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Exhibit Celebrates Lost Architecture Of Movie Box Offices

A photograph from Ave Pildas' box office series on view at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla.

The movie box office is a thing of the past. A new exhibit of photographs celebrates their architectural beauty.

When Ave Pildas moved to Los Angeles from Ohio in 1971, he was enamored with the city's art deco architecture, often seen in the design of its many movie palaces.

Then an art director at Capitol Records, Pildas roamed the city during his off hours with a camera, documenting the stand alone box offices that served as a gateway to the grand old movie theaters built in the 1920s and '30s.

Pildas thought of those box office booths as little jewels.

"It was like wearing a diamond ring," said Pildas by phone from Los Angeles. "They were what you saw first. It was the same as offering one’s hand to the people on the sidewalk to come in. They were a draw."

An exhibit of Pildas’ black and white images of box offices opens at the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla on Saturday, Sept. 5 and runs through Oct. 25

Eventually Pildas expanded his box office project beyond Los Angeles, even photographing in San Diego, shooting the box offices at Spreckels and the Plaza Theater.

This led to photographing theaters all over the country, bolstered by a book deal with Crown Publishing, which allowed him to buy a Volkswagen van that took him from city to city. The resulting coffee table book "Movie Palaces: Survivors of An Elegant Era," focused on theaters' design and architectural elements, such as marquees, box offices and lobbies.

The book would later be published by Hennessey and Ingalls.

Pildas says in contrast to the color images in the book, the black and white photographs on view in La Jolla are dearer to him.

"They’re more like photographs and more fantasy for me, and more like the time the box offices were built in," said Pildas.

When the movie theaters were built, films were primarily still in black and white.

In Hollywood, where the largest concentration of the movie palaces were built, the box offices were often crafted in the elaborate architectural style of the theaters, using an Egyptian motif or a geometric, art deco style.

“They became kind of personalities for me,” said Pildas.

Pildas also photographed the more mundane box offices, some with hand-written signs, yellow-stained wallpaper, and others advertising X-rated films.

These stand-alone booths with a sole employee inside selling tickets have disappeared, and so have the prices they advertise. The photographs show signs for tickets at $2 or even 50 cents.

Box offices have been replaced by the mall-based multiplex and steep ticket prices (not to mention the ghastly cost of refreshments).

The old theaters standing often have a blank space at the entrance where the box office used to be.

"In marginalized neighborhoods, they became targets of robberies so they were just removed," said Pildas.

In other cases, he's not sure what happened to the booths. "The box office of the Pix Theater on Hollywood Boulevard just disappeared," said Pildas. "It was spectacular."

The theater was bought and turned into The Fonda Theatre, but the box office didn't make it through the transition. "Nobody would have destroyed that thing. It must be in somebody’s private theater in Pacific Palisades or Beverly Hills," said Pildas.

Pildas admits the appeal of the box office photographs is fueled, in part, by nostalgia.

"There are some people who try and stay away from nostalgia, but it creeps in and it’s a very strong pull."

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