One of the things I hear the most is “Why don’t you take more photographs of the theater facades?” So while I was in Los Angeles last year for the Theatre Historical Society of America’s annual Conclave I made a point to do just that.
The Million Dollar Theatre opened on February 1, 1918. It’s one of the first movie palaces in the country and the first by Sid Grauman, who also opened two of the most famous, the Chinese and the Egyptian Theatres. CoBird, a fashion company, recently signed a lease to use the theater and the building’s storefronts.
The Los Angeles Theatre opened on January 30, 1931. It was designed by famed theatre architect S. Charles Lee and Samuel Tilden Norton. Actor Charlie Chaplin helped fund the construction so that the theater would be open in time to premiere his film, “City Lights.” Currently the Los Angeles is most often used as a location for filming in motion pictures and television. However, it is open for special events such as a Night On Broadway, and the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats.
The Arcade Theatre opened on September 10, 1910 as the Pantages Theatre. It closed in 1992, and the lobby was converted to a retail space.
The Cameo Theatre opened in October 1910 as Clune’s Broadway Theatre. It closed in 1991, and the lobby was turned into retail space. The auditorium is currently used for storage.
The Roxie Theatre opened on November 25, 1931, and was designed by architect John Montgomery Cooper. It closed in 1989, and the lobby was divided into two retail spaces. The seats were removed from the auditorium and it remains vacant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There have been changes to some of the theaters I’ve photographed over the years, so it’s time for another update.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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 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 alleged 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After a showing of Angel Heartstarring 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.
*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.
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 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.”
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.
“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 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.