Though a year behind schedule, a new Acad theater is well on its way

New H'wood site to bow in 2002

You wouldn’t know it from looking at the site, but Oscar’s new home is slowly becoming more than just an architect’s pipe dream.

“It’s actually starting to emerge from that big hole that they’ve dug,” says Bruce Davis, exec director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, anchor tenant of the proposed 3,500-seat theater at Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard.

The auditorium, part of a $385 million “urban entertainment destination” that is to include shops, restaurants, a nightclub, movie theaters and a television production facility, is scheduled to open just in time for the 2002 Oscars — a full year behind its original schedule.

Meanwhile, the next two Oscar soirees will again be held at the Shrine Exposition Center, near the University of Southern California.

A number of obstacles have held up the Academy’s final approvals of the theater’s design, which must be capable of broadcasting the awards show to viewers around the world. Of particular concern was a problem in finding appropriate lines of sight for broadcast signals.

“We hadn’t anticipated the greater density of buildings in the area,” Davis says, referring to the tightly packed urban setting of Hollywood Boulevard, which will force satellite trucks to be parked farther away than usual from the event.

Such impediments are not a factor at the Shrine — where there are large parking lots within striking distance — or at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, where the Academy always leased a Dept. of Water & Power lot across the street for the indispensable relay trucks.

“We realized we didn’t have all those empty spots in Hollywood,” says Davis, who believes the problem has been largely resolved.

Architectural designs for the as-yet unnamed theater have not been finalized, although, Davis says, “We’ve finally seen a couple that we really like.” He would not elaborate.

Design features submitted months ago by architect David Rockwell included a 70-foot portal at the entrance to the complex with a huge cast-glass curtain onto which movie images are to be projected; thousands of glass beads on walls and balconies through which lights will glow; and a pretzel-like steel sculpture above the auditorium — Rockwell calls it a tiara — to draw the eye away from catwalks and lighting equipment. It is not clear yet which, if any, of those features will be implemented in the final design.

The Academy seems not to want the theater — indeed, the entire development — to be too closely associated with the Oscars, primarily because the show itself is merely a one-night affair and the Academy plans to rent the facility only for the four preceding weeks each year.

The rest of the time, it will be made available to other events and award shows, many of which naturally try to compete with Oscar for the allegiances of kudocast watchers.

As such, the Academy has declined the honor of having the facility be called the Academy Theater. Instead, developer TrizecHahn Corp. is looking for a corporate sponsor who, in exchange for a hefty donation, would have the right to name the auditorium after itself.

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