L. A.'s Wilshire Theater: the new kid in town
If there was ever a legitimate theater tailor-made for Hollywood, it must be the Wilshire. Its prime location would make an entrepreneur weep for joy: near more than a dozen good restaurants and accessible to practically every part of widespread Los Angeles, thanks to freeways and highways.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
It seats nearly 2,000 while still maintaining that sense of intimacy so vital to the theater experience. And, thanks to the foresight of its owners and manager, the Wilshire has the added capacity of extra cable runs, extra power positions, and extra hanging positions for lighting, making it the best-equipped theater for film and television in America. Hence its affinity with Hollywood, where the major industry is television and movies.
The Wilshire even brings a smile to the conservationist's face. In its previous existence it was the Fox Movie House, built in 1929, a mini-landmark in this city of chicken wire, stucco, and wrecking crews. Saved from demolition in 1978, the theater was reborn last year as the Wilshire, after being bought for $ 1 million and renovated for $1.8 million by owners Thomas Stagen, of Stagen Realty, and RKO Pictures Inc. The result -- a testament to the power of recycling, and a vision of loveliness.
Behind every vision is a visionary, in this case the managing director of the Wilshire Theater, David Banks. If there is such a thing as a Pied Piper of theater in L.A., that man is Banks. He has spent the past 20 years working in and, more important, form theater in Los Angeles, accumulating in his wake a trail of improved theater houses and loyal followers, many of whom now work for Banks at the Wilshire. Starting as a stagehand at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1959, he moved on to become production manager at the Greek Theater, Huntington Hartford, and the Aquarius theater, and even turned the Roxy, a music club in West Hollywood, into a legitimate theater for the stage production of "The Rocky Horror Show."
Banks also has a background in construction and house renovation, a knowledge that came in handy during the reconstruction of the Wilshire and that was earlier put to good use when he (literally) put together the Oxford theater some 12 years ago. So when called upon to manage the Wilshire, Banks understood the nuts and bolts, or rather bricks and mortar, of such an operation.
"The theater, the live experience," Banks explained, "is something that demands to be treated a certain way. I put together a team of people at the Wilshire that feel the same way about theater as I do. Some of them are people I've worked with for 10 and 15 years. That was as much fun as the actual physical rebuilding of the theater -- putting together a team that really makes it work, because they set the attitude.
"People go out to the theater today and it's a hundred bucks a night for a couple by the time you've bought the tickets, had dinner, paid for parking, and gotten a sitter for the kids. Our salaries are paid by those folks, and the better we take care of them, the better off we'll all be. I want to make the theatergoer's experience as uncomplicated and happy as I can. The staff really picked up on that. We've gotten letters about how nicely people are treated by our ushers, the ticket office, the whole staff. It all counts."