Westlake Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

View from the balcony.

The Westlake Theatre in Los Angeles, CA opened on September 22, 1926. It was designed by architect Richard M. Bates, Jr., who designed the theater’s facade in a Spanish Baroque style known as Churrigueresque, and the interior in a mix of Renaissance and Adamesque. The 1,949 seat theater was built for the West Coast Langley Theatres for $750,000 ($10.2 million when adjusted for inflation). Anthony Heinsbergen, a nationally acclaimed muralist, painted the murals in the auditorium and lobby. A 2 manual, 10 rank Wurlitzer organ was installed prior to the opening, and the internal decorations were done by Robert Power Studios.

In 1935, portions of the theater, including the ticket booth, interior foyer and the marquee were updated by famed theater architect S. Charles Lee during a two week closure.

Billed as a “Hollywood Gala event,” the opening day consisted of “Other Women’s Husbands,” a silent film starring Monte Blue and Marie Prevost, as well as a performance by Charlie Nelson and his band. Soon after the theater opened, movie studios began using the Westlake to preview upcoming films. Some of the films previewed at the the Westlake include; “The Best Girl,” starring Mary Pickford, “The Jazz Singer,” starring Al Jolson, “The Wind,” starring Lillian Gish, and “A Texas Steer,” starring Will Rogers. The showing of “A Texas Steer” broke West Coast Theatre records for attendance at a film preview.

As part of the updates, Heinsbergen painted a new mural on the ceiling of the lobby.

Odd things happened at the Westlake over the years. On April 9, 1928, F.D. McMahan, the assistant manager at the time, walked in on a burglar trying to open the theater’s safe. The burglar ordered McMahan and another employee to open the safe, but both refused and the burglar fled after tying them up. Reverend Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple and leader of the Jonestown Massacre, was caught masturbating by an undercover police officer in the theater on December 13, 1973. He was arrested and booked for lewd conduct. Members of the People’s Temple (including a deputy D.A.) began to pressure the LAPD to dismiss the charge. They were eventually dropped after Alex Finkle, Jones’ doctor, claimed he had a prostate issue that caused him to have to shake his penis while urinating. Judge Clarence A. Stromwall ordered the records of the case sealed and destroyed.

View of the auditorium ceiling.

The Westlake Theatre changed hands a few times throughout the years. First, it was purchased by Favorite Films of California, who also operated the Lake Theatre, from Fox West Coast Theatres. Favorite Films later sold the building to Metropolitan Theatres who turned it into a Spanish language house. In 1991, Metropolitan sold the theater to Mayer Separzdeh, who closed the theater on June 26, 1991, removed the seats, flattened the main level, and turned it into a swap meet. The City of Los Angeles responded to the changes by declaring the theater a Cultural Historic Monument in September of 1991.

One of the movie studio film previews caused a divorce. Harry Langdon was caught with another woman by his wife at a preview of one of his films, and his wife used that against him in divorce proceedings.

In 2008, the building was purchased by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for $5.7 million. The CRA was created by the government of California with the intent of revitalizing derelict buildings, and there were a few proposals for reuse during this time. However, due to a decision by the CRA was disbanded in 2012. The City of Los Angeles assumed ownership of the building and issued a Request for Proposals in 2016. Unfortunately, even after extending the deadline, there was no interest. The building is currently for sale.

The theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
The Wurlitzer organ was removed from the theater and installed in a private home. It was later moved to a church, and was eventually used for parts when the church replaced it.
Throughout the years, the Westlake was used as a temporary home for different church congregations, including All Souls Church, who broadcasted live sermons from the theater.
View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

For more on the Westlake and many other Los Angeles Theatres be sure to visit: https://losangelestheatres.blogspot.com/

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Logan Theatre – Philadelphia, PA

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Logan Theatre in Philadelphia, PA opened on January 24, 1924. It was built by the Stanley Company of America for $1.1 million, or $15.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1894-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Henon, who also designed the now mostly demolished Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. Designed in the Adamesque style, the plasterwork in the auditorium featured mythological creatures, and there was a fresco of a sailing ship in the lobby. The building also had a large ballroom on the second floor, known as the “Waltz Studio.”

View of the auditorium from the stage.

Originally a silent film theater, the opening day celebration included a showing of
“The Common Law,” starring Corinne Griffith and Conway Tearle. The film was accompanied by music from the Kimball organ, and the house orchestra, which was known as “The Loganians.” Then-mayor of Philadelpha W. Freeland Kendrick and Jules E. Mastbaum, the president of the Stanley Company, spoke at the the opening. Like most of its contemporaries, the Logan eventually switched over from silent films to “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound.

