Monday, March 03, 2008

Disney's Hollywood: The Academy Theatre

One of the more popular architectural themes of Disney's Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World is the celebration of classic movie theaters. While the reproduction of Grauman's Chinese Theatre is the most prominent of these recreations, on nearby Sunset Boulevard is a storefront facade inspired by one of southern California's most famous picture palaces: the Academy Theatre in Inglewood. In the Studios park, the Academy lives anew as the Legends of Hollywood retail venue.

The Fox Academy Theatre opened on December 9, 1939, hosting the world premiere of the MGM film Another Thin Man. Despite its suburban neighborhood location, the Academy was a Hollywood showplace of sorts, frequently hosting studio test screenings and movie premieres. Its name and elaborate design related to the hope that it would serve as a venue for the annual Academy Awards ceremony, intentions that were unfortunately never realized.

Many who grew up in the Inglewood area share fond memories of the theater. A contributor to the Cinema Treasures website recalled, "This picture palace was a truly grand and glorious place. I was awestruck by its towering spiral spire with the globe on top with sparkling was truly an amusement park for your mind to go there - thick plush carpeting, a lavishly decorated lobby and snack bar, and plush red velvet seats were an experience to remember, and as I recall, it had a golden shimmering satin waterfall curtain as well. This is the theater my family always went to for first-run blockbuster movies, and I fondly recall seeing DeMille's crowning achievement "The TEN COMMANDMENTS" there in the fall of 1956 in wide-screen VistaVision and surround-Stereophonic sound." The Academy ceased cinema operation in the mid-1970s and was converted into a church called the Academy Cathedral. It still exists to this day in that incarnation.

The Academy was designed by famed movie theater architect S. Charles Lee. Well known for his Streamline Moderne designs, Lee was responsible for many of the more famous movie palaces in the Los Angeles area. The Academy featured numerous elaborate trappings; a sleek and streamlined ticket both, a stunning glass block entrance and detailed etched glass panels, just to name a few. Lee also created the Los Angles Theatre from which Imagineers took inspiration when designing the Hyperion Theatre in Disney's California Adventure. In the early 1940s, Lee did a conceptualization for a proposed theater at the then newly constructed Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. We'll visit that Lee design and its ultimate realization in a future installment of Disney's Hollywood. Stay tuned.

Photo Credits
Legends Facade - Flickr User sjgardiner
Academy Theatre Images - UCLA Archives


Ryan P. Wilson said...

This series is a true treat Jeff! The amount of pure Hollywood history that the Imagineers have, effectively, put into a time capsule is amazing! Thanks for all the digging you do.