The State Theatre opened as Loew’s State in November 1921 and was their west coast showcase movie theatre, later becoming the downtown Los Angeles home for first-run MGM movies. It is the largest theatre on Broadway by audience capacity (originally 2,450, now 2,387).
The State was designed by Charles Peter Weeks and William Day, of architectural firm Weeks & Day, in a Spanish Renaissance style, and is incorporated into a splendid 12-story Beaux Arts style office block called the United Building. Situated at the intersection of downtown Los Angeles’ busiest retail streets of the early 1920s, the building extends half a block along 7th St and one-third of a block along Broadway, and is the city’s largest brick-clad building. The theatre originally boasted two marquees with entrances on both Broadway and 7th, however the 7th St entrance was closed in 1936. The theatre’s marquees were originally simple bronze canopies with single-line lettering but were later replaced with more elaborate two-line marquees. The surviving marquee was installed in 1949.
At the time of the State’s opening the theatre’s projection booth boasted a feature which Loew’s proclaimed as unique: a “shower bath”, with hot and cold water, for the projectionist! A vacant “seat call” system was installed, designed by the theatre’s manager Nat Holt and stage director W. F. Scott, known as the Holtscott system. In 1927 the State advertised that its new refrigeration plant (air conditioning) system was now in operation.
In 1925 the State’s original Moller organ was replaced with a 3-manual, 13-rank Wurlitzer organ, and at the same time the vaudeville operation was turned-over to Fanchon and Marco. The State became one of their flagship venues alongside the Paramount, further up the street.
In 1929 a Bakersfield act called The Gumm Sisters played at the State, featuring a lead singer who earned the nickname “Leather Lungs” due to her ability to be heard clearly at the rear of the 125ft deep auditorium. As the Great Depression took hold and vaudeville declined (vaudeville ceased at the State in the mid 1930s) the Gumm Sisters moved to Culver City to appear in experimental Technicolor musicals, and “Leather Lungs” changed her name to Judy Garland.
Operation of the theatre was turned-over to United Artists in 1941 and the theatre’s name changed to the State Theatre. In 1963 the State was acquired by Metropolitan Theatres and it featured many general release movies dubbed into Spanish. Metropolitan Theatres closed the State in 1997.
The auditorium is vast and virtually square in shape, with a lavish Spanish Rococo style ceiling. A particular highlight is the Billiken figure occupying a niche above the center of the proscenium arch (the Billiken, as a good luck charm, sprang from the height of the “Mind-Cure” craze in the United States at the start of the twentieth century). The State also boasts a quite sensational fire/safety curtain, by Armstrong-Powers, depicting a futuristic fantasy city of onion-domed towers surrounded by planets and comet trails.
The State has been used as a filming location several times, and for its role as New York’s Bowery Theatre in Wild Bill (1995) the production company re-draped the proscenium arch with swags and soft decorations which remain in place to this day.
The State is owned by The Broadway Theatre Group, who also own the Palace, the Los Angeles and Tower theatres, all on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. It is currently leased to church group Cathedral Of Faith until late 2017.
Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances
Gypsy (1993) . The theatre can be seen in the audition scene for the Orpheum Circuit at Mr Grandziger’s theatre.
The Los Angeles Theatres website has lots of information on The State including a huge number of photographs spanning many years, and a complete history of the theatre since its opening in 1921. This is currently the only way to see what the basement (previously a restaurant) and backstage areas look like.