The former “Waltz Ballroom” space.

The Logan was closed in 1972, and in May of 1973 the building was sold by RKO Stanley Warner for $350,000 to the Deliverance Evangelist Church (DEC), one of the largest congregations in the area at the time. DEC made some alterations to the theater, including adding a closed circuit television system, as the theater was often filled to capacity. This allowed people to watch the three-hour-long services from the former Waltz Studio ballroom. DEC moved out of the Logan in 1992, and the theater was abandoned. Soon after, the roof began to leak, causing major water damage.

The lobby of the Logan Theatre.

Dr. Owen Williamson purchased the Logan in 2005, and began to restore it as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda. Since purchasing the building he has repaired the roof, repainted the interior and updated some of the wiring. Dr. Williamson plans to reopen the theater as a live music venue with a restaurant named “Claretildaville,” However, the building remains closed to this day.

The Logan has a relatively plain interior when compared to other theaters built around the same time.
During the years the Logan was a church a baptismal font was on the stage.
When the theater opened, afternoon matinees cost fifteen cents, evening shows a quarter or thirty cents.
Gold spray paint was used to repaint the gold in the auditorium.
View from the center of the balcony.

Los Angeles Lost Theatre Tour

The exterior of the Rialto Theatre in Pasadena, CA

Hi Everyone,

On Saturday July 1, I’ll be co-leading tours through seven of Los Angeles’s Lost Theatres as part of the Afterglow event at the Theatre Historical Society of America’s 2017 Conclave.

Starting at 10AM, we’ll be going to The Variety Arts, the Leimert/Vision, the Rialto, the Raymond, the Uptown and the Westlake.* Photography is allowed, and I’ll be conducting short demonstrations and answering any questions you may have about architectural photography.

Coaches will depart from the Omni Hotel at 9AM, and lunch will be provided in Old Town Pasadena.

If you use the coupon code “ATFC2017” you’ll get $25 dollars off the price and a one year Theatre Historical Society membership (valued at $60).

Tickets are $175 ($150 with the discount) and can be purchased at the THS Conclave site.

If you’d like to attend more than just the Afterglow you’ll also get a discount using the same coupon code:

For the full Conclave (four days of theatre tours) you’ll get $70 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

For the two-day downtown LA theater tour you’ll get $60 off and a complimentary one-year THS membership (valued at $60).

Hope to see some of you there!

* Schedule may change. I’ll post an update when it is finalized.

Pantheon Theatre – Vincennes, Indiana

View of the auditorium from the balcony.
The Pantheon Theatre in Vincennes, Indiana opened on May 15, 1921. John Bayard, a local architect designed the theater for owners Louis A. Wilkerson and A.M. Lyons. It cost $225,000 to build, or roughly $3.2 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1,500 seat theater had a Typhoon air cooling and ventilating system, a precursor to air conditioning, which was powered by three very large fans in the ceiling. The opening of the theater was originally supposed to take place on March 15, 1921, but it was delayed two months due to some plaster falling from the underside of the balcony.

View of the auditorium from the stage.
In 1923, Wilkerson-Lyons Enterprises sold the Pantheon Theatre to the Consolidated Realty and Theatres Company (CRTC), which owned and operated theaters in several cities in Indiana, for $225,000. However, CRTC could not afford to pay, and it reverted back to the original owners two months after it was sold. Red Skelton, an American entertainer and Vincennes native who performed at the Pantheon in his youth later unsuccessfully tried to purchase the theater. The Marx Brothers, Spike Jones and Duke Ellington, Will Rogers, Roy Rogers, Hank Williams and Gene Autry also performed at the theater.

A Wurlitzer-Hope Jones pipe organ was installed shortly before opening day.
In 1961, the Pantheon closed and was converted to retail space. The orchestra level was leveled with concrete and a suspended ceiling was added to close off the balcony. A Sears department store was the first to move into the newly created space. In 2006, the building was purchased by Travis Tarrants, who planned on reopening the theater as a performing arts center. Tarrants formed a non-profit organization, the Pantheon Theatre Company (PTC), and began work on the theater. The suspended ceiling was removed, and the auditorium floor was de-leveled. However, PTC relied on donations to fund the restoration of the Pantheon, and those dried up due to the recession of 2008. PTC was unable to pay the thousands of dollars in back taxes owed, and the theater was sold at a tax auction in October 2012.

On August 21, 1928 the theater was broken into and 1,200 dollars was stolen from the safe. Local police suspected that it was a disgruntled employee.
The Vincennes Business and Arts Initiative (INVin), purchased the theater in December 2014. INVin made repairs to the theater, including replacing the roof, to minimize damage to the theater during the winter. In March 2016, they announced plans for the theater to become a shared work space, which would allow business owners and entrepreneurs a place to network and share resources. Steve Miller, INVin’s founder, envisions the space including training and conference facilities.

The first film shown after CRTC took over was “Circus Days,” starring Jackie Coogan.

The Pantheon was the first theater to show talking motion pictures in Vincennes.

View from the side of the balcony.

The original ticket booth was saved and may be reinstalled in the future.

Close up of the proscenium arch.

The last retail space to occupy the theater was a baseball card store.

Book Giveaway

Pantheon Theatre Vincennes, Indiana
Pantheon Theatre Vincennes, Indiana

Hi Everyone! I’m giving away two copies of my book, “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater”, on the After the Final Curtain Facebook page. All you have to do is like, share or comment on any new post in the next week. I’ll announce the winners on Facebook on December 15th.

If you don’t have a Facebook account – just comment on this post to enter!

Snapshot: Hollywood Theatre

Post 3 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.

 

View of the auditorium from the divided balcony.
View of the auditorium from the divided balcony.

Originally billed as the “Pride of the East Side,” the Hollywood Theatre, located in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, opened on March, 11 1926. It was operated by the Mayer and Schneider (M&S) Circuit, and designed by architect Harrison G. Wiseman, who is also known for the nearby Village East Cinemas. According to an account in the Motion Picture News, the crowd on opening night was so large that the police had to cordon the entrance prevent them from storming the theater. The opening was attended by a number of that era’s stars of stage and screen including; George Walsh, Wally Van, Julia Faye, and Edna Purviance.

The balcony level was used as storage after the orchestra level was converted to retail space.
The balcony level was used as storage after the orchestra level was converted to retail space.

The 1,303 seat theater was later managed by RKO and Loew’s Inc. before closing in 1959. After the theater closed, the orchestra level of the auditorium and the lobby were converted into separate retail spaces. The former orchestra level became a series of grocery stores, beginning with a Pioneer Supermarket in 1960. In early 2012, it was announced that the East Farms Supermarket, the latest tenant to occupy the space, would close and the building would be demolished to make way for an eight-story condo building with retail space on the main floor. Demolition began in 2014, and the new building is scheduled to open in the winter of 2016.

A Kimball organ was installed in the theater when it opened, and was removed after it closed.
A Kimball organ was installed in the theater when it opened in 1926, and was removed after it closed.

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Colonial Theatre

 

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.
View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine opened in 1913 and was designed by architect Harry S. Coombs, who was known for designing many local libraries.  In 1926 the theater was damaged by a fire, and much of the auditorium had to be rebuilt. The owners took advantage of this and expanded the size of the theater. Originally the 1,240 seat theater showed silent films, and had an orchestra pit directly in front of the stage so music could accompany the films, but this was covered over as silent films gave way to “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.  

Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.
Since this photograph was taken the lobby has been cleaned up and used for live events.

During World War II, bond drives were held at theaters across the country where you could only gain admission by purchasing a war bond, which were certificates issued by the government to help finance military expenses, and the Colonial Theatre was no exception. At one bond drive held at the Colonial, actress and singer Dorothy Lamour made an appearance to help drive bond sales.

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The theater closed in the late 1960s due to declining ticket sales. Mothballed and only used for storage, the building’s roof began to deteriorate. Without regular maintenance, water began to leak into the building and eventually causing three large holes in the wooden auditorium floor.

While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.
While the theater was closed water leaked in from the roof and caused the wooden auditorium floor to rot.

 

Colonial Theatre, Inc. was founded in 1995 with the purpose of buying and restoring the building. A number of developers expressed an interest in rehabilitating the theater, but no plan worked out and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2009, Colonial Theatre, Inc. began the process of getting the theater listed on the National Register of Historic Places as that status would offer some protection and tax breaks if the theater was restored. Five years later, they succeeded and the theater was listed in the summer of 2014. The theater is open for tours on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall months.

In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.
In 1929 a DeForest Phonofilm system was installed which allowed the theater to show “talkies” or motion pictures with sound.

In June 2015, an art installation and screening of “A Home for Women,” a documentary by Caroline Losneck, Betsy Caron and Kate Kaminski, was held in the lobby of the Colonial, which was the first movie shown at the theater in almost 50 years. More information about the theater is available at https://www.facebook.com/ColonialTheater and http://www.augustacolonialtheater.org/

 

The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
The exterior of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, ME
View of the side of the balcony
View of the side of the balcony.

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One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.
One of the surviving auditorium light fixtures.

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