Laemmle NoHo 7 (photo by and courtesy Sean Winnik)

North Hollywood’s last independent cinema may soon be demolished and replaced by luxury apartments, but Los Angeles filmmakers refuse to let it go without a fight.

Laemmle NoHo 7 is one of many San Fernando Valley movie theaters fallen on hard times since the onset of COVID-19. Part of a family-owned chain, the Laemmle is the only remaining arthouse cinema in the NoHo Arts District that hosts film festivals, limited releases, and panels, among other events. In mid-September, City Planning Department records revealed that North Carolina-based developer Grubb Properties would build a seven-story apartment complex in its place, shocking locals who were unaware that NoHo 7 would close.

Since then, area film workers have signed petitions, contacted neighborhood and city officials, and launched social media campaigns in an attempt to save the theater. Freelance animator Josh Roth, who runs the Instagram account Save Valley Cinema, claims that the loss of indie theaters like Laemmle, Arclight, and Landmark reflects a gradual erosion of the area’s cultural landscape.

“The only other theaters here are owned by AMC and Regal, which made me realize this is not just about the Laemmle,” Roth told Hyperallergic. “It’s alarming to see the last vestiges of independent cinema on the verge of not just closing on their own accord but getting kicked out.” 

Roth recently designed an infographic that was widely re-shared on Twitter, including by British film director Edgar Wright. “We cannot allow one of the last independent cinemas in the San Fernando Valley to be demolished for more overpriced apartments!” Roth wrote alongside contact emails for Councilmember Paul Krekorian and the NoHo Neighborhood Council Planning Committee.

Elizabeth Litvitskiy and Dylan Carver of Save Laemmle NoHo 7, who have worked as film editors and directorial assistants, claim the encroachment of luxury real estate is pushing working people out of transit-oriented areas.

The facade of Laemmle NoHo 7 (photo by and courtesy Josh Roth)

“The Laemmle is probably the first benefit I can think of in this neighborhood,” said Litvitskiy. “The developers are now planning to destroy it and have Chipotle become their anchor tenant in a place called NoHo Arts District, where an art gallery recently closed and blackbox theaters have died during the pandemic.”

“We are frustrated at the prospect of losing yet another theater space for apartments that will house a very specific group of wealthy people,” Carver added. He also said he thought the developer, Grubb, would keep operating the theater — not demolish it and build residential towers.

But in an email reviewed by Hyperallergic, a spokesperson for LA City Council says that “continuing to operate the theater was not a condition of the sale” and that “the City cannot command the owners to operate a movie theater if that is not their choice.” Grubb’s website confirms that 5240 Lankershim Boulevard will be the site of one of its “Link Apartments” communities, with 128 units and 5,000 square feet of retail space. The developer describes it as a “prime North Hollywood location.”

In a Wednesday, October 19 Neighborhood Council meeting held on Zoom, Grubb and Urban Architecture Lab (UAL) unveiled plans for the mixed-use building, which would include 13 affordable units and 115 at market rate. To commemorate the Arts District, Grubb offered to include a rotating mural program on the building facade but claimed they had not yet reached out to any local artists.

“We’re willing to work with the community on figuring out where the best opportunities are,” UAL founder Richard Solares said during the meeting. “But I think it’s really important to have a piece of the local art community basically tattooed on the building itself for posterity.”

Many NoHo residents and Laemmle supporters attended the contentious meeting after seeing the infographics, petitions, and social media posts. During the public comment period, several of them expressed confusion that Laemmle management would choose not to continue their lease with Grubb and argued that several nearby empty lots would be more appropriate for the new development. Neighborhood Councilmember James Askew noted the turnout was larger than “in the last 12 months combined,” leading them to vote “No” on the demolition. 

“While the development team presented a building that created much-needed housing in our community, the closure of the Laemmle was too much of a loss for our community to support,” the Council told Hyperallergic in a statement. “We invited the developers to join us at a future meeting if they can find a way to create housing and preserve the theater, and we hope to continue the conversation with them.”

But the vote may be inconsequential if Grubb decides to move forward as planned with the City Planning Department. The developers did not respond to Hyperallergic’s request for comment, but a senior staff member at Laemmle confirmed that Grubb remains in control of their lease and can legally continue with their plans once it expires at the end of the year.

“That’s just the reality of the movie business these days,” the spokesperson told Hyperallergic.

NoHo 7 first opened in December 2011 and quickly gained a reputation for hosting work by local filmmakers, politically charged foreign films, and Oscar-nominated short films ahead of the annual ceremony. It would be the second Laemmle theater to close in 2022 following the Pasadena location, which was replaced by another Landmark theater. For NoHo’s film workers, however, demolishing the neighborhood’s last indie cinema reflects misplaced priorities in Hollywood and across the industry.

“When I moved here, NoHo was one of the cheapest places to live in LA, but now everything is getting replaced by luxury,” Roth said. “We are all just trying to make movies that get released immediately on streaming services, which cannibalize theatrical releases and risk vanishing without a trace, so hearing the outpour of support for the Laemmle has been great — I think it took the developers and councilmembers by surprise.”

Billie Anania is an editor, critic, and journalist in New York City whose work focuses on political economy in the cultural industries and the history of art in global liberation movements.