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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