The Wiltern and Pellissier Building
The 1931 Wiltern Theatre and its adjoining Pellissier Building are instantly recognizable and beloved by Angelenos, for its distinctive Art Deco style and stunning architectural terra cotta facade.
Los Angeles, California 90010
Located at the busy corner of Wilshire and Western Boulevards, the Wiltern Theatre and its adjoining, twelve-story Pellissier Building are instantly recognizable and beloved by Angelenos.
When the building was threatened with demolition in 1979, Rick Newberger’s Citizens’ Committee to Save the Wiltern, along with a very young Los Angeles Conservancy, came to the rescue. The complex was saved from the wrecking ball through the intervention of developer Wayne Ratkovich and his firm, Ratkovich, Bowerts & Perez.
Today, the Wiltern thrives as a live entertainment venue and iconic landmark. The Conservancy holds a conservation easement on the building’s exterior.
About This Place
About This Place
Theatre historian and founding Conservancy board member John Miller described the Wiltern as a “dictionary of Art Deco style.”
The distinctive, blue-green terra-cotta complex was designed by Stiles O. Clements of Morgan, Walls & Clements. Narrow windows in the office tower, deeply set between soaring vertical piers, give the illusion of a much taller building than its actual 150 feet (the maximum height permitted by the City at that time).
In 1956, the Wiltern was sold to Franklin Life Insurance Company and thereafter faced a steady decline, eventually closing its doors in 1979, the same year the building was placed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The theatre was originally Warner Brothers’ Western Theatre. On opening night in 1931, the theatre hosted the premier of Alexander Hamilton starring George Arliss. Crowds lined Wilshire Boulevard for a glimpse of the stars in attendance such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Douglas Fairbanks, Loretta Young, and James Cagney.
The theatre interior (designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, who also designed the interiors of downtown’s Palace and Orpheum theatres) features opulent murals, gold leaf details, and a signature sunburst suspended from its 80-foot auditorium ceiling.
The Conservancy’s exterior easement includes the twin blade signs and the theatre marquee and entrance.
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 to raise galvanized public support for the building and identify preservation alternatives.
The Conservancy commissioned an alternative-use feasibility study with funding from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We also held a massive rally that focused wide attention on the impending demolition, featuring Los Angeles City Councilmember John Ferraro.
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 building’s historic status was an important factor in the successful outcome, because it allowed the Cultural Heritage Commission to delay the demolition for one year.
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. Shortly after this second delay, Wayne Ratkovich and his firm Ratkovich, Bowerts & Perez purchased the building. The firm had recently successfully preserved the Art Deco Oviatt Building downtown
Ratkovich worked with architect 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.