Community spirit: Rave revitalizes moviegoing in Los Angeles' Baldwin Hills


The official opening of the new Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza 15 on June 29, 2011, was not just the public debut of Rave’s second Los Angeles location but the rebirth of moviegoing in the important African-American community of Baldwin Hills. The ribbon-cutting ceremony drew celebrities such as Chris Tucker and Debbie Allen, along with a number of state, city and local officials and community leaders.

What a difference a year makes.

On June 13, 2010, AMC decided not to renew the lease on the former Magic Johnson Theatre near the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Crenshaw Boulevard and it closed. Ken Lombard, partner and president of Capri Urban Investors, LLC, which owns the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall, worked with Johnson to open the original Magic Johnson Theatre in 1995. Sixteen years later, Capri and Lombard partnered with Rave Cinemas to revitalize the theatre through a complete renovation and redesign. Lombard noted at the theatre’s ribbon-cutting ceremony that he was grateful for the chance to “do it twice” and the “opportunity to do it bigger and better.”

The new Rave Cinemas 15 is part of an extensive $30 million renovation of the mall that will add new tenants and modernize its appearance. In order to fast-track the $11 million theatre renovation and bring much-needed revenue and employment to the area (Rave received 900 applications for 80 positions in only one day), the project received the enthusiastic support of the Community Redevelopment Agency, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and city council members such as Bernard Parks, who was on hand for the ribbon-cutting.

“Capri made a commitment to upgrade the mall, and this beautiful new theatre is a big and immediate step forward in delivering on that commitment,” Parks noted. More importantly, “Residents won't have to leave the neighborhood anymore to have a first-class moviegoing experience.” Parks hopes that the new theatre (and revitalized mall) will stem the “leakage of literally hundreds of millions of dollars in our community,” he told the audience gathered at the ribbon-cutting. “Our money should be spent in our city so that we use [it] to develop jobs and have the kinds of things people would like to see.”

One of those “things” is a new multiplex that reflects the design, comfort and technology of moviegoing in 2011. "The new Rave 15 is symbolic of what we are seeking to accomplish at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza,” Lombard noted. “Simply put, we’re raising the bar to ensure this center and this theatre provide amenities, services and quality experiences consumers have come to expect at best-in-class facilities.” Rave Cinemas CEO Rolando B. Rodriguez added that the revitalization of Crenshaw Plaza and the new Rave 15 “is an integral part for the consumers that need the proper type of shopping and entertainment experience.”

Enthusiasm about the new theatre from community leaders and area retailers could translate into enormous crowds and busy ticket takers. “There is no question in my mind that there’s huge community excitement,” Rave Cinemas VP of marketing and advertising Jeremy Devine beams. “There are a ton of people that live around this theatre. We found a pocket of population that not only exists but is really involved and dedicated to having their community theatre… There’s hundreds of thousands of interested people.”

In less than a year, the former Magic Johnson Theatre has been transformed from an aging multiplex into a 21st-century, all-digital, all stadium-seating theatre with plush rocker seats and new concessions and ticket areas. “What we had to do,” Devine notes, “was transform it into a Rave building and that primarily entails a change in décor as well as substantially going from flat to stadium seating.” The renovation has slightly reduced seating capacity with auditoria ranging from an intimate 84 seats to an expansive 360.

Rave’s third theatre in California (it also operates the Brentwood 14 in Brentwood and the Rave 18 in Los Angeles) was also the first retrofit in the company’s history. “Rave had never done a retrofit,” Devine explains. “We have always either built a theatre from what we call ‘pebbles to popcorn,’ from the ground up [or through acquisition.] So this theatre, Baldwin Hills, is unique.”

Rave installed 2K Barco Series 2 projectors in all 15 auditoria and outfitted seven screens with RealD 3D capability. Rave’s new large-screen concept, raveXtreme, was also installed for the third time (two other locations are in Maumee, Ohio, and Fort Worth, Texas) with an expansive wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling screen coupled with booming sound.

Color schemes were changed throughout the building, with orange and brown hues blending warmly with Rave’s signature blue carpet. Most striking is the theatre’s new frontage, replacing the classic Loews/Magic Johnson marquee with Rave’s multicolor aesthetic. The theatre also welcomes patrons with a new 30,000-square-foot tree-lined promenade.

Rave film buyers will continuously analyze the market looking for film and alternative programming that may appeal to the strong African-American community. The theatre booked an exclusive run of 35 & Ticking, for instance, only a few days after opening. Rave is also encouraging local community groups to host meetings there, either in one of its auditoria or in its new special-events room.

Rave is further betting on word of mouth and a strategic partnership with Crenshaw Plaza to bring in moviegoers from Baldwin Hills and surrounding areas. “It’s going to take a little bit of time,” Devine says, “but there’s a real excitement in the community.” And, he adds, “not only will you retrain people to come here, you’ll increase frequency, which has got to make the studios and us happy.”

For now, Rave Cinemas, Capri Urban Investors and local leaders are all betting on the theatre to jumpstart not only the revitalization of Crenshaw Plaza but the entire area. “What makes Rave special is that we basically want to work with every community that we’re involved in,” Rolando Rodriguez told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Thank you for having us here. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of this great community and we look forward to many, many fruitful years with all of you.”