Egyptian Theatre Lovers Needed To Nix Netflix' Lurid LED Billboard Blight - call or email!
It’s a sizzler and we need your help on or before Friday, August 4 to extinguish it before it spreads tacky billboard blight throughout the National Register historic district.
You’ve got an opportunity to speak out via Zoom or by phone at the virtual City Planning hearing on Friday at 10am, or to send in an email by end of day Thursday—or both! If emailing, send to firstname.lastname@example.org and address your email to the Central Area Planning Commissioners.
The message to convey is a simple one, that you are encouraged to use as-is, or fine tune to reflect your personal voice and relationship to the Egyptian:
“I object to Netflix’s attempt to violate the Hollywood Signage Supplemental Use District restrictions by installing a large, multicolored, animated, modern LED billboard on the roof of the landmark 1922 Egyptian Theatre. City Planning must follow the direction of the Cultural Heritage Commission to ensure that any roof sign is of an appropriate size, is static, has no more than two colors, with a single line of text. Anything else threatens the integrity of the National Register District and could set a dangerous precedent for many more inappropriate changes.”
So what’s this all about? Read on and we’ll catch you up on four years of corporate shenanigans and failed non-profit stewardship leading up to Friday’s hearing.
If this is all new to you, please start at the public transparency petition we launched in 2019 at the request of community activists and theater professionals who were very concerned, and personally frightened to take a public stand against Netflix or their strong supporter, then councilman Mitch O’Farrell.
We’re not afraid to take a stand for what’s right, or to challenge powerful people when they try to take advantage of treasures held in the public trust. This has cost us in some ways, but we are honored to have the chance to look out for Los Angeles and be the peoples’ voice.
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And as the worried insiders explained to us, the American Cinematheque had been in trouble for quite some time, suffering absentee management, bleeding cash, ignoring stern letters from the Secretary of State about its financials, and refusing to hold a public meeting to update members and volunteers.
And that’s about when one of the richest and most powerful American Cinematheque board members, Ted Sarandos, supposedly recused himself as an idea was discussed: solve the non-profit’s financial troubles by selling the Egyptian Theatre to Ted’s company, Netflix.
Never mind that the landmark had been gifted to the public by the Community Redevelopment Agency, restored with a mix of public funds and tax-deductible donations, operated with the support of hundreds of volunteers and community members, and that the venue served as the home of many small annual film festivals (including Cinecon, which Mitch O’Farrell messed with before the sale closed, happening an hour from Hollywood in El Segundo this year).
None of that mattered. Because Netflix wanted its very own Hollywood Boulevard theater for premiers and special events, and the American Cinematheque’s failed board was all too happy to hand the vulnerable Egyptian over to one of their own.
Although the petition got a lot of media attention—scroll down to “Press Clips” on this page to read for yourself—including Chris Lindahl's terrific IndieWire piece Netflix Finally Sealed the Deal on Hollywood’s Egyptian Theatre, but Not Everyone Is Happy and the front page of the L.A. Times, neither Netflix nor the American Cinematheque nor Mitch O’Farrell ever met with concerned citizens to make the case for the proposed corporate takeover or to answer questions. The scheme just moved along, shaking off community concern like King Kong batting away pesky bi-planes.
But here’s the great thing: thanks to L.A.’s strong Cultural Heritage Ordinance, there are real protections for a designated landmark like the Egyptian Theatre. That’s why when they wanted to install a new illuminated sign as part of the massive renovations, Netflix had to make a presentation to the Cultural Heritage Commission and seek their approval.
We sounded the alarm in May, because the proposed roof sign has changed significantly since initial designs for a modest, monochromatic text-based panel were presented in 2021. With no notice, Netflix quietly swapped in a garish, multi-colored, animated LED screen that, if allowed, would violate Hollywood’s protective signage ordinance.
Thanks in part to the outcry from community activists, non-profits and many of our readers, when Netflix brought their switcheroo sign before the Cultural Heritage Commission for an informational presentation in May, the commissioners were not hustled. You can read our live narration of the hearing on Facebook or Twitter.
CHC President Barry Milofsky described the proposed sign as out of scale and inappropriately modern. Commissioner Richard Barron expressed concern that if Netflix was allowed to install this “reversible” non-conforming sign, the garish LED panel would never come down.
It was also noted that the Egyptian is now a single screen theater—Netflix chose to tear out the Spielberg screening room—so there was no need for a programmable sign to tell audiences what’s showing. There’s only one show, and attendees will already have that information when they arrive to take their seats.
At the end of the May hearing, the commissioners directed city staff to make note of their determination: the new sign could only be two colors, a single line of text, no animation. In other words, the 2021 rendering and not the new design.
Was Netflix listening? What do you think? Without permits, they have torn up the roof tiles and built an armature. And on Friday, they hope the Planning Commissioners will be easier to hustle than the Cultural Heritage Commission was.
So if you love old Hollywood, historic buildings, repertory cinema and the rule of law and if you hate bullies, please stand up for the Egyptian Theatre and for appropriate signage—and tell your friends.
And there’s one more thing. Netflix won’t tell the public what its plans are, so we have to read the tea leaves. That simple black and white 2021 roof sign included the logo for the American Cinematheque non-profit, who we were assured by publicists would be the primary tenant of the Egyptian after the renovations, hosting programming Friday through Sunday and, it was assumed, managing the theater.
So why is the AC logo no longer there? And why is Metropolitan Theaters—one of our favorite legacy businesses, responsible for keeping many of the Broadway theaters intact through the 1990s—currently advertising for a General Manager and an Operations Manager to run the venue? And why, when we called Metropolitan yesterday and asked what was up, did the person who answered the phone express bewilderment and say they had nothing to do with the Egyptian?
Is the plan to push through a modern sign that will make the Egyptian more valuable when Netflix puts it on the market in a decade? Ted Sarandos might know, but we don’t.
But we know this: one day, the renovations will be finally finished and the Egyptian Theatre will once again throw open its doors. Angelenos will pour inside, through Sid Grauman’s austere 1922 forecourt and into the cool, air conditioned theater to experience together the magic of the movies, as they have for a century. And when they do, let’s try to make sure nothing tacky spoils that time travel experience, hmm?
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
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