Quentin Tarantino buys L.A.’s historic Vista Theatre

Vista With A View

Quentin Tarantino buys L.A.’s historic Vista Theatre

The Vista Theatre in 2021, closed but hoping for a speedy reopening (Via Google Maps)

Quentin Tarantino is best known as the director of Pulp Fiction, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood, and other awarding-winning films. But he’s also a preservationist with a side hustle: buying and operating historic movie theaters.

Tarantino is also something of a design critic, with strong opinions about trends in the design and layout of contemporary cinemas, particularly those that feature “La-Z-Boy” seating and keep the lights on during movie showings.

Earlier this week, he announced that he has purchased the Vista Theatre, a 1923 single-screen, art deco movie palace at 4473 Sunset Boulevard in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The Vista is one of a dwindling number of vintage movie theaters that hasn’t been twinned or converted into a storefront church. The theater has been closed since last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with a “To be continued…” message plastered on its marquee.

“I bought the Vista,” Tarantino announced on the July 5th episode of Dax Shepard and Monica Padman’s Armchair Expert podcast. “We’re going to probably open it up around Christmastime.”

Originally known as the Lou Bard Playhouse, the Vista was designed by Lewis A. Smith and initially had 838 seats. The owners later removed every other row to give patrons more legroom, dropping its capacity to 400. It’s a local landmark, and the interior has an Egyptian motif. The theater’s forecourt features the handprints and footprints of celebrities whose films have been shown there over the years, including Spike Jonze, Martin Landau, and Barry Bostwick. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

The Vista is the second vintage movie theater Tarantino has purchased. In 2007, he bought the New Beverly Cinema at 7165 Beverly Boulevard, a 300-seat theater in a building that also dates from the 1920s, to save it from redevelopment.

The New Beverly is a revival theater where Tarantino mostly shows classic or notable older movies, often from his own collection, on film, not via digital projection. It was also closed during the COVID-19 pandemic but reopened last month.

The Vista, by contrast, will be a place to see first-run movies, but also only on film, Tarantino said on Armchair Expert.

“Again, only film,” he said. “But it won’t be a revival house. We’ll show new movies that come out, where they give us a film print. We’ll show new stuff. It’s not going to be like the New Beverly. The New Beverly has its own vibe. The Vista is like a crown jewel kind of thing. And so it’ll be like the best prints. We’ll show older films, but they’ll be older films and you can hold a four-night engagement.”

Besides announcing his recent purchase, Tarantino weighed in on current trends in cinema design and the exhibitors that aren’t reopening after the pandemic.

“I never like any theater closing,” he said. “But some of these exhibitors who are going, they [eff-in] deserve to go. They’ve taken all the specialness out of movies anyway, some of these chains, where they’re showing commercials all through it, they don’t turn the lights down, everything is stadium seating, plastic shit. It’s all about popcorn and watching a movie at [eff-in] Chuck E. Cheese.”

Exhibitors who don’t pay attention to presentation may be hurting their own chances of survival, he warned.

“There used to be even a tad of presentation going on,” he said. If “those guys shut down, they’ve been writing their own epitaph for a long time, but they just figured the business would take you along. It’s been crazy during my whole career to see how the film experience is lessened for the viewer. Like every five years, it’s lessened by another big jump.”

Tarantino said he believes certain “boutique cinemas” are poised to thrive now that COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed.

But he clarified that “I’m not talking about the La-Z-Boy, order nachos and margaritas.”

“Actually, I like the Alamo Drafthouse a lot, but I’m not really down with that whole layout. I’ve got a living room. I want to go to a movie theater. I don’t want to recreate my living room.”

spiderman on a geodesic dome
After reopening in 2002,the Cinerama Dome was often gussied up to promote featured films. (Yo Shi/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tarantino also said he isn’t particularly concerned about the Cinerama Dome, another vintage theater in Los Angeles that closed during the pandemic and faces an uncertain future.

Part of the ArcLight Cinemas chain that in April disclosed that it was ceasing operations, the Cinerama Dome opened in 1963 and was designed by Welton Becket & Associates with a curved screen and a geodesic dome for its roof. Some fans have been hoping Tarantino might buy it and preserve it, because he featured it in One Upon A Time…In Hollywood, but he said he thinks someone else will come along.

“It’s not like they are going to demolish the Cinerama Dome,” he said. “Somebody’s going to buy it. There are so many different options that could work out. I’m not that worried about it, to tell you the truth.”