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Meet Escott Norton of Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation in Downtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Escott Norton.

Escott, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As a native of Los Angeles, I explored all over this city when I was a kid. I rode my bike and took the RTD buses everywhere. My friend Jason and I would make Super 8 movies using all of the cool locations we could find, We spent a lot of time exploring Downtown, and I remember filming the very buildings that I am now working to preserve and protect.

My mom was involved in theatre and my father was a home designer and builder, so combining that background with my passion for history and movies is really what set me on this path to advocating for historic movie palaces.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I was an early member of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. I remember one day in 1989 very clearly. The California Theatre in Downtown was being demolished, and I watched as the wrecking crews started. It was so painful to see a theatre with potential being destroyed for what is today just a parking lot… Los Angeles had lost many theatres to the wrecking ball, mostly before my time. This one was happening in front of me.

In the 2 years before we lost the California Theatre, more Broadway theatres closed than in any time since the Great Depression. For me and many others, this was really the birth of the theatre preservation movement in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation was formed in 1988 by a group of preservationists who were involved in the “Last Remaining Seats” film series put on by the L.A. Conservancy. They saw an immediate need for an advocacy group to focus on historic theatres because of a wave of theatres being closed or repurposed. Members of LAHTF nominated many theatres for Cultural Heritage Landmark status.

Over the last 30 years, we have advocated not just for the preservation and restoration of theatres, we have worked with owners, operators, and government officials to reactivate and support the businesses that use historic theatres as venues for the performing and cinematic arts.

We have two ways we work to fulfill our mission: Advocacy is a big part of what we do on a daily basis, but the more visible element is our educational outreach. LAHTF hosts events and produces unique theatre tours we call ALL ABOUT. Our ALL ABOUT Tours take place in a different theatre every time and are held about 6 times a year. Guests get complete behind-the-scenes access, from dressing rooms to projection booth, and are led by experienced guides.

Our relationships with theatre owners have allowed us to offer very unique tour experiences, like the very last behind the scenes tour of the Chinese Theatre before its conversion to IMAX, and our most recent FIRST public tour of the State Theatre on Broadway.

The tours are exciting to me because we get to expose people to these beautiful theatres in a very personal way. We have had many people brought to tears of joy, because they are seeing things in their own neighborhoods for the first time, or revisiting a special place from their childhood. These theatres were build to create special memories, it is so satisfying to be a part of that.

One recent proud moment was hosting the League of Historic American Theatres National Conference in Los Angeles just last year. Sharing the rich history of our city and the importance of historic theatres in the development of our communities to a national group of theatre owners and operators was a thrill.

Being involved in the League has made it clear that what LAHTF does is unique. There are lots of preservation organizations focused on a single theatre or a group of theatres, but we are the only theatre preservation organization that covers an entire county, and Los Angeles is one of the very few cities in the world to have more than one registered Historic Theatre District. This makes what we do even more important, in my opinion.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
In my time as Executive Director of the L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation, I have had many proud moments. Each year we present two awards, one is to a very worthy individual for their work preserving or reactivating a historic theatre, and the other is for Theatre of the Year. It is great to celebrate positive momentum in our efforts to save historic theatres.

If I had to pick one moment that meant a lot to me personally, it was being the only historian asked to speak at the ceremony celebrating the TCL Chinese Theatre’s 90th anniversary. The Chinese has been important to me since I was a kid, so being a part of this ceremony in the historic Chinese Forecourt was indescribable!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Wendell Benedetti/LAHTF

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