Hollywood’s iconic American Legion Post 43 has gotten an A-list makeover.
Opened in 1929 by Hollywood veterans of WWI including Clark Gable, Charlton Heston, Mickey Rooney, and Ronald Reagan, the 30,000 square foot Egyptian Revival building has long occupied on a prominent space on Highland Avenue just north of Hollywood Boulevard. But membership has declined in recent years, and the post’s central auditorium and event space was in major need of an upgrade. Now, after years of preparation, the space has been remade as a state-of-the-art movie theater with a major assist from Alcons Audio.
“Before we started, the audio system was a large mono speaker and an old horn PA system, like in a prison yard. It was really antiquated,” said Post 43 member and upgrade project manager Bill Steele in a statement. “But everything that had been part of the movie system had all long been stripped out. The room really was just a shell.”
The search for a cutting-edge sound system that would satisfy a “demanding” Hollywood audience was on – but the auditorium’s restored art deco architecture and reverberant acoustics made finding the right solution a challenge. “Early on we decided not to install Dolby Atmos, because we didn’t want to destroy the architecture of the room,” said Steele. “But we really wanted the best possible sound, a high end system that would go above and beyond all others.”
Luckily, Steele – an avowed audiophile – was the perfect person to take on the challenge. Long a fan of the “open, transparent sound” of ribbon drivers, he came across an ideal solution while attending the International Cinema Technology Association (ICTA) seminar in LA, where Alcons’ North American Sales Manager David Rahn delivered a talk on the company’s pro-ribbon systems.
“I didn’t know that there was a ribbon system for the cinema market and so I was really intrigued how Alcons had overcome the limitations of past designs,” continued Steele. “To be honest I was a little wary, because previous systems hadn’t had the power handling, they didn’t have the required ‘oomph’. I wanted to hear a demonstration, so David brought over some Alcons pro-ribbon nearfield monitors and, without any acoustic treatment in the room, they sounded amazing straight out of the box. I brought people from our cinema committee in and they were really impressed.”
He continued, “The long reverb times in the room have always been a problem, so it needed a system that would minimize unwanted reflections. David’s demo showed that the Alcons pro-ribbon system would really help, because the speakers are so directional. Along with the dynamics, transparency and power handling, frankly it blew everyone away.”
Additionally, the system also provided the necessary PA functionality for live recitals, corporate events, meetings and other live events that will continue to be held in the space.
Taking these acoustic needs into account, Peter Grueneisen of the LA-based firm nonzero architecture chose “fixed acoustic treatment” in reviving the auditorium’s historic architecture, meaning the acoustics are “tilted towards movies but [have] enough liveness for concerts and presentations.” The restoration of the architecture—which included stripping back 90 years of paint to bare concrete, adding wall panels and ceiling treatment, and installing a new baffle wall on stage for the Alcons system—took a full year to complete.
“An entire year was spent building the infrastructure, to make sure we had the best playing field for the speaker system,” said Grueneisen in a statement. “It included completely rebuilding the ancient air conditioning system, installing a new one in the plenum space below the auditorium and sealing it to ensure there was no resonance from it or the banquet space below that. Everything was done to keep the acoustics as neutral as possible.
“The fact that Alcons pro-ribbon systems are so focused was a huge help,” he continued. “We didn’t have to worry about sound splatter across the entire space, we knew that all the energy would be focused on the audience. It meant that it all fell into place very well. For a space that is so acoustically challenging, there were no major problems.”
The installed Alcons system is comprised of five CR4 tri-amped large-format screen systems, 16 CRS12 large-format reference surround, 12 LR7 micro line-array modules and four CB362 high-output full-size subwoofers, powered and controlled by six Sentinel10 amplified loudspeaker controllers.
Alcons provided more specifics in their press release about the installation:
The CR4 features three RBN401 pro-ribbon HF driver arrays, quad 6.5” midrange and double 15” woofers. By implementing line-source technology throughout the system (an industry first), the normal -6dB step reduction of SPL coverage from front to rear is reduced. This ‘proximity’ effect dramatically improves the experience for the audience further away from the screen, while the precise projection pattern also prevents unwanted ceiling reflections.
The HF section has a 2400W peak power input, offering a dynamic range of 1:16 with up to 90% less distortion from 1kHz to beyond 20kHz, delivering the kind of audio quality that Bill knew a pro-ribbon system could provide. Alcons Signal Integrity Sensing™ (SIS) pre-wiring also significantly increases response accuracy, further reducing distortion.
Another industry first is the shallow 13.7” (35cm) enclosure, which means only a minimum of space behind the screen is required, while the patented Real-90 horizontal dispersion widens the stereo experience for the audience seated at the far left and right of the auditorium.
The system was installed by LA-based Stay On Screen.
“The Alcons pro-ribbon solution overcomes so many limitations of other cinema systems. There is something very special about being in a movie theater and being hit with high levels of undistorted sound. Very few systems can do that and I’m really excited about it,” said Steele. “It means no ear fatigue for the listener and we’re also going to have tremendous headroom. The potential is phenomenal. In addition, the CR4s give us five channels behind the screen for showing older formats, which most multiplexes won’t spend the money to have. We wanted to reinvent the space as a really high end movie theater and performance space.”
The first public event at the refurbished auditorium was held on August 29 and attended by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti.