MAKE IT SO: With the help of Leonard Nimoy’s widow, Susan, UCLA bought Westwood’s Crest Theatre in 2018 and repurposed the space for the school’s Center for the Art of Performance. (Photo by Misha Gravenor)
UCLA TO OPEN NIMOY THEATER SEPT. 23
This summer proves that Los Angeles truly is the entertainment capital of the world with an abundance of concerts in stadiums, arenas and clubs smashing attendance and grossing records while boosting the economy. There is no shortage of venues for established superstars to connect with their audiences, yet L.A. is in dire need of an intimate space where art can incubate and develop to live long and prosper, and UCLA will soon deliver that with the Nimoy Theater.
After an arduous five-year journey that included COVID-related delays and supply chain issues, the university’s Center for the Art of Performance, also known as CAP UCLA, will finally open the doors to Westwood’s newest venue on Sept. 23. The 10,500-square foot Nimoy Theater, named after the late actor and artist Leonard Nimoy, famously known as Spock on “Star Trek,” has 299 seats and cost an estimated $24 million to renovate.
It will boast a bigger lobby, a fully equipped bar with snacks and a lounge area, but most importantly, it will fill a void in West LA, which has lacked a music venue to promote up-and-coming artists. There are few venues of this size in the area of cabaret, poetry, jazz and world music. Fred Frumberg, CAP UCLA deputy director and program manager, said he’s excited to open a place exclusively for art-making.
“In my mind, this is our version of Joe’s Pub in New York,” said Frumberg. “That’s my size. That’s what I love, and as soon as we got a hold of this, I thought, ‘Wow, we’re going to do it.’”
CAP UCLA artistic director Kristy Edmunds was the mastermind behind the project. She oversaw the old Crest Theatre, which served as a cinema for decades and premiered the Nimoy-directed 1987 hit “Three Men and a Baby,” Westwood Boulevard. CAP UCLA events were held at Royce Hall on campus and at Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown LA, and Edmunds felt the Crest was just what UCLA needed. She reached out to her friend, Susan Bay Nimoy, to share her vision, and the two worked together to purchase the theater.
“When she wanted to buy the Crest, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s sort of synergistic,” said Nimoy, Leonard’s widow and an actress who attended UCLA. “I asked what it would cost, and I knew my business office was going to go nuts. We talked a lot about it. It took five years for it to come to fruition, but I have known all along it was meant to be.”
The renovation, designed by BAR Architects & Interiors, hit a few bumps along the road, including the departure of Edmunds, who left UCLA after a decade in 2021 to become director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Frumberg took over as interim director along with Meryl Friedman, and the two kept their former boss’s vision moving forward, as well as newly appointed director Edgar Miramontes.
“She used to love calling it inexpensive housing for artmaking,” said Frumberg. “Where can artists go in LA? You had various spaces where people could go and do things, but nothing on the west side.
“Certain artists do really well [at our other venues], but a lot weren’t, and Kristy was always trying to nurture artists who are very well established on the East Coast, but you can’t sell them in LA,” he said. “We would get 200 in Royce Hall [with 1,800 capacity], but she didn’t want to abandon those artists. We were filling a void anyway and thinking, ‘Is it sustainable to put on 50 shows in a year when the tickets aren’t covering expenses?”
Frumberg and Edmunds were already thinking of “downsizing” and looking for smaller spaces for acts that wouldn’t fill up Royce Hall, and that thought encouraged Edmunds to move forward with the acquisition of the Crest Theatre.
The university worked with community members who wanted to preserve as much of the theater as possible and compromised with them by keeping some of its charming aesthetics, such as the murals inside the building that depict old Hollywood.
The project is coming together just weeks away from the first show, which features Grammy Award-winning poet and songwriter J. Ivy, and best of all: Los Angelenos can enjoy a night in Westwood for about $40. No ticket this season goes over $32 and parking behind the Nimoy Theater will cost only $3. Eighty percent of CAP UCLA’s calendar will be held at the new venue and features a diverse lineup, including Dreamers’ Circus, Chinese pipa player Wu Man, Chilean singer Nano Stern, blues singer Ruthie Foster and Venezuelan-born Latin Grammy-nominee Nella.
Much like “Star Trek” brought people from different worlds together, Nimoy hopes the new theater will do the same for young artists looking to escape for a few hours.
“There are artists who are desperate to find a space that will welcome them at a price they can afford, so we’ve got this little place for them,” she said.