The Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills, a classic Art Deco venue with a celebrity-studded past, has been sold to Paula Kent Meehan, the philanthropist who also is buying the Beverly Hills Courier.
Built on Wilshire Boulevard in 1936 as the Regina, the compact, single-screen theater served for years as a venue for small premieres that drew Hollywood A-listers.
In 1948, it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater and showed the premiere of "The Red Shoes." Among the invited guests were Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner and Shirley Temple.
Vittorio Cecchi Gori's film production company bought the theater in the early 1990s and spearheaded a 1993 renovation by the late Joseph J. Musil, a theater designer who also restored the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. Musil installed red velour seats, gold sconces, a sunburst ceiling and crimson carpeting in the lobby.
Roberto Benigni, the director and star of Cecchi Gori's Oscar-winning film "Life Is Beautiful," popped in to the theater in 1999 to practice crawling over the seats, a move he reenacted the next evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when he accepted his best actor award.
Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft used to watch movies at the Fine Arts on double dates with Carl and Estelle Reiner. Years ago, Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio had to dash across the street to an ATM when they learned that the theater did not accept credit cards.
The venue has been shuttered since 2009, a victim in part of patrons' shift to multiplexes with parking and food courts. Spice Global, an Indian conglomerate, bought the theater in 2010 with plans to reopen it to screen Bollywood films. That scheme did not pan out, and the company put the theater on the market for $4 million.
Brian Dunne, a Bentley Global broker who represented the seller, declined to specify what Meehan paid but said it was less than the asking price.
A Beverly Hills native, Meehan, 83, got her start as an actress in TV commercials and series. She co-founded Redken Laboratories, a maker of hair care products that was later sold to L'Oréal. She recently agreed to buy the Courier, a weekly tabloid.
Meehan was a major donor to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts adjoining the historic Beverly Hills Post Office, which is now named for her.
The Fine Arts, designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca, is dominated by its marquee and stepped tower. It is expected to be approved soon as a local landmark. Priteca also designed the Pantages in Hollywood.
Meehan expects to "clean it up, reopen it and let it evolve," Dunne said of the theater. "They want to bring in more live performances and take care of the Beverly Hills community, including schools and seniors."
Twitter: @MarthaGrovesCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun