The American Legion in Hollywood, Calif. describes itself as the Post to the Stars. Now, thanks to a loan from U.S. Bank, it will be able to appropriately screen movies in its theater for the first time since the dawn of talkies.
In October, U.S. Bank closed a $2 million financing package for American Legion Post 43 that will be used to renovate an 800-seat theater within the Post’s 33,000-square-foot building. The state-of-the-art digital theater will include new seats, sound and video equipment; yet still retain the historical character of the building. The Legion opened in 1929 and has changed little over the years.
"The projection booth has been vacant since the 1950s. We're going to revamp that aspect since we sit right in the heart of Hollywood," said Karl Risinger, Adjutant and CFO of the Post, which has close to 700 members.
The building has always been famous. The land for the original club nearby (that's now an LA Fitness studio) was granted to the Legion by film legend Cecil B. DeMille. Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable used to sit down at the end of the Art Deco bar. Comic book writer Stan Lee, age 93, is among the posts current members along with other Hollywood actors and industry professionals.
TV and film crews have used the building in productions ranging from the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise to the famous scene in The Shining (1980) where Jack Nicholson is in the bar. Recent shows like Scandal and Veep have shot scenes there as well.
The initial goal of the renovation was to equip the theater to be a host for the GI Film Festival, an annual event that shows documentaries, narratives, features and short movies about the military.
"The Festival came to us and wanted to use our building. The logistics weren’t going to work, but it gave us the idea… and two years later, here's where we're at," Risinger said. When renovations are complete, Post 43 leaders hope to package the theater and rent out other parts of the building for receptions and mixers.
Santa Monica, Calif.-based nonzero\architecture is designing the project.
"The theater is going to be great. It has that old Hollywood feel to it," said Michael Nomura, vice president and relationship manager for U.S. Bank in Los Angeles, who arranged financing for the renovation. "It's neat just sitting at the same bar as these Hollywood legends."
Nomura was impressed with the post and the theater project and he immediately responded to a loan request the Legion sent to a handful of lenders.
Post 43 is growing and fiscally healthy, with more than $3 million in investments that are now being managed by U.S. Bank’s Private Client Reserve, said Risinger.
Since Risinger joined Post 43 in 2007, membership has climbed almost 50 percent from 450 members.
"The United States has sent millions of troops overseas from 1990 to today, so there are a lot of younger members coming in," said Risinger, 43, who served in Operation Bright Star in Egypt as well as posts as a military police officer in El Salvador, and as a contractor in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Karl and fellow Post 43 members hope to start construction in early 2017 and have the project wrapped up by late spring so the theater can be used for their annual ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, which is always one of the biggest days of the year at the Legion.
"It's a celebration of everything that we've done," Risinger said of Veterans Day. "It's a day to celebrate all we've put into our military careers and those who came before us, those who we've lost and those who are still with us. It’s a day of comradery and unity."