The Santa Monica Conservancy awarded local developer Jim Rosenfield and past president Tom Cleys the organization’s highest honors for their outstanding accomplishments in promoting preservation in the city at a gathering on March 6th at the landmark Embassy Hotel Apartments.
The Conservancy honored Rosenfield for his dedication and success in the effort to preserve and restore the Aero Theater on Montana Avenue.
Rosenfield purchased the building that houses the theater in order to not only save it, but ensure that the movie theater remain in use. The single-screen theater was built in 1939 by aviation pioneer Donald Douglas. Like the aircraft plant, the theater was open 24 hours a day so that workers could see movies any time during their off-hours.
“Jim’s efforts are important, not just because he has saved the last neighborhood movie theater in our city, but because he has demonstrated that preservation can be good business,” said Joel Brand, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy. “He’s a developer with passion and vision that goes beyond the easiest way to make a profit, and that’s a combination we don’t see enough of, unfortunately.”
The Aero is one of the few surviving neighborhood movie theaters in the Los Angeles area today. After buying the building, Rosenfield spent several years seeking an operator who would use the building in its original configuration, faithfully restore it, while equipping it with state of the art projection and sound system. The Aero reopened in January under the auspices of the American Cinematheque.
The second award was presented to Tom Cleys, the Santa Monica Conservancy’s first president. “His service has been so critical that without him the preservation movement in Santa Monica would not be where it is today,” Brand said. “Without Tom, there would be no Preservation Award and likely no Conservancy. He has been the lifeblood of the organization.”
When Cleys moved into Santa Monica in 1998, he became active in Friends of Sunset Park and then worked with NOMA founder Doris Sosin to form the Conservancy. Elected to serve as the first president of the new nonprofit by his co-founders, Cleys brought the Santa Monica Conservancy from concept to practical reality with an active membership. He continues to contribute to the work of the Conservancy and is in the forefront of raising preservation awareness and support in his home neighborhood.
The Conservancy presents awards annually to individuals or organizations in recognition of their outstanding accomplishments in preserving Santa Monica’s unique heritage, and promoting the value of historic preservation in the city.
Elected to the Conservancy Board of Directors were real estate visionary Mike Deasy, current board member and Planning Commissioner Arlene Hopkins, architect and past Planning Commissioner David Kaplan, current board member Doris Sosin, and environmental consultant John Zinner.
Built in 1927, the Embassy Hotel Apartments served as a fitting backdrop for the annual meeting. Conservancy members gathered in the spacious lobby and adjoining patio, and admired the ornate ironwork, carved wood panels, and decorative tile.
A presentation was given on Spanish Colonial Revival architecture by Conservancy board member and USC Preservation Program Director Ken Breisch.The Santa Monica Conservancy is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the preservation of the city’s historical, architectural and cultural heritage through tours and educational programs. For more information on the Conservancy, check its website at www.smconservancy.org or call (310) 485-0399.