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/

Advertisements

Theater Updates v2

There have been changes to some of the theaters I’ve photographed over the years, so it’s time for another update.

Fox Theatre Fullerton, CA.

The auditorium ceiling at the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA has been restored since I first visited it in 2014. New LED ceiling lights were installed at the same time.

Lobby, Paramount Theatre – Marshall, Texas

The lobby of the Paramount Theatre in Marshall, Texas has been converted into a performance venue by the owners of Musicians Unlimited. Musicians Unlimited operates out of one of the Paramount’s former retail spaces. They also restored the theater’s marquee, and held a relighting ceremony in 2016.

The paramount theater balcony
View from the balcony of the Paramount Theatre in Long Branch, NJ.

The Paramount (Broadway) Theatre in Long Branch, NJ was demolished in late Spring 2017.

Loew’s 46th Street Theatre – Brooklyn, NY

The interior of the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre was gutted in late 2015/early 2016, and the site is slated to become condominiums.

Loew’s Majestic Theatre – Bridgeport, Connecticut
Loew’s Palace Theatre – Bridgeport, Connecticut

The former Loew’s Theatre Complex (Loew’s Poli Theatre, Loew’s Majestic Theatre and the Savoy Hotel) are slated to be redeveloped over the next few years. First, the Majestic will be renovated and reopened as a performing arts center. Then, the Savoy Hotel will reopen as a 100 room hotel. Last, the Loew’s Poli (Palace) Theatre will become a banquet ballroom, gym, and a “family friendly indoor park.” Construction is slated to begin in 2018.

RKO Keith’s Theatre – Queens, NY

Work began at the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Queens, NY in late June 2017, 31 years after it closed. However, a stop work order went into effect the same day delaying the start of construction once again. The auditorium is slated to be demolished in the fall of 2017. Portions of the lobby, as well as the original ticket booth are slated to be incorporated into the condo building that will be constructed where the auditorium once stood.

Before and After, Embassy Theatre – Port Chester, NY

The Embassy Theatre in Port Chester, NY was gutted in the spring of 2017. No plans for the future of the space have been made public. Gutted photo courtesy of Gaby Gusmano.

Warner (Pacific) Theatre – Hollywood, CA

View from the back of the auditorium.

In late 1925, Sam Warner, of Warner Brothers Pictures, convinced his brothers to spend $1.25 million ($17.1 million when adjusted for inflation) to design and build a theater to showcase their new film sound synchronization technology, Vitaphone. Vitaphone, in which the sound track of a film was printed on phonograph records that would play on a turntable attached to and in time with the projector, was the result of a partnership between Warner Brothers and Western Electric’s Bell Laboratories.

The Warner Theatre had a 4 manual, 28 rank Marr & Colton organ. The organ was originally installed in the Warners’ (Piccadilly) Theatre in New York.

Hollywood was chosen as the location for the theater, and Warner hired San Francisco-based architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design and oversee the construction of  the theater. The theater was intended to be ready in time for the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” since the film had several scenes that used the Vitaphone process. However, Warner Bros realized in late 1927 that the theater would not be ready in time for the premiere, and it was moved to the Warners’ (Piccadilly) Theatre in New York City.

Lansburgh also designed the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.

The Hollywood Pacific Theatre opened on April 26, 1928 as the Warner Brothers Theatre. It was designed in the atmospheric style with colonnades in the Italianate Beaux Arts style surrounding the orchestra level walls. However, unlike most atmospheric theaters, the Warner did not have twinkling lights in the ceiling. The 2,700 seat theater was the first theater designed specifically for “talkies” in Hollywood. Promotional articles by Warner Bros proclaimed that the theater has “the most advanced and largest Vitaphone equipment ever installed.”

The night before the premiere of “The Jazz Singer” in New York City, Sam Warner died of a brain hemorrhage.

Glorious Betsy,” starring Conrad Nagel and Dolores Costello, was the feature presentation at the opening and Al Jolson, the star of “The Jazz Singer,” served as the Master of Ceremonies. A plaque remembering Sam Warner, who died six months before the theater opened, was unveiled in the theater’s lobby. The theater was owned by Warner Brothers Pictures until 1953, when due to the verdict of United States Supreme Court case United States vs. Paramount Pictures, the studio was forced to spin off its theater holdings into a separate company. To accomplish this, Stanley Warner Theatres was formed in 1953, and later merged with the RKO Theatres Corp to become RKO Stanley Warner.

The theater is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Sam Warner.

After many years as a first run theater, the Warner was turned into a Cinerama house, a popular widescreen format, on April 29, 1953. The seating had to be reduced to 1,500, and sections of the proscenium were removed due to the new screen being so wide. It was renamed the Warner Cinerama Theatre, and showed “This is Cinerama,” a film designed to take advantage of the new widescreen, for 133 weeks before ending in 1955. A remodel in 1961 saw the Cinerama screen removed and much of the ornate plasterwork in auditorium covered by drapes. This only lasted a year before a new Cinerama screen was installed. RKO-Stanley Warner sold the theater to Pacific Theatres during the 80-week run of “2001, A Space Odyssey,” and the theater was renamed the Hollywood Pacific Theatre.

Radio transmitter towers for KFWB, a radio station owned by Warner Bros, were installed on the roof of the building. The station’s call sign stands for “Keep Filming Warner Brothers.”

The theater closed on January 31, 1978 so that the auditorium could be divided into a triple screen theater. Two 550-seat screens were added by separating the balcony level from the orchestra level. It reopened in April of 1978 as the Pacific 1-2-3.  Due to structural damage caused by an earthquake in January of 1994 and water damage in the basement from construction of the Red Line subway, the Pacific was forced to close the theater on August 15, 1994. However, in the years after the theater closed an occasional screening took place in the theater on the main level. The balcony screens remained closed due to the structural damage. Beginning in 2002, the Entertainment Technology Center used the theater to test new digital projection technology, ending in 2006. The theater was then taken over by the Ecclesia Hollywood Church, who held services in the downstairs auditorium until July 2013. It is currently unused, with no public plans for its revival.

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

Carol Burnett, actress and comedian, worked as an usher at the Warner in the early 1950s, but was fired after she advised to patrons to wait until a film was finished before entering the auditorium. In 1975, when Burnett was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame she was asked where she would like it placed, and she’s quoted as saying “Right in front of where the old Warner Brothers Theater was, at Hollywood and Wilcox.”
The theatre was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument February 9, 1993.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Fullerton Theatre

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.
View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

Originally known as the Alician Court Theatre, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, California opened on May 28, 1925. Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer & Holler Architectural firm was commissioned by C. Stanley Chapman to design the theater. Meyer & Holler are also known for designing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,095 seat Fox was designed in the Italian Renaissance architectural style and had six large California-themed murals – painted by Anthony Heinsbergen – on the auditorium walls. It cost $300,000 to build the theater in 1925, which is $4,082,000 when adjusted for inflation. The complex also included retail spaces, one of which was originally occupied by a tea room run by Alice Chapman, the owner’s wife.

The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.
The Lobby of the Fox Theatre.

Like most theaters at the time, the Fox was built to be a vaudeville and silent movie theater. The Fox opened with a showing of Luna-cy!, an early 3D film, and Dick Turpin starring Tom Mix as the feature presentation. Julius Johnson accompanied the films on the Marr and Colton Concert Organ, Conductor Bayard Fallas led the orchestra and J. Charles Thamer served as the Master of Ceremonies.

The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.
The theater originally opened with 1,095 seats, but seating was reduced to 908 after modern seats were installed in 1955.

Four years later in 1929, “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound, were becoming more and more prevalent. New sound equipment was installed for $35,000 to allow the theater to show Movietone News, Photophone and Vitaphone, which were the three major types of talking films at the time. On February 17, 1929, Give and Take, starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney, was the first talking motion picture shown at the Fox. The following year even more upgrades were installed including a larger screen, more new sound equipment and a new marquee. Doughboys, starring Buster Keaton, was shown at the grand reopening in 1929.

A close up of the proscenium arch.
A close up of the proscenium arch.

The Fox went through a number of name changes through the years. It opened as the Alician Court Theatre, then became the Mission Court Theatre, Universal Mission Court Theatre, Fox Mission Theatre and finally the Fox Fullerton Theatre, which it remains today. A number of celebrities made personal appearances at the Fox to promote their films, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield. The Fox was modernized again in 1955 with the installation of a Cinemascope screen. The Cinemascope screen ran from wall-to-wall, and some of the decorative plasterwork surrounding the stage had to be removed to accommodate it. In 1962, the National General Corporation took over the theater, and had the murals in the auditorium painted over.

Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.
Two of the six murals in the auditorium were painted over several times, and will have to be reproduced instead of restored. The remaining four murals were painted over using a water-based paint, and could be restored.

After a showing of Angel Heart starring Mickey Rourke, The Fox closed in 1987 and remained dark for almost twenty years. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2004 to make way for a five-storey apartment building, but was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation (FHTF), which was formed in 2001 to acquire and restore the theater. They officially took ownership in 2005, and the following year helped add the theater to the National Register of Historic Places. The city of Fullerton started to show films in the theater’s back parking lot in 2005 in an effort to help raise funds for the restoration. In 2015, Evergreene Architectural Arts, an Award-Winning Decoration & Restoration firm, replicated the original design elements on the auditorium ceiling as part of the restoration efforts.* At the same time, the “FOX FULLERTON” sign, which was removed for restoration in 2013, was reinstalled. The FHTF held a 90th birthday party for the the theater in May 2015 to unveil the restored ceiling and the reinstalled sign. In February 2016, a coffee shop opened in one of the refurbished retail spaces. The monthly rent from the shop will go towards the building’s restoration which is estimated to cost $26 million dollars, and $14 million has been spent as of 2016.

The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
The Fox is one of only three courtyard theaters designed by the Meyer and Holler architectural firm.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
It was the largest motion picture theater in Orange County, CA when it opened in 1925.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
View of the auditorium from the stage.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
The theater was one of the first to show talking motion pictures in Orange County, CA.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
Murals painted by artist John Gabriel Beckman adorn the ceiling of this room.
Fox_Fullerton_021
A close up of one of the murals.

 

Fox_Fullerton_016 Fox_Fullerton_014 Fox_Fullerton_004

*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.

Fox Theatre Inglewood, CA

The Fox is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

The Fox was the first theater in Inglewood to have air conditioning.
The Fox was the first theater in Inglewood to have air conditioning.

The Fox Theatre in Inglewood, CA opened on March 31, 1949. It was built on the site of the Granada Theatre which had been destroyed by a fire five years earlier. Fox West Coast Theatres (FWCT) purchased the site for $376,375.45 soon after the fire. Charles Skouras, the president of FWCT, requested that the theater be designed in a neo-baroque style instead of the more modern style which was typical of the late 1940s. To achieve they hired architect S. Charles Lee to design the building and Carl G. Moeller to design the interior. Newly low cost aluminium sheeting was used to create ornamentation that would have been much more expensive and harder to mass produce if created with plaster. Moeller went on to redesign a number of Fox’s pre-war theaters this way, which came to be known as “Skouras Style.

View of the auditorium from the screen.
View of the auditorium from the screen.

The 1008 seat Fox was the last theater to be constructed by 20th Century Fox before the Supreme Court Case the United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. The case, also known as the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, decreed that movie studios were no longer allowed to own theaters and hold exclusive rights on where the films they produced were shown. Even though they no longer owned the theater, 20th Century Fox often held sneak previews of upcoming films at the Fox so they could observe people’s reactions to the movies. The Fox also had a soundproof room dubbed the “cry room” so that people could bring babies to the movies without disturbing the other patrons.

Much of the projection equipment was left behind when the theater closed.
Much of the projection equipment was left behind when the theater closed.

Mr. Belvedere Goes to College” starring Clifton Webb and Shirley Temple was the first film shown at the Fox. Webb and Temple both made appearances at the premiere along with an estimated 10,000 people crowding the streets around the building. The Fox changed hands and formats a few times, switching to exploitation, and finally spanish language films before closing in 1988.

The Fox lobby and concession stand.
The Fox lobby and concession stand.

In 2009, the Inglewood Fox Theatre Alliance was formed to raise awareness and gain support for restoring the theater. Through their efforts the theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2013. It was the second location in Inglewood to be added to the NRHP after the Centinela Adobe. The building is currently for sale.

A close up of one of the original light fixtures in the lobby.
A close up of one of the original light fixtures in the lobby.
The original ticket booth has been protected from the elements by a plywood wall.
The original ticket booth has been protected from the elements by a plywood wall.
The interior of the Fox Theatre ticket booth.
The interior of the Fox Theatre ticket booth.
View from the back of the auditorium.
View from the back of the auditorium.
The marquee is also partially protected by a plywood barrier.
The marquee is also partially protected by a plywood barrier.
The concession stand has a gilt shell overhang.
The concession stand has a gilt shell overhang.

Fox Theatre Inglewood_13

Fox Theatre Inglewood_12

Road Trip 2014 Day 3

View of the auditorium from the main level.
View of the auditorium from the main level.

The Fox Theatre in Fullerton, CA opened in 1925. Designed by Raymond M. Kennedy, it was a sister theater to the Egyptian, and Chinese Theatres. The Fox closed in 1987, and was scheduled for demolition until a campaign to restore the building was launched in 2000.

Read more about the theater at: http://www.foxfullerton.org/w/

Road Trip 2014 Day 2

View from the rear of the Inglewood Fox auditorium.
View from the rear of the Inglewood Fox auditorium.

The Inglewood Fox Theatre opened on March 31, 1949. It closed in 1988, and was added to the National Historic Register in late 2012. For more info about the theater check out the Inglewood Fox Theatre Alliance: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Inglewood-Fox-Theatre-Alliance/137338472943207