THE WILTERN HISTORY
The magnificent interior of The Wiltern evokes a period of elegance and style simply not found anywhere in today's modern venues. The entrance is set back among colorful terrazzo paving, and its art deco design contains decorative tile work along with colorful murals. The most dramatic element of the overall design is the sunburst on the ceiling of the auditorium, with each ray representing its own art deco skyscraper. The venue offers the perfect vibe and shape for a variety of events.
Originally built in 1931 in Los Angeles, the Wiltern was designed by architect Stiles O. Clements of Morgan, Walls & Clements, the city's oldest architectural firm. The Wiltern Theatre was originally designed as a vaudeville theater and initially opened as the Warner Brothers Western Theater, the flagship for the theater chain. In 1956, the building and theater were sold to the Franklin Life Insurance Company of Springfield, Illinois. The Los Angeles chapter of the American Theater Organ Enthusiasts worked to restore the theater's 37-rank Kimball pipe organ, reputed to be the largest one in Los Angeles at the time, and held recitals there through the late 1960s and into the mid-1970s. Through the intervention of a group of local preservationists, the group saved the complex from being demolished on two occasions in the late 1970s when the owners filed for demolition permits. (The preservation of the Wiltern was one of the Los Angeles Conservancy's first victories in its fight to preserve the architectural heritage of the City.)
In 1981, the Wiltern was purchased by developer Wayne Ratkovich who worked with architect Brenda Levin to restore both the theater and the office building to their former glory. Previous successes with the Fine Arts Building and the Oviatt Building renovations in downtown Los Angeles and the refurbishing of the nearby Chapman Market complex on Sixth Street convinced many in the city that they were the right people for the job. To restore the theater to its original state required some expert craftsmanship to repair what was there including A.T. Heinsbergen, the son of the original painter and some creativity to replace what had been lost including salvaging vintage Art Deco seats from the soon to be renovated Paramount Theater in Portland, Oregon. Further, while it was originally designed and run as a movie theater, Ratkovich wanted to convert the Wiltern into a performing arts center that could host live concerts and Broadway-level stage performances-which entailed opening up the rear wall and extending the stage and stage house of the theater back fifteen feet. After a four-year renovation the Wiltern Theatre finally opened again to the public on May 1, 1985 with performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company. The Wiltern was operated as a producing theater, and hosted its own live performances and those sponsored by Avalon Attractions, Goldenvoice, Concerts West, Universal Concerts, Timeless Entertainment, and many others, and was used for many televised events, commercial filming and feature film locations.
The Wiltern Theatre originally seated 2,344. Subsequent modifications in 2002 removed the 1,200 permanent seats on the ground floor to allow for a variety of configurations from a standing room only crowd of 2,300 to a more intimate seated arrangement holding 1850 people. The loge and mezzanine levels in the balcony continue to offer fixed theater seats. The venue remains one of the largest theaters in Los Angeles.