What Happened to Westwood?

in Movie

Up until a few years ago, Westwood was the place to go if I wanted to treat myself. When I first moved to L.A, I wanted to find a place where I can walk around...look at shops, etc...Something, perhaps, to remind me of New York City. L.A. is not much of a walking town...yet I was told (by Miss Susan P. of Encino) that best places to walk around were the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, and Westwood Village. I hadn't been there in years, yet after going to Westwood with Ron last week, I thought I was due for a return visit...

Located about 30 minutes from my apartment, Westwood lies on the west side of Los Angeles, just east of the San Diego Freeway (405). Home to the esteemed university UCLA, Westwood was once a thriving college town...with great shops, restaurants, record stores and fantastic movie theaters. Parking was a pain, and expensive...yet it was worth it. One could've easily have spent the day in Westwood and had a great time...not anymore.

Back in the day, I'd drive from Hollywood specifically to hang out in Westwood...I'd have a slice or two at La Monica pizza on Gayley...pop in the Baskin Robbins for some ice cream, check out the Circuit City on Gayley, spend a year in the Tower Records on Westwood Boulevard, check out an indie record store or two, and of course, see a movie...

When I first started hanging out in Westwood...there were no less than six Mann Theaters single-screens, one Mann 4-plex, a United Artists 3-plex, a General Cinema 4-plex, and a gorgeous cinema owned and run by Pacific Theaters called The Crest. Ten different movie theaters...all within walking distance. You can see why I would love a place like this...It was as if Westwood really was truly MOVIE TOWN...

On Saturday night, I paid a visit to the old Movie Town...and what I found was more akin to a Ghost Town. Since 2006, there has been an uncomfortable exodus in Westwood...everyone was leaving, and no one was moving in.

Before the movie on Saturday, took a walk around the once lively neighborhood...what's left of it at least. The 2-story Tower Records is gone...all of the other Westwood record shops are gone as well. The Rite Aid is gone...now just an empty space. I was shocked to discover that even the Gardens of Glendon restaurant (site of two dates in the past) had closed their doors for good...with nothing in its place. The streets now felt dark and lonely...there were a few things left though...

The In N Out Burger is still there...that's where I took Ron last week. And then there is Lamonicas...Thank goodness Lamonicas is still alive and kicking. Used to love going there whenever I could. Excellent pizza...really good. On Saturday I had two delicious Sicilian slices...wanted to have 100 more. The theme of place is all New York...making it too easy for me to love.

My Baskin Robbins is still there...I've never seen it busy, yet it's always open...even late. After my pizza, I would always get a vanilla ice cream cone from the Baskin Robbins in Westwood...just as I did Saturday night.

After pizza and ice cream, I would usually check out the giant newsstand next door. On Saturday, I could not help but stop by...checking out the music magazines as always...I was sure glad to see that the newsstand had survived, yet other places were not as fortunate...especially in terms of what has happened to the Westwood movie theaters over the last few years..

The Mann Westwood 4-Plex has since been closed and destroyed. Not a great theater, yet a loss just the same. I had seen three films there...GODS AND MONSTERS...and the Dennis Rodman actioner SIMON SEZ...which I watched completely by myself...I mean..NO ONE was in the theater but me...

The Mann Plaza has closed. I think I only saw one movie there...FREE ENTERPRISE...Yet it was a decent single-screen...I think it even had a balcony. Was a nice old theater...

The Mann Festival has closed. The seats were not so great...they folded in...though I think they fixed that. Had a lot of experiences there. It's where I met Jamie Lee Curtis and saved her seats for GONE WITH THE WIND...it's where I saw several PGA screenings with films like ABOUT ADAM and PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS...It's where I saw SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS...and where I licked my wounds watching IRON MONKEY after a disastrous 2004 date...

The Mann National has closed and been destroyed...a vacant lot sits in its place...It was one of my favorite movie theaters in Los Angeles. It had so much character to it...a huge theater with a gigantic screen...It was dirty and dated, but I loved it. Had the pleasure of seeing SAVING PRIVATE RYAN there opening day in June of 1998, as well as such movies as SMALL SOLDIERS, ADAM SANDLER'S EIGHT CRAZY NIGHTS, 30 DAYS TO YUMA, and WAR. It pains me to think that it's gone forever...

The United Artists Westwood 3-plex was closed and destroyed. It's now a CVS pharmacy. Not the greatest theater, yet I loved it...I saw a lot of movies there...PLAYING BY HEART, 15 MINUTES, THE OTHERS, BOILER ROOM, RUN LOLA RUN, AMERICAN HISTORY X and more...

Once a thriving metropolis of ten movie theaters...Westwood now has only has four theaters left...

The Mann Regent on Broxton is now run by Landmark Theaters, and fortunately still operates as a single screen. I had seen TEA WITH MUSSOLINI there, then Landmark bought it...I saw things like PERSONAL VELOCITY and SESSION 9.

The General Cinema Avco 4-plex is now operated by AMC. Not a great theater...never was. There was always something off or odd about it..Never felt anyone was running the show...Nonetheless...I had paid the AVCO a visit on more than a few occasions to see movies like DIRTY WORK, THE THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, COMPANY MAN, HOT ROD, MR. WOODCOCK, as well as TAKEN with my mom.

The Mann Bruin is still alive and well...yet its my least favorite theater in the area. The reason...an incredible design and vintage marquee on the outside, but a bland, plain-Jane nothing on the inside. Did see a few things here...SPHERE, DR. DOOLITTLE, FREDDIE GOT FINGERED, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, plus a screening of NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS.

The Crest is now a struggling independent theater owned and operated by a guy named Bob. A beautiful art-deco style theater inside and out..it's sadly on its last legs. Bob has run out of money...and sends out desperate emails to people like myself asking if anyone wants to buy it...Saw lots of movies at The Crest...EVE'S BAYOU, JANE AUSTEN'S MAFIA!, DR. STRANGELOVE (OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB), LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, BICENTENNIAL MAN, THE BABYSITTER DIARIES, THE HUNTING PARTY, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS with my mom, plus special screenings of CRASH and THE AVIATOR...

Thankfully, the premiere Westwood theater still remains intact...the glorious historic Westwood Village theater...site of many movie premieres to this day due to its large capacity, gorgeous and glamourous old-school architecture, and large balcony. It's front marquee is a site to behold. When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1998, I made sure to visit the Village right away (having seen it on a visit in 1997). The Village was the first theater in the U.S. to install a THX sound system (back in 1983). It was always a big thrill every time I went there. Saw as many movies as I could...such as TITANIC, LETHAL WEAPON 4, THE X-FILES, THE SIEGE, GREASE, 3000 MILES TO GRACELAND, RED PLANET, SUPERMAN RETURNS, STAR WARS EPISODE 1: THE PHANTOM MENACE, EYES WIDE SHUT, HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (for my first movie premiere), THE BRAVE ONE as well as Saturday night's feature...SHUTTER ISLAND. If I had my way, I would see every movie there...

What happened to Westwood? I don't really know...Before I moved to LA, I had heard there was a gang issue...Perhaps Westwood was already dying by the time I arrived...I just was too naive to notice. Also, with the arrival of popular outdoor extravaganzas like the Third Street Promenade, The Grove, and The Anericana in Glendale...people have less and less reason to spend time in Westwood. It still has UCLA, the Armond Hammer museum, a live theater for plays, two Starbucks, two or three gyms, and of course the many movie premieres that still happen at the Village...So...it's not dead yet. I miss it terribly, at least what it once was...Yet I have faith...there's lots of vacant real estate there. It is time for Westwood to make a comeback, it's been long overdue...

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This article was published on 2010/04/15