Aero Theater to walk like an Egyptian

Cinematheque eye programs, to help with upgrades

LA.’s American Cinematheque is in advanced negotiations to ink a long-term programming pact with the historic Aero Theater in Santa Monica.

The 62-year-old monoscreen would complement Cinematheque’s crosstown home at Hollywood’s storied Egyptian theater. Details are being worked out, but essentially the 21-year-old film society would broaden its classic-film screening programming to encompass both sites if the transaction can be concluded.

“We’re in negotiations to start programming the Aero like we program the Egyptian,” Cinematheque exec director Barbara Smith said Thursday.

Cinematheque owns the Egyptian, but is aiming for a programming relationship only with current Aero owner Jim Rosenfield. The film-lovers group will sink considerable funds into infrastructure upgrades at the Aero, including new seats, projector equipment and concession stand.

“It’s a great old theater,” Smith enthused. “It’s really a neighborhood theater, whereas the Egyptian is a big old movie palace.”

The developments are the latest sign that all is not lost for L.A. theater-preservation proponents. Beloved-but-beleaguered monoscreens have gone dark by the hundreds nationwide in recent years, but occasionally such faded gems have been saved by new owners who’ve found a way of making a go of things.

Locally, that’s happened at least twice over the past year.

The well-regarded Regent Theatre in Westwood was acquired by the Landmark specialty chain, which is doing solid biz now with artfilms after buying the monoscreen from the Mann commercial circuit. And dotcom baron Robert Bucksbaum bought the single-screen Crest Theater, also in Westwood, continuing to feature family fare, but boosting the emphasis on special events and promotions at the art deco showplace.

The Aero was built by former aerospace giant McDonald Douglas, hence its spacey name. A rescue of the storied venue would come none too soon, since the theater has had financial difficulties lately.

A current lessee of the Montana Avenue venue — marked by a neon marquee, tiny ticket booth and smallish, throw-back popcorn stand — shows discounted second-run pics, most recently “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.” But the tenant is also promoting an emergency “fund-raiser” with special catering and boosted ticket prices aimed at keeping the lights on.

Cinematheque is a member-supported “cultural organization” that regularly features audience Q&A seshes with filmmakers and critics before and after its feature presentations. Its riding to the rescue of the Aero would follow a retreat from such a plan by Hollywood icon Robert Redford.

Redford, who says he saw his first movie at the Aero as a young boy, wanted to acquire the theater and turn it into an arthouse. The plan collapsed after Redford’s Sundance Cinemas joint venture with General Cinemas shut down after three years, victim of GC financial problems.

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