- Known As
- R.M. Woolpert
Like the movies it has screened for decades, the Aero Theatre has some love stories of its own to tell.
Now surrounded by the chichi boutiques of Santa Monica’s Montana Avenue, one needs to look no further than the Aero’s streamline moderne marquee for a reveal of how it all began.
In 1940, a few miles down the road, the Douglas Aircraft plant was running shifts around the clock to build the planes that took our troops to victory in World War II. Because this rigorous schedule meant recreationally challenged lives for many of his workers, company founder Donald W. Douglas built them a movie theater – one that ran 24 hours a day so even the latest shifts could enjoy the latest films.
Out of a spirited war effort and the concern of an aviation pioneer for his hardworking employees, the Aero Theatre was born.
As production at the Douglas plant eased after the war, the Aero evolved into a beloved attraction for local residents – among them, a young Robert Redford, who attempted to buy the Aero, without success.
Designed by R.M. Woolpert in the French Normandy style, the Aero Theatre was built in 1939 for $45,000 and had 678 seats. It was smaller than many theaters of the era, yet played some of Hollywood’s biggest hits in its day.
The single-screen Aero fell on hard times in the 1990s due to the growing popularity of multiplex theaters and the rundown movie house finally had to close in 2003, rendering it ripe for demolition.
Enter Westside real estate developer James S. Rosenfield. With his office located nearby, he had grown fond of the old theater and didn’t want it demolished. Rosenfield bought it to save it, then lovingly restored the Aero to the neighborhood jewel it once had been. The $1 million project also included updated screening systems, a new concession stand and roomier seating. For his “dedication and success” in restoring the theater, Rosenfield received the Santa Monica Conservancy’s Preservation Award in 2005.
That same year, a now sparkling Aero reopened under the auspices of the cinema preservation group American Cinematheque, which runs movie events at the theater. Popular programs have included studio screenings and premieres, classic film festivals, and the Aero’s annual Dusk-to-Dawn Horrorthon.
The Aero has also featured in-person discussions with hundreds of the world’s top filmmakers, including Clint Eastwood, James Cameron and Paul Thomas Anderson. And the vintage venue has itself appeared in films over the years, including Get Shorty, Masquerade and Donnie Darko.
Through a traumatic world war, a changing theater landscape and the threat of demolition, the Aero has stayed aloft for more than 80 years – a Hollywood ending to be sure.
American Cinematheque. (2021). American Cinematheque. https://americancinematheque.com
Cinema Treasures. (2021). Cinema Treasures. https://cinematreasures.org
King, S. (2015). Classic Hollywood: Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre regulars believe in the joy of movies. The Los Angeles Times. https://bit.ly/2XKNLvC