Audrey Wilder, widow of legendary writer-director Billy Wilder, has donated $5 million to help build the Billy Wilder Theater at the UCLA Hammer Museum.
The gift means construction to build a 288-seat theater at the museum site in Westwood can start next spring. The facility — a few blocks from the Wilders’ longtime home — will serve as the venue for the UCLA Film & Television Archive’s public screenings; it will be jointly operated by the archive and the art museum.
“This gift to the UCLA Hammer Museum reflects Billy’s passion for film and art and his dedication to supporting and encouraging artists of all kinds,” Wilder said. “I think he would be thrilled to have his name on this theater and to see the neighborhood truly come to life.”
Filmmaker Curtis Hanson, who has been chairman of the archive for the past four years, told Daily Variety that Audrey Wilder came up with the idea of the theater. “How astute of her to find a way to celebrate the other two great loves of her husband’s life — art and movies,” he said.
The theater will be designed to accommodate early film technology, such as nitrate film projection, as well as digital and satellite presentation. All seats will be digitally wired.
“We are honored that our new home will carry the name of one of the most gifted filmmakers of the 20th century,” said Tim Kittleson, director of the archive. “We know that this elegant, high-tech theater will match our reputation as one of the country’s preeminent cinematheques.”
The Vienna-born Wilder died at the age of 95 in March 2002.
The new theater is a part of the museum’s renovation project, designed by Los Angeles-based architect Michael Maltzan with Toronto-based graphic designer Bruce Mau and Amsterdam-based landscape and interior designer Petra Blaisse. Renovation will create 3,650 square feet of new exhibition space, a 2,660-square-foot reception and lecture hall and a 1,000-square-foot multipurpose classroom in addition to the new theater.
With the Wilder gift, less than $10 million remains to be raised before the renovation project can begin.