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In 1993, Mr. Willis - while living in Brentwood, CA across the street from The Department of Veterans' Affairs' (DVA) Complex - saw The Wadsworth and Brentwood Theatres, as well as a large field on the property, that were all in various stages of disrepair. This gave him the idea and hope that one day these venues might be transformed into a world class institution for all forms of Art.


With Lincoln Center being the model and Gold standard, the idea was to breathe new life into The DVA's old buildings and grounds, employ and entertain Veterans, provide jobs for thousands of Angelenos, create a safe, open environment for all and bring both new and established forms of Art and Entertainment to the West side of Los Angeles. If achieved, Mr. Willis believed that the new Westside Arts Complex would be an enormously positive contributor to the community.  

Once Mr. Willis formed his initial plan for the Arts Complex, he then took the next year to meet many times with Leadership at The DVA, in order to explain the vision for the venture and how it would benefit the DVA, the Veterans and Los Angeles as a whole. After that year, The DVA joined the team (in a limited capacity at first) and they allowed Mr. Willis to proceed as planned.


At which time, Mr. Willis then took his ideas and plans to his friend's Father (Martin Markinson) whom also was the co-owner of The Helen Hayes Theatre on Broadway. After discussing the project over coffee one evening, Mr. Willis and Mr. Markinson decided to partner on the venture. Soon after that intial meeting the two began the work of lining up all of the necessary elements (financially, politically, etc.) in order to move the project forward. 


It would take another six years of meetings with The DVA (National and Regional Leadership), local community leaders and more before Mr. Willis and Mr. Markinson were granted the first contract; which was to book and manage The Wadsworth Theatre. The first License Agreement was for a short term with no promise of anything more at that time from The DVA. But Mr. Willis saw this as a great opportunity and knew that he and his team would prove themselves to the Veterans, the DVA and the community and he was confident that the team would be able to keep moving forward on the overall Westside Arts Complex project. 

The two men signed the first License Agreement with The DVA in June of 1999.

Upon the signing of the initial agreement with the DVA, Mr. Willis' was able to begin "Phase One," which was to renovate The Wadsworth Theatre, so that it was safe and viable for all forms of live shows and events and especially for audiences entertainment pleasure. After plans were in place and approved by The DVA, the timeline for the first of several renovations of The Wadsworth Theatre was six months. That timeline was moved up to three months based on the immediate and overwhelming demand for the venue, once the public had been informed that the Theatre was now going to be operated, booked and staffed by professionals within the entertainment industry.


The Wadsworth Theatre remained booked solidly for the next sixteen years.

In late 2000, due to the success of the The Wadsworth Theatre, The DVA approached Mr. Willis and asked to discuss the rest of Mr. Willis' vision for the Westside Arts Complex. Soon after, Mr. Willis was allowed to begin work on "Phase Two" of the Westside Arts Complex. 

"Phase Two" was the complete renovation of the large field at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Federal Avenue, so that it may be utilized for outdoor events such as Veterans' Day and Fourth of July celebrations, concerts, movie premieres, fundraisers and much more. "Phase Two" was completed within a few months. The new outdoor venue was renamed The Great Lawn (in honor of its Central Park idol) upon its re-opening.


The Great Lawn was in high demand from the start and stayed booked solidly for the next sixteen years.

In late 2001, after the success of the partnership on "Phase One" and "Phase Two", Mr. Willis and Mr. Markinson (as RICHMARK Entertainment) signed a long-term agreement with The DVA to continue to book and manage the DVA's venues. Also, Mr. Willis was allowed to begin the planning and approvals process on "Phase Three" of the Westside Arts Complex - The Brentwood Theatre.

By late 2002/early 2003, Mr. Willis and his team had the necessary approvals in place and were now prepared to begin "Phase Three," which was to completely gut and entirely renovate the very old, dilapidated, rarely used Brentwood Theatre. The Theatre had some classic Art Deco charm, but needed an enormous amount of work done to it in order to bring it back to life and make it a viable venue for modern shows and audiences. The initial timeline for the newly renovated 507-seat Brentwood Theatre was a minimum of one year.

As fate would have it, Mr. Willis got a phone call from the late Gil Cates (Executive Director of The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, CA) around this time. Mr. Cates inquired about the status of The Brentwood Theatre in hopes that The Geffen Playhouse might rent it for their next two seasons while The Geffen Playhouse went through its own large-scale renovation. The Geffen Playhouse needed to move very quickly - as they needed to move their staff in and have their first show up by October of 2003 -  that was just ten months away. Mr. Willis and Mr. Cates came to an agreement and the renovation of The Brentwood Theatre began immediately and was now on a much shorter timeline (thus a much faster pace) than Mr. Willis and his team had previously anticipated.


Mr. Willis and his team completed the renovation (from the first architectural drawings to the cutting of the ribbon) in eight months.

The Geffen Playhouse moved into The Brentwood Theatre and surrounding administrative/production offices on time. One month later, the first show in the (newly renovated, beautiful, 507 seat, Art Deco styled) Brentwood Theatre - Cookin’ at The Cookery - opened.


