run opening week ads.  By this point, the theatre, while still breathtaking, was looking a little worse for the wear.  The opening prologue Mr. Musil created had lost some of its luster.  There was no shooting star visible on the somewhat less glittery ceiling, the recorded announcement that began the show was cut off a bit, and the original lighting cues no longer changed colors on the curtains, which opened to a fully blank screen.  During the feature, we noticed a distinct echo in the back half of the house, and the picture looked no less dim and grainy than a common multiplex. 

Eventually a new owner was announced, and among their ideas was to put an inappropriate brand name (and logo) on the Crest.  The programming wasn't very compelling, the theatrical presentation and showmanship were all gone, and the theatre closed for almost two years.  Fans of the Crest feared they might never experience its uniquely theatrical ambience again.

In 2013, the theatre was leased to someone who didn't take very good care of it and didn't program it well.  The lease apparently ran out at the end of 2016, and in January 2017 the marquee stated the theatre was up for sale.  After six months, the realtor evidently changed, and it's still for sale.

Classic movie theatre enthusiasts remember all the great theatres that have been lost because they simply didn't have enough steady patronage to survive (most notably the National in Westwood, which, was denied landmark status and demolished as the Crest was being considered). 

The Crest is still worth a drive past your local multiplex, but its future is uncertain.  Wear and damage throughout the building has left it in need of upgrades and repair.  It needs a new owner who will take good care of it and run it as the showplace it is.


Majestic Crest Photo © 2007 by Daniel Paul

   THE CREST THEATRE - 1262 Westwood Blvd, South of Wilshire - 310-470-1508

Tour Joseph Musil's Museum of Theatre Design, including his designs for the Crest.

Moviegoer's Note: for moviegoers visiting Westwood, we heartily recommend a nice NY style pizza place called Lamonica's. New Yorkers will feel right at home in the place - it's decorated with vintage subway signs. The pizza is fresh and tasty, (excellent cheese to sauce ratio!) and the prices are quite reasonable.   A most worthy detour on the way to any of the last remaining theatres in Westwood.

Lamonica's New York Pizza - 1066 Gayley Avenue - Westwood Village, LA 310-208-8671