UCLA’s new performing arts theater has arrived with a number of pedigrees.
It’s named for Leonard Nimoy – best known as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock – after a generous gift from the late actor’s wife, Susan Bay Nimoy.
Her donation gave new life to a vacated, single-screen movie theater that opened in 1940 as the UCLAN. It was located near the UCLA camppus on Westwood Boulevard, and would later go through a series of incarnations.
In 1955, it was renamed the Crest Theatre and, in the late eighties, designer Joseph Musil restored it with an Art Deco-inspired renovation, adding stylized murals of Hollywood and Westwood landmarks
“There were some live performances, but more indie arts films in ’50s and ’60s,” says Flora Chou, associate principal and cultural resources planner at Page & Turnbull, the firm responsible for its newest renovation along with BAR Architects & Interiors, the project architect. “Then during the Art Deco Revival in the 1980s it became a place to premier Disney films.”
Shuttered in 2017, UCLA acquired the building for its new life as a live theater for the arts, with a stage and theater seating. They then hired the adaptive reuse wizards at Page & Turnbull to work with their Center for Arts Performance on its transformation.
“We wanted to make it work as a live performance theater and be flexible for all kinds of performances,” she says. “We wanted to keep much of its character of what it was, and add current elements like lighting and sound.”
They retained the Art Deco motif in the lobby, along with decorative elements on the walls. A mural of performers in the 1930s was cleaned and rehung. The exterior was renovated, including the marquee and neon signage with the theater’s new name. “It was changed to UCLA’s colors,” she says.
The Nimoy occupies a prominent spot on a commercial street loaded with restaurants and shops. And it now helps connect UCLA to other cultural institutions and the Westwood Village commercial neighborhood – with creative flair. “It was a chance to be innovative with programming,” she says. “It has a pretty good-sized schedule – performances are programmed for the season.”
So in the words of Mr. Spock, let’s hope that the new Nimoy lives long and prospers.