In early 2019, after months of rumors, it became obvious that Netflix was dead set on buying the Egyptian Theatre, the sole asset of the community non-profit American Cinematheque.
We were kept informed about this by a steady stream of discrete calls and emails from concerned insiders, which started off anxious and escalated to outright alarm. And when asked to help by speaking up, we did. And we continue to.
On October 24, after three hours of tedious unrelated land use hearings by the Los Angeles Central Area Planning Commission, and just before the commission was to hear about Netflix’ request to install a non-conforming LED billboard on the roof of the landmarked Egyptian Theatre, the Zoom stream was suddenly ended in mid-sentence by the host, the City Planning Department. WEIRD!
“If you got us drunk, we would still not tell you the names of all the terrorized community members who begged us to speak up and advocate to protect the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre—a gift to the community from the redevelopment agency. The fix was in. Mitch O'Farrell, an idiot and a bully (via his staff), was gatekeeping Hollywood's cultural community by threatening to withdraw support for their vulnerable programs if they made a stink about Ted Sarandos1 taking the Egyptian Theatre from the Cinematheque. And they all came to us: "please say something! You're not scared of Mitch or MEG2 or Netflix! This is terrible but we can't speak out!" And here we are. Four hours into this deathlike hearing, doing your work for you. Come on public people, grow spines or hand your work off! Los Angeles isn't going to fix itself.”
And then the Zoom stream went dark. Along with other concerned citizens who had made public comment at the August 4 hearing with no commissioners present, we immediately emailed the city to complain about the public being excluded from this meeting, thus denying us a chance to make a public comment that we could be sure was heard by those about to vote.
The next day, City Planning uploaded audio from the hearing, which continued out of view of the public after they turned the Zoom stream off.
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And they knew the public was excluded. At 19:56, a female voice acknowledges as they go to public comment "I know we're not on Zoom" and the commission’s executive assistant Cecilia Lamas confirms "Zoom is definitely not an option right now."
On October 25, the Commission’s office manager responded to our objection to a vote being held with no public access or comment, essentially saying3 tough luck, we don’t promise Zoom feeds will stay live, and the commissioners saw all the public comments.
But if they saw them, you would never know it. Despite a single slide shown by City Planning staff, and a passing reference to public comment delivered into a void at the August 4 hearing, none of the commissioners expressed any concern about Netflix installing an LED billboard on the roof of the Egyptian Theatre, even though nearly sixty members of the preservation community had expressed their alarm.
Today, the letter of determination was issued by the Central Area Planning Commission, giving Netflix what it wants. The deadline to appeal this LED billboard is November 22, and we hope it will be appealed. The approval process was stunningly undemocratic and showed contempt for the preservation community’s time and expertise.
If installed, this huge sign will spoil the time capsule appearance of the Egyptian Theatre forecourt, and be a slippery slope for other property owners to install LED billboards that violate the historic restrictions that make Hollywood Boulevard a beautiful, preserved National Register district.
In two days, on November 9, 2023, Netflix intends to reopen the Egyptian Theatre, which was sold to the streamer after American Cinematheque board member and Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos “recused himself” from discussions and then Hollywood councilman Mitch O’Farrell helped seal the deal.
The SAG-AFTRA strike is in its 116th day, with Netflix refusing to budge on its anti-writer, anti-creativity, pro-AI position. Having watched how the company took possession of the community non-profit American Cinematheque’s theater, and got approval for this horrible LED billboard, we’re not surprised. Netflix wants what it wants and doesn’t care how it gets it.
But maybe, just maybe, the potential humiliation of trying to reopen the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday night, with a raging picket line out front on Hollywood Boulevard, is a worrying enough image that the studios might be budged between now and then. Here’s hoping, for the living artists of this town, and the dead ones, too!
And always remember, if they’ll screw the preservationists, they’ll screw you, too.
In far sweeter news, our last newsletter was a plea for archivists and book lovers to help save the enormous Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce guestbook that had appeared on eBay. Cheers to Cal State Pomona history professor Eileen Wallis, and the gracious seller, for ensuring this unique relic of early Los Angeles tourism finds a home in Cal Poly’s Special Collections library.
And that seems the perfect note on which to mention that this Saturday’s walking tour is all about the lost world of bookstores and writers in the heart of Downtown Los Angeles, a wander packed with curious characters and unexpected lore. We don’t give this tour often, and hope you will join us, do!
yours for Los Angeles,
Kim & Richard
Psst… If you’d like to support our efforts to be the voice of places worth preserving, we have a tip jar and a subscriber edition of this newsletter, vintage Los Angeles webinars available to stream, in-person tours and a souvenir shop you can browse in. We’ve also got recommended reading bookshelves on Amazon and the Bookshop indie bookstore site. And did you know we offer private versions of our walking and bus tours for groups big or small? Or just share this link with other people who care.
UPCOMING BUS & WALKING TOURS
• Downtown L.A. is for Book Lovers Walking Tour (Sat. 11/11) • Special Event: Leo Politi Loves Los Angeles Bus Tour (11/18) • Alvarado Terrace & South Bonnie Brae Walking Tour (Sat. 11/25) • Know Your Downtown L.A.: Tunnels To Towers To The Dutch Chocolate Shop Walking Tour (Sat. 12/2) • Highland Park Arroyo Walking Tour (Sat. 12/9) • Miracle Mile Marvels & Madness Walking Tour (Sun. 12/17) • Human Sacrifice: The Black Dahlia, Elisa Lam, Heidi Planck & Skid Row Slasher Walking Tour (Tues. 12/26)
Netflix CEO and American Cinematheque board member
The City Family’s acronym nickname for former Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Email: Thank you for your interest in the Central APC, we appreciate you tuning in to give public comment and sincerely apologize for the technological challenges that resulted in the Zoom connection ending before the meeting concluded.
The Department provides the ability for members of the public to participate virtually as a courtesy. Because we do anticipate unforeseen circumstances where virtual participation may not be possible, we have added the following language to all of our agendas:
The ability to provide public comment remotely, an optional participation feature, may be subject to technical issues. Should technical difficulties occur or persist, the in-person meeting shall continue to be conducted.
State Brown Act regulations enable municipalities to take public comment via zoom, but virtual participation is not a requirement for Brown Act compliance. Cecilia Llamas, Commission Executive Assistant, did share the Agenda language above with meeting participants once Zoom was lost.
We do see virtual participation as an important strategy in our efforts to expand public engagement, and we are proud to have transitioned our meetings to a hybrid format. We are not yet able to guarantee the reliability of virtual participation 100% of the time, and we do need to hear cases in a timely manner per the LAMC.
Please know that any comments submitted in writing were shared with the public and Commissioners, per the noticing guidelines detailed on the agenda. -Ari Briski, Commission Office Manager