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Aero Launches New Era

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

January 10 -- Nearly a year and a half after the Aero Theater closed its doors for renovations, new projectors at the historic movie house -- which dates back to WWII -- flickered to life last week as patrons packed in for its grand reopening.

Though the same old marquee greeted the nearly 400 moviegoers as they streamed in Thursday night for the Indie film, “In Good Company,” once inside, patrons slipped into refurbished seats and were treated to a suped-up sound system.

“It’s been a long road to get here,” said James Rosenfield, co-owner of the Aero. “After the eight years we’ve worked to preserve it, it’s a great joy to finally see it come to fruition.”

In keeping with the tradition of the small cinematheque, the film’s director Helmer Paul Weitz met with moviegoers after the screening.

Since purchasing the Aero nearly a decade ago, Rosenfield has fought to keep such traditions, and the theater, alive, in an era dominated by multiplexes, Surround Sound and stadium seating..

“It has been more than a business venture for me,” said Rosenfield, who lived behind the single screen theater on Euclid street for years. “If we can’t preserve a theater like this here, then how can we expect to preserve them elsewhere in the country.”

In order to keep the theater’s doors open, Rosenfield spent nearly four years searching for partners -- including a brush with the Sundance Kid himself, Robert Redford -- before inking a 10-year lease with Egyptian Theater operators, American Cinematheque.

A non-profit, viewer-supported cultural organization, American Cinematheque will supply nearly 70 percent of the programming, with a different movie showing each night. Events include eclectic foreign films, retrospectives of directors, film classics and independent flicks, often accompanied by guest speakers, such as Annette Benning, who was scheduled to speak Sunday.

The Aero adds a Westside venue to Cinematheque’s flagship movie house at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Teaming up with American Cinematheque moves the old movie house -- which once aired films ‘round the clock for Santa Monica’s booming aerospace industry -- into the 21st Century.

Though that partnership may mean that the theater -- which had been run for a decade as a labor-of-love operation on a shoe-string budget -- may be losing some of its independent status, Rosenfield said it’s worth it if patrons enjoy a greater movie experience.

“If teaming up with American Cinemetheque means we don’t have a scratchy sound system dating back to the seventies and uncomfortable seats, then I guess you could say it is losing some of the Aero’s quaintness,” said Rosenfield. “But I think our viewers will appreciate the changes.”

Other than finding the right operator, Santa Monica’s permit process -- which has a reputation for being lengthy -- also pushed back the Aero’s take-off..

Providing parking, installing sinks and making the venue wheelchair friendly were all issues that pushed back the debut night.

Such delays didn’t seem to bother Rosenfield, who celebrated after the opening with a handful of staff and friends.

“It’s been difficult to get the permits, but a lot of nice people with the City helped steer us through the process,” Rosenfield said.

“The Aero gives those who live over here on the Westside access to great films and is an example of how to make an small Art-Deco theater work,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the upcoming years.”

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