Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of Vine, is LA’s own Theater Row, a collection of theaters collectively offering about 20 small stages. While productions take place year-round, the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival in June brings hordes of theater creators and theatergoers to the area.
Now the Complex, in a 1928 building that fills a city block at 6476 Santa Monica Blvd., is endangered. The building holds the Complex’s five stages, rehearsal studios, acting school and offices, as well as separate warehouse space and a liquor store. The building’s owner has listed it for sale at more than $13 million. If repurposed or demolished by new owners, it would mean the loss of almost a quarter of all Theater Row stages.
Matt Chait, owner of the Complex for 42 years, says he and the owner of the liquor store have been given notice that they must be out by December 31, 2022. (He says the warehouse tenant has six years remaining on its lease.) Chait claims to have seven investors interested in buying the property, at a price lower than what’s being asked, who would keep the Complex operating.
He says, “I pleaded with our landlady and sent her 250 heartfelt letters from current and recent tenants. This did nothing. Then I found out that one of the fans of the Complex works for the LA Conservancy. It turns out that our building is eligible on the local, state and Federal level as a historic landmark.” Chait is now in the process of applying for Historic-Cultural Monument status from the city.
Those who use and love the Complex are coming together to try and save it. A rally is planned for next Saturday. Chait says City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell has sent a letter to the building’s owner supporting the Complex and its place in the history of Hollywood.
As Chait describes it, the building is of interest to historians and architects not just because of its 60-year theater history, but because “it’s a perfect example of what they call streetcar buildings.” Between 1920 and 1930, the population of Los Angeles more than doubled. The city’s Streetcar Commercial Development supported commercial corridors along a transit route—such as the streetcar stop at Santa Monica and Cahuenga. Often these buildings had businesses on the ground floor—such as a lighting business where the Complex is now—and residential space upstairs. (Above the lighting business was a rooming house with central bathrooms and shower room.) Critically, there is no parking included in these buildings. The approach is similar to today’s Density Bonus Program for developers in transit corridors.
In addition to its historic value as architecture, the Complex has a long “Hollywood” history. According to Chait:
- Julia Sweeney created And God Said Ha at the Complex.
- Axl Rose took singing lessons on the second floor.
- Jason and Justine Bateman’s father Kent ran a repertory company that showed off his two wunderkinder.
- Don Cheadle produced, directed and acted in multiple shows.
- Quentin Tarantino rehearsed The Hateful Eight.
- Dancing at the Blue Iguana was created from improvs done in a studio that was set up as a strip club.
- Stephen Soderbergh’s Full Frontal and the cult film Chuck and Buck were shot at the Complex.
Actress Rebecca O’Brien had a role in a play written and directed by Chait, Bearings, that recently completed a successful run at the Complex’s Flight Theatre. She says, “When you walk into the Flight Theatre, you know you’re stepping into the theater history of Los Angeles. Goosebumps tell you that many actors have walked up those 29 steps before you.
“I wish I could speak to every actor, writer, director, producer of theater in LA. Let’s tap into why we go to theater to begin with: the love of great plays, the immediate response from the audience from intimate theater, feeling a part of the human race sitting side by side enjoying the magic of live theater. The Complex, and LA’s Theatre Row, must be saved!”
Chait adds, “There is a groundswell of support for the Complex and not bulldozing it and building something else. If the Complex goes, what happens to Theater Row?”
The rally to save the Complex takes place Saturday, October 22 at noon in front of the building. A notice from the Fringe Festival encourages attendance: “Whether you want to share your stories or listen to others share theirs, please show up on October 22 in support of a venue that has been important to our Festival and community…We cannot imagine a Fringe Festival or world without The Complex in it, and with your support, we may not have to.”
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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This is a wonderful piece. I am sharing far and wide. Thank you for writing it.