Built in 1931 by real estate magnate Howard Hughes, the Vision Theatre (originally called the Leimert Theatre) was operated as a cinema until 1968. The theatre briefly served as a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall for in the 70s, followed by use as a performance space when actress Marla Gibbs (227, The Jefferson’s) purchased and renamed the theatre, according to the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
The city of Los Angeles purchased the historic building in 1999 and for nearly two decades has been slowly making strides to renovate and refurbish it.
James Burks, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs Director of Special Projects, has been overseeing activities in the theatre since 2010. Burks breaks the Vision Theatre renovation into three phases.
Phase one of the renovation was completed in 2012. This phase included refurbishing the iconic marquee, lighting tower, lobby area, foyer, restrooms, electrical room adding an elevator and updating rooms on the second floor.
The renovation is currently in the second phase. Due to its historic designation, the front exterior of the building cannot be changed, but the interior structure will undergo major restructuring. Stadium seating will be added in the main theatre and the number of seats will be reduced from 1180 to 750. The stage will be expanded, dressing rooms, a green room, and a trap room will be added, as well as an orchestra pit. Office space will be also be added and the main house will have a lounge area.
Phase three will entail the complete demolition of the back wall of the existing structure to build a theatre fly loft.
The original construction was scheduled to be completed in twenty-two months. Burks estimates, that the fully renovated Vision Theatre will re-open in the summer of 2020.
In anticipation of the theatre’s eventual re-opening, for the past 5 years Burks has been Introducing the theatre to as many community groups as I possible to familiarize them with it. His intent is to have the historic city asset be embraced by residents and the arts community and have them commit to raising resources for it and make it a center for culture in Leimert Park.