Photo from L.A. Conservancy archives

Wiltern Theatre and Pellissier Building

The effort to save the landmark Pellissier Building and Wiltern Theatre became the Conservancy’s first major preservation success story. Despite landmark status at the national and local levels, the building’s owner sought to demolish the Art Deco masterpiece in 1979. The Conservancy held a massive rally to raise widespread awareness and commissioned an alternative-use feasibility study. Developer The Ratkovitch Company purchased the property in 1981 and, after a four year renovation and restoration of the office building and theatre, donated a conservation easement to the Conservancy in 1985 that protects the building’s exterior. 

The magnificent art deco Wiltern Theatre and its accompanying office tower, the Pellissier Building, was threatened with demolition in 1979. The owner of the landmark complex at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue had been trying to sell the property for almost nine years—and finally decided that a clear site might attract more interest. When the owner applied for a demolition permit, the Los Angeles Conservancy acted quickly to stop destruction of the 1931 complex that theater historian and founding Conservancy board member John Miller described as a “dictionary of Art Deco style.”

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #118, the landmarked structure could not be demolished without review by the City Cultural Heritage Commission, which could delay demolition for up to one year to explore alternatives. With this slight reprieve for the Wiltern Theatre, the Conservancy worked on many fronts to save the building.

An alternative-use feasibility study commissioned by the Conservancy—with funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation—explored preservation options. A massive rally galvanized public support for the building that focused wide attention on the impending demolition. Los Angeles City Councilmember John Ferraro spoke at the rally to save the Wiltern, pledging to lead the fight at City Hall.

Finding a preservation solution was critical as the deadline for issuance of the demolition permit was fast approaching. When the one-year moratorium expired on March 8, 1980, the property owners pressed to raze the structure, but were delayed until an environmental impact report could be prepared and reviewed, giving more time to preserve the landmark.

With experience from successfully restoring the Oviatt Building, developer Wayne Ratkovitch of The Ratkovitch Company stepped forward and purchased the complex in May 1981. The Ratkovich Company planned to renovate the landmark building as part of a mixed-use project involving compatible new construction on an adjacent vacant parcel. The new owner spent $5 million rehabilitating the Pellissier Building and another $4.8 million rehabilitating the Wiltern Theatre. The owner added an additional layer of protection to the landmark by donating a conservation easement to the Conservancy in 1985 that protects the building’s exterior. After four years of extensive renovation and restoration of the office building and theatre, a gala re-opening party was held by The Ratkovich Company that attracted over 2,300 people.