On Christmas Day 1940, an austere 500-seat Moderne theater for movies and live performances opened on Westwood Boulevard, just south of Wilshire. Named the UCLAN, it was built with funding from socialite Frances Seymour Fonda, the mother of actors Jane and Peter Fonda.

Renamed the Crest in 1956, it became a full-time movie theater, showing first-run Hollywood films, with uniformed ushers armed with flashlights escorting viewers to their seats. A single film would often run for six months, as was customary then.

Photo courtesy of the Ronald W. Mahan Collection

Ownership of the Crest Theatre shifted several times over the years. New seats were installed, along with Dolby sound. In 1987, celebrated theater designer Joseph Musil transformed the previously plain interior into a Hollywood fantasyland, with Art Deco architectural details, black-lighted murals of 1930s-era Hollywood landmarks and a fiber-optic ceiling lit with tiny “stars.” He also added a majestic neon marquee on Westwood Boulevard, reminiscent of an earlier time. Voila! The Crest joined the ranks of the city’s grand movie palaces. In 2008, it received a historic-cultural landmark designation from the city of Los Angeles.

Now the theater is enjoying another new beginning, becoming part of UCLA and returning to its roots in live performance. In 2018, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) and the School of the Arts and Architecture acquired the Crest, with bequests from Susan Bay Nimoy, widow of actor Leonard Nimoy (the Nimoys have been longtime UCLA supporters), an anonymous donor and others. Following extensive renovation, it has just reopened as the UCLA Nimoy Theater, a state-of-the art performance space that welcomes a roster of diverse artists to develop and present new work in music, theater, and literary and digital media arts, all programmed by CAP UCLA.

Photo courtesy of the Ronald W. Mahan Collection

With only 299 seats, the space is now much more intimate. The stage has been extended toward the audience, and the former concession stand is now a lobby bar. But the dramatic look of the interior remains — and glistens — following cleaning and restoration. Above the entry doors inside the ground floor lobby is the immortalized phrase “Live Long and Prosper,” uttered by Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in Star Trek.

The Nimoy opened on September 23, with Grammy Award–winning spoken word artist J. Ivy headlining. The deliciously eclectic 2023–24 schedule, now fully underway, includes The Little Syria Show, Latin alternative music from LADAMA, the cabaret-cool Meow Meow and traditional Chinese music from Wu Man. 

All hail the reborn Crest. May it live long and prosper.

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Click on the image below for an exclusive, interactive look inside the new UCLA Nimoy Theater.

 

Fall-23-Nimoy

 


Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Winter 2024 issue.