Both the Brentwood Theatre and the show received overwhelming praise. Now, the new Brentwood Theatre was off and running and it remained in high demand for another twelve years. It was an overwhelming success.


"After more than ten years - and with an enormous amount of hard work from a very talented group of people - The Westside Arts Complex became a reality."

(There were additional spaces that were also part of the Westside Arts Complex, such as the Japanese Garden and two more large outdoor spaces that were renovated and utilized as part of the Complex, but the two theaters - and their rehearsal spaces, production and administrative offices and workshops - as well as The Great Lawn were the main Phases that required the most construction and capital.)


A sampling of the shows presented by The Geffen Playhouse at The Brentwood Theatre were: Cookin' at The Cookery, You Can't Take it With You, Tony Award Winner for Best Play Take Me Out, Paint Your Wagon and more. 

(After completion of The Westside Arts Complex, Mr. Willis and his team were awarded The Department of Veterans' Affairs' Partnership in Excellence Award. Given to people and businesses whose partnership with The Department of Veterans' Affairs improves the lives of Veterans.)

Due to the great success of the Westside Arts Complex, in 2006 The Nederlander Organization (owners of The Pantages Theatre in Hollywood) contacted Mr. Willis regarding their use of The Wadsworth Theatre for two years. They needed to house their subscription seasons elsewhere while the wildly popular musical Wicked re-occupied their Theatre for a second time. The Nederlanders' subscription seasons - February 2007 through 2009 - were a big success at The Wadsworth Theatre.


"Often times success brings unwanted headaches."


Due to the demand for The Wadsworth and Brentwood Theatres and as news spread that The Nederlander Organization was moving its subscription seasons to The Wadsworth Theatre two Labor Unions in Los Angeles - Local 857 (Treasurers') with backing and support from Local 33 (Stagehands') - brought an aggressive legal attack (and other pressure. i.e. Local 1 in New York) on RICHMARK Entertainment over the control of both The Wadsworth and Brentwood Theatres.  The Unions were also trying to gain control over any other venues under RICHMARK's Management, which were not only in Los Angeles, but also New York (Helen Hayes Theatre) and in Ft. Lauderdale (The Parker Playhouse).  


The Helen Hayes Theatre and The Parker Playhouse were under Union control before Mr. Willis built The Westside Arts Complex, but from the outset Mr. Willis established the venues in Los Angeles as non-union venues due to the Union excesses he had experienced while producing shows and managing Union venues in other cities.

Mr. Willis - along with attorneys Bernie Plum and the late Seth Popper of Proskauer Rose in New York - fought the two Unions in Los Angeles for over a year. The prolonged battle between the groups culminated in a forced Union Vote of RICHMARK's Treasurers by The National Labor Relations Board in 2007.


In the end, RICHMARK's Treasurers voted NOT to Unionize, based on the quality of their jobs, their work environment and how well and consistently Management had treated them throughout their time at the venues at The Westside Arts Complex.


Due to the Treasurers' Union (Local 857) losing the Union Vote, the Stagehands' Union (Local 33) did not have a precedent to work with, nor did they have any type of opportunity to Unionize the venues' stagehands, which was their desire throughout and the impetus for their support of the Treasurers' Union in this battle for control.

The venues at The Westside Arts Complex remained free from Union control and influence for the remainder of its life.

Some of the shows that The Nederlander Organization mounted at The Wadsworth Theatre included: The Tony Award Winner for Best Musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Jackie Mason: The Ultimate Jew, Altar Boyz and more.

In October 2007, The DVA informed Mr. Willis that it had abruptly decided to make a wholesale change to its core agenda (a “new Mission”) regarding the Westside Arts Complex going forward. This decision, if implemented, would cause wide spread and irreparable damage to the Westside Arts Complex, as well as RICHMARK's ability to manage and maintain the venues as successfully as it had, for the DVA, up to that point.


Mr. Willis appealed to leadership within the DVA, as well as all Local, State and National politicians, leaders and representatives with jurisdiction over The DVA’s property in West Los Angeles. But all of Mr. Willis' efforts were futile and the DVA was moving forward with its new "Mission" regardless of the damage it would cause. Damage not only to The Westside Arts Complex, and all that had been built, but most importantly the unnecessary damage that would be caused to our Veterans.

The DVA's actions threw RICHMARK Entertainment and the DVA into a protracted legal battle over RICHMARK's long term contract, as well as its considerable investment in the Westside Arts Complex, that now had no chance of being returned to the company.


Mr. Willis - along with his attorneys - the late Geraldine Ferraro and Laurie McPherson at Blank Rome in New York - battled the DVA and its attorneys for over three years until in late 2010 the parties "settled out of court. "

Upon final reconciliation, The DVA asked Mr. Willis if he and his team might consider "staying on board."  The DVA expressed its need for Mr. Willis and his team to operate the venues going forward, but also expressed their gratitude and pride in the team's overwhelmingly positive contributions to Veterans and the community in general.

