Silver Lake. Echo Park. Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Highland Park. These are just some of L.A.’s trendiest neighborhoods in 2013. But long before any of these places were on the mental maps of hipsters and taste-makers, there was Westwood Village in West Los Angeles.
The Village, which was first developed in the 1920s by the Janns Investment Corporation, was for decades a tasteful shopping district serving the then new UCLA campus and nearby affluent neighborhoods like Bel Air and Holmby Hills. An inviting atmosphere was created in the neighborhood through an urban design and architectural master plan, featuring Mediterranean-style buildings and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks.
But in the 1960s and 70s, Westwood Village traded gentility for gloss, reinventing itself as a regional entertainment center, featuring nightclubs, restaurants, marquee stores and lots of movie theaters. People flocked to the neighborhood from across Southern California to shop, people watch and have a good time.
But Westwood Village’s glory days are long past. Since the late 1980s, Westwood has experienced a long commercial decline. The Village is far from a ghost town, but if you walk the streets of Westwood today, especially, Westwood Boulevard, you’ll pass one vacant store after another. In the evenings, streets and sidewalks that once buzzed with life can feel empty.
BRUIN THEATER PREMIERE, 1948: Glittering Hollywood film premieres have attracted throngs of movie fans to Westwood Village since the 1930s, eager to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. Here the “Adventures of Casanova” gets the Hollywood red carpet treatment in 1948 in a simultaneous double premiere at both the Bruin and Fox Westwood Village Theaters. The Bruin Theater opened across the street opposite the Fox Theater in 1937, as the second movie theater in the Village. This City Historic-Cultural Monument was designed by renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee in Streamline Moderne style, with UCLA inspired blue-and-gold neon flashing along the sweeping curve of its Art Deco style theater marquee. (Photo and caption courtesy of Steven Sann.)
FOX WESTWOOD VILLAGE THEATER, 1938: Opened on August 14,1931, “The Fox” as it was known for decades, was the first motion picture theater and the first entertainment facility built in Westwood Village. Its soaring 17-story tower, capped by a three-sided spire in blazing blue-and-gold neon sign that says “FOX,” has been a dominant Westwood landmark for more than 80 years. Designed by architect Percy Parke Lewis in Spanish Colonial Revival style with Classical Revival influences, this City Historic-Cultural Monument continues to be one of the most popular sites for Hollywood red-carpet movie premieres. (Photo and caption courtesy of Steven Sann.)
Westwood Village’s popularity was long-powered by people going to its landmark movie theaters like the Fox and Bruin. At it’s height, Westwood had 18 movie screens and was the scene of countless premieres. In 2013, only three movie theaters in the Village are still open. (Photo Saul Gonzalez)
1934: Reflecting the “Mediterranean” architecture mandated by the Janss Corporation are these four historic structures looking north on Westwood Boulevard at Kinross Avenue, left to right, the University Professional Building, the soaring tower of the Fox Westwood Village Theater, the imposing Janss Investment Corporation headquarters – popularly known as “the Dome building,” and Holmby Hall with its stately clock tower, as seen in 1934. All four of these historic buildings still exist. Photo and caption courtesy of Steven Sann.
Over the decades, Westwood Village, nestled between the UCLA and Wilshire Boulevard, reinvented itself, from a genteel neighborhood shopping destination for the university and surrounding neighborhoods to a glossy regional entertainment hub. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
WILSHIRE & WESTWOOD, 1939: Looking north on Westwood Boulevard at Wilshire, one can see the many towers that served as Village landmarks, including the Fox Theater Tower, Sears Roebuck & Co. Tower, Holmby Hall Clock Tower, and four gas station towers that lined Lindbrook Drive. The towers served to orient pedestrians within the Village, and were intended to catch the eye of motorists as they sped along in the “fast moving traffic” along Wilshire Boulevard. Note the absence of any traffic signals at this busy intersection! (Photo and caption courtesy of Steven Sann.)
In recent years, Westwood Village has grappled with a commercial decline. That’s most visible in the abundance of empty stores on Westwood Boulevard. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
RALPHS GROCERY STORE, 1938: This original Ralphs in Westwood Village opened in September 1929 at the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Lindbrook Drive, in this Mission Revival style building designed by architect Russell Collins. One of five markets that once served the Village, Ralphs closed this store in the early 1960s, in part due to a lack of parking. This landmark building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, now houses Peet’s Coffee & Tea, 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, T-Mobile, Westwood Village Synagogue, and the former Mann Festival Theater. In October 2001 Ralphs opened a new, much larger store two blocks north, on the second floor of the former Bullock’s Westwood building, which ended a 27-year absence of a full service grocery store in Westwood Village. (Photo and caption courtesy of Steven Sann.)
One of Westwood Village’s long-closed movie theaters. Across from the Hammer Museum, some hope it can one day be turned into a performance space. Right next to it is 800 Degrees Pizzeria, one of the newer businesses in the Village. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)