Wiltern Theatre and Pellissier Building
The effort to save the landmark Pellissier Building and Wiltern Theatre was the Conservancy’s first major preservation success.
Despite landmark status at the national and local levels, the building’s owner sought to demolish the Art Deco masterpiece in 1979. We worked with Rick Newberger’s Citizens’ Committee to Save the Wiltern to raise awareness of the issue and prevent demolition.
Backed by hundreds of supporters, the Conservancy helped to delay demolition by negotiating with the City, commissioning a feasibility study for alternative use, and holding a massive public rally.
Developer Wayne Ratkovich came to the rescue in 1981, purchasing the property and working with architect Brenda Levin on a four-year restoration and renovation of the Wiltern and the Pellissier Building.
The Wiltern now thrives as a performance venue and is a beloved L.A. landmark. The Conservancy holds a conservation easement that protects the building’s exterior.
The magnificent Art Deco Wiltern Theatre and its accompanying office tower, the Pellissier Building, were threatened with demolition in 1979 after years of steady decline.
The owner of the landmark at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue had been trying to sell the property for almost nine years, finally deciding that a clear site might attract more interest.
When the owner applied for a demolition permit, Rick Newberger’s Citizens’ Committee to Save the Wiltern, along with a very young Los Angeles Conservancy, went into action.
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's Cultural Heritage Commission. The commission 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.
To fully explore preservation options, the Conservancy commissioned an alternative-use feasibility study with funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
We also held a massive rally that galvanized public support for the building and 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.
As the deadline for delaying a demolition permit approached, finding a preservation solution became critical. When the one-year moratorium expired on March 8, 1980, the property owners pressed to raze the structure. They were delayed until an environmental impact report could be prepared and reviewed, giving more time to preserve the landmark.
Having successfully preserved the Art Deco Oviatt Building downtown, Wayne Ratkovich and his firm at the time, Ratkovich, Bowerts & Perez, stepped forward and purchased the complex in May 1981. Ratkovich and architect Brenda Levin carefully rehabilitated the theatre, office tower, and retail streetfront spaces, even restoring original fixtures that had been removed.
Ratkovich spent $5 million rehabilitating the Pellissier Building and another $4.8 million rehabilitating the Wiltern Theatre. After four years of extensive renovation and restoration, the building and theatre re-opened at a gala that drew over 2,300 people.
Today, the theatre is one of the top multi-use performing arts venues in Los Angeles – and one of its most well known, due its key location.
Ratkovich further protected the landmark by donating a conservation easement the Conservancy in 1985. The easement protects the building’s exterior, including the twin blade signs and the theatre marquee and entrance.