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Theatre Architects

Theatre Architects

Here you can find out about the architect firms and individual architects associated with the theatres featured on this website.

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John Eberson John Eberson

Born: 1875 (Chernivtsi, Ukraine)

Died: 1954 (Stamford, CT)

John Eberson was born in 1875 to Austro-Hungarian parents in Chernivtsi, in what is modern-day Western Ukraine. He schooled in Dresden in Germany and then studied electrical engineering at the University of Vienna. Having spent 25 years in various parts of Europe, Eberson immigrated to the United States at the start of the 20th Century and settled in St Louis.

In 1910, Eberson, by then married with children, moved to Chicago. From there he increased his theatrical commissions including several for the Interstate Amusement Company run by Karl Hoblitzelle.

Eberson borrowed from his time spent in various European cities to inform his “continental” theatre designs which were not only popular, but found to be agreeable for staging both live vaudeville acts and screening silent movies with live accompaniment. A good extant example is the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, which first opened in 1915 as the Austin Majestic Theatre.

In later years Eberson became synonymous with the atmospheric theatre style, with many crediting the popularity of the style throughout the 1920s to his elaborate designs. Eberson declared the Majestic Theatre in Houston, Texas (completed in 1923) as his first atmospheric theatre, however we can see in his works between the Austin Majestic (now Paramount) and the Houston Majestic that Eberson was experimenting with designs which ultimately led to the atmospheric theatre concept.

In 1926, at the opening of the Tampa Theatre in Florida, Eberson stated “My idea for the atmospheric theater was born in Florida. I saw the value of putting nature to work and so have borrowed the color and design that are found in the flowers and the trees. The inhabitants of Spain and southern Italy live under the sun and enjoy the happiness nature affords them. So I decided their architecture probably would provide the firm foundation for a theater.”

Eberson also devised a business model which saw his own studio, staffed with dedicated master plasterers, create statuary, moldings, and architectural components which he would then re-use across multiple theatres, rearranging the separate elements into different settings, thereby reducing the cost of building a theatre simply through the economics of reuse.

The model also meant that Eberson could control the quality of product from start to finish by using his own master plasterers. Construction on-site was simplified and therefore costs reduced because ready-made statues and architectural elements arrived in crated packages and just needed assembled on-site by Eberson’s traveling construction team, and then painted.

Eberson’s last atmospheric was arguably his best: the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas, designed for Karl Hoblitzelle’s Interstate Amusement Company and completed with a penthouse apartment on the top of the building designed specifically for Mr Hoblitzelle.

Eberson died after a long illness at the age of 79 in Stamford, Connecticut, and was buried at Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum in Hartsdale, New York.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

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G. Albert Lansburgh G. Albert Lansburgh

Born: 1876 (Panama)

Died: 1969 (San Mateo, California)

Gustave Albert Lansburgh was an American architect largely known for his work on luxury cinemas and theatres.

Lansburgh was born in Panama and raised largely in San Francisco. After graduating from Boys High School in 1894, Lansburgh enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley. While a student there, he worked part-time in the offices of prominent San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck. Upon graduation, he moved to Paris, where in 1901, he was enrolled in the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, earning a diploma in March 1906.

Lansburgh returned to the Bay Area in May 1906, one month after the region had been devastated by the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires. First in partnership with Bernard Julius Joseph for two years, then in his own practice, Lansburgh designed numerous buildings in the recovering city, including his first theatre for the San Francisco–based Orpheum Theatre Circuit. In his long career thereafter, Lansburgh become known primarily as a theatre architect and is known to have designed more than 50 theatres over his career, many for the Orpheum Circuit and its successor firm, RKO.

Lansburgh collaborated with Los Angeles-based architects A.M. Edelman and John C. Austin on the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, and with Arthur Brown Jr. on the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Although many of Lansburgh’s best-known works, including El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, were on the US West Coast, his personal favorite was said to have been the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (originally the Martin Beck Theatre) in New York City.

Information sourced from Wikipedia Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

S. Charles Lee S. Charles Lee

Born: 1899 (Chicago, Illinois)

Died: 1990 (Los Angeles, California)

S. Charles Lee was born in Chicago, IL, in September 1899 as Simeon Charles Levi, son of Julius and Hattie Stiller Levi, German-Jewish immigrants. Lee graduated with Honors from Technical College, Chicago, IL, in 1920, and then from the Armour Institute of Technology, Chicago, IL, in 1921.

Lee was a draftsman at prolific theatre architects Rapp and Rapp (Chicago, IL) in 1921 and was licensed by State of Illinois to practice architecture in 1922. Around the same time Lee moved to Los Angeles, CA, opening his own architectural practice there one year later.

Lee married Miriam (Midge) Zelda Aisenstein in 1927. He later married Hylda Moss, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1966.

In 1962 Lee founded the S. Charles Lee Foundation, and established the S. Charles Lee Chair, UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Los Angeles, CA, in 1986.