Mr. Willis and his team ultimately decided to continue booking and managing the venues for a number of years thereafter, but The Westside Arts Complex was never the same.

In early 2015, the political climate - on Capitol Hill, at The DVA in Washington and at The DVA in West Los Angeles - abruptly and dramatically changed for the worse.


By the end of 2015, the new "Leadership" at The DVA in Washington and in West Los Angeles had forced The Westside Arts Complex to shutter, permanently.

"The Westside Arts Complex provided an enormous amount of "good" for our Veterans, The DVA and the Los Angeles Community for almost twenty years."


Proudly - for the Veterans, Mr. Willis, his team and The DVA - the Westside Arts Complex achieved its potential and became a world class institution for all forms of Art.  This was achieved partly by having a clear vision and a solid plan, but ultimately it was achieved due to an enormous amount of hard work by a team of extremely talented and dedicated men and women that all wanted the same thing; a home for people to express themselves, do their work, share thoughts and ideas, entertain and be entertained, create, provide for their families and most importantly provide our Veterans a safe, welcome place for them to come and do the same.

Below is a small sampling of the shows that were Produced, Presented or Booked by Mr. Willis and his team at The Westside Arts Complex.

Broadway/Off Broadway Shows:

Salome - Starring Al Pacino and marked the debut of Jessica Chastain. I Am My Own Wife – (Tony Award Winner Best Play). Golda’s Balcony - Starring Tovah Feldshuh, Russell Simmons' Def Poetry Jam: On BroadwayThe Gathering - Starring Hal Linden - Prior to Broadway. Bea Arthur in Concert - Prior to Broadway. Hair - Revival prior to Broadway. Follies - Revival prior to Broadway. BarrageColor Tango. Chris Angel - Amystika- Prior to Las Vegas. The Nutcracker (for fifteen seasons).

Special Events, Movie Premieres and Film Series:

Natural Resources Defense Council’s bi-annual Benefit - four years - Starring President Bill Clinton, Governor Grey Davis, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Larry David, Laurie David, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. ad many more. AIDs Lifecycle – Closing ceremonies - ten years in a row. Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDs Foundation: Annual Fundraiser - five years in a row. Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Premiere Party. Columbia Pictures’ Spiderman. Warner Bros.’ Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood Columbia Pictures’ XXX, starring Vin DieselMiramax’s – Oscar Screenings – three years in a row. Warren Miller’s Annual Ski Film release - three years in a row. Dreamworks’ Small Time Crooks, Directed by Woody Allen, starring Tracey Ullman. UCLA’s Sneak Preview, Moderated by Stephen Farber - ten years in a row in the Fall and Spring of each year. New Line Cinema’s Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. IFP/Los Angeles – Closing Night LA Film Festival - two years in a row.


Film/TV Location shoots:

Debbie Allen’s – Fame - N.B.C. ABC's Are You Hot. ABC’s Home Improvement Reunion Show. ABC’s The Partridge Family. ABC Family’s - No Doubt in Concert. Starring Gwen Stefani and No Doubt. ABC Family’s – Li’l Romeo in Concert. Warner Bros.’ Beautiful,”Directed by Sally Field and starred Minnie Driver. Fox TV’s World Magic Awards. Comedy Central’s Premium Blend. Fox Family’s Christmas Extravaganza. FX Network’s - Strong Medicine. Columbia Pictures’ - The Wedding Planner - starring Matthew McConahay and Jennifer Lopez. NBC’s Providence. PBS' - Jeff Greenberg Show. SFX/AMC's - Hollywood Auction. Structure Clothing line print shoot. Pepsi Commercial.

Concerts/Children’s Theatre:

Beck in Concert. Al Jerreaux and Chris Botti in Concert. Raffi, children’s theatre. Randy Crawford in Concert. Jim Brickman in Concert. Theodore Bikel in Concert. Debi Friedman in Concert. Oakwood School’s Annual Benefit, starring Jason Alexander and Eddie Van Halen. Crossroads’ School Benefit,- starring Dustin Hoffman, Jim Bellushi, Ted Danson, Mary Steinburgen and others. Coca Cola Battle of the Bands. Andre Crouch in Concert. Mancini Institute-Classical concerts. Over twenty Persian, East Indian, Italian and other European artists in Concert. Westside Ballet’s Spring Benefit - Starring Jenna Elfman and others. Animaction Awards - LAUSD annual awards show. Chamber Theatre Prods. - Children’s Theatre. Star,Inc. - LAUSD preview of Arts programming for the district. Linda Eder in Concert. Debbie Allen Dance Academy.  Red Cross Broadway Benefit - Fundraiser for the victims of 9/11.



Microsoft. Venice Internet Community. Virgin Atlantic. 1812 and Co. Antique Fair. Art of Living. Kehillat Israel Temple. LA Church of Christ. Screen Actors Guild, Orange County Business Council. Digital Coast Roundtable. F.B.I. Herbalife.

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