“How do you create affordable housing for ideas?” This is a question Kristy Edmunds, artistic and executive director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA), has grappled with for some time. An answer came with UCLA’s purchase of Westwood’s iconic Crest Theater. The venue will undergo a transformation, with an anticipated reopening in 2021 as the UCLA Nimoy Theater. Edmunds’ vision: “The Nimoy will serve as a home for extraordinary talents to cross-pollinate and practice their emerging sensibilities with the public.”
UCLA’s purchase of the Crest brings a “next life” to a theater that’s seen its share of second acts. Its history began in the 1940s, when Frances Seymour Fonda, wife of actor Henry Fonda, financed construction of the then-named UCLAN Theater. Over 79 years, the theater changed hands and purpose many times. In 2008, the city of Los Angeles designated the Crest a Historic-Cultural Monument.
Taking the grand dame toward its reopening is the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture (UCLA Arts). Dean of UCLA Arts Brett Steele envisions a space designed for intimacy. “It will bring 300 people in very close connection to what’s happening onstage,” he projects.
Steele anticipates UCLA’s Nimoy will have a dramatic impact geographically. “As Los Angeles becomes more difficult to move through, the idea that the Westside could have another big platform for contemporary performance to serve local communities is very exciting.”
Initial funding for the theater’s acquisition came from actor, writer and director Susan Bay Nimoy, wife of the late Leonard Nimoy. An anonymous donor created a $2.5 million matching fund toward renovations.
Of the Nimoys, Edmunds says an understanding of an artist’s journey is at play. Before Leonard became Star Trek’s Spock, he was an actor, fine art photographer and visual artist who drove a taxi to make a living.
These days, Edmunds sees the artist’s path as even more daunting. But she believes the Nimoy Theater will welcome both established and emergent artists. This will be, she says, “where ideas and art not only live, but thrive.”