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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.