Included in the "International Exhibit of Contemporary Architects," staged by Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), London, UK, 1934; Lee received the Presidential Medal, Order of Vasco Nuñez Balboa, Panama’s highest order of merit in 1968. Lee was named the Panamanian Vice-Consul, Beverly Hills, CA, by President of Panama, 1963, and named Consul in Beverly Hills for Panama in 1974.

Lee’s papers are housed in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Library, Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library, Collection #1384. According to its UCLA finding aid, the collection contained "...drawings, renderings, blueprints, photographs, and surveys relating to Lee’s professional career including his work as a developer and the most prolific architect of art deco movie palaces in Los Angeles."

Information sourced from the Pacific Coast Architecture Database Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

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Meyer & Holler

Meyer and Holler, founded in 1906 as “The Milwaukee Building Company”, became known as “Meyer and Holler, Architects, Engineers and Builders” following World War I in 1923.

The company operated primarily in Los Angeles, California, and was busy designing office buildings and movie theatres during the 1920s. The company had connections with many film-related companies and significant local developers including Robert Marsh (1871-1956) and the Chapman Brothers.

The firm became overextended during the early 1930s, and a lawsuit brought by the producer King Vidor in 1932 worsened its financial straits. It declared bankruptcy in October 1932 and was reorganized on October 1934.

Mendel S. Meyer retired in 1936 but the firm continued operations until it was formally dissolved in April 1941.

Information sourced from the Pacific Coast Architecture Database Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect firm was involved:

Morgan, Walls & Clements

Morgan, Walls & Clements was an architectural firm based in Los Angeles, California and responsible for many of the city’s landmarks. The firm dates back to the late 19th century: originally Morgan and Walls with principals Octavius Morgan and John A. Walls, the firm worked in the area from before the turn of the century.

Around 1910 Morgan’s son O.W. Morgan was promoted, the elder Morgan retired, and with the emergence of designer Stiles O. Clements (1883–1966) the firm hit its stride with a series of theatres and commercial projects. Clements often worked in Spanish Colonial Revival and Mayan Revival styles, but their major project was the black and gold Art Deco Richfield Tower in Downtown Los Angeles, a commanding presence from its 1928 completion to its 1969 destruction. Walls did not live to see the completion of the building as he had died in 1922.

Clements left the firm in 1937 to start his own practice, Stiles O. Clements & Associates, where he remained until his retirement in 1965.

Information sourced from Wikipedia Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect firm was involved:

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Charles J. Phipps Charles J. Phipps

Born: 1835 (Bath, UK)

Died: 1897 (London, UK)

Phipps was born in Bath, where he married Miss Honnor Hicks in 1860 and by whom he had two sons and three daughters.

Phipps’ first major work was rebuilding the Theatre Royal in Bath in 1862/3, after the old theatre had been destroyed by fire.

Phipps later moved to London and established himself as a leading theatrical architect. London theatres he designed include the Strand, Prince’s, Lyric, Garrick, Tivoli, Daly’s, and the original Shaftesbury Theatre.

Phipps was a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, serving on its council in 1875–6, and also of the Society of Antiquaries.

Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre is considered Phipps’ best preserved work due to its lack of substantial alterations since its opening in 1883. The Theatre Royal in Glasgow was one of his largest works, and Her Majesty’s Theatre in London was his last major work to be completed during his lifetime.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

B. Marcus Priteca B. Marcus Priteca

Born: 1889 (Glasgow, Scotland)

Died: 1971 (Seattle, WA)

Priteca served an apprenticeship in Edinburgh under architect Robert MacFarlane Cameron from 1904–1909, and during this time earned degrees from the University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Art. He emigrated to the United States, where he settled in Seattle, Washington, in 1909.

Priteca met Seattle vaudeville theatre owner Alexander Pantages in 1910 and won from him a commission to design the San Francisco Pantages Theater (1911), the first of many so-named vaudeville and motion picture houses in what would become one of the largest theater chains in North America.

In all, Priteca designed 22 theaters for Pantages and another 128 for other theater owners. Notable theaters include the Coliseum (1915) in Seattle; the Pantages (1918) in Tacoma, Washington; the Pantages (1920) in Los Angeles (downtown); the Pantages in San Diego (1924); the Pantages (renamed The Orpheum) (1926) in San Francisco (downtown); the Pantages (1928) in Fresno, California; the Paramount (1929) in Seattle; the Pantages (1929) in Hollywood (the last and largest of the Pantages theaters); the Warner on Pacific Boulevard in Huntington Park (1930); and the Admiral (1942) in West Seattle, and the Orpheum in Vancouver, Canada.

Priteca also designed the 1934 Grandstand and Clubhouse of Longacres Racetrack in Renton, Washington, which operated from 1935–1994 and has since been demolished.

Pantages is said to have liked Priteca as a theatre architect for his ability to create the appearance of opulence within a less-than-opulent budget. Pantages is quoted as saying: “Any damn fool can make a place look like a million dollars by spending a million dollars, but it’s not everybody who can do the same thing with half a million”.

Priteca’s apprentices included Gregory Ain, who went on to success as a modernist architect. Ain worked with Priteca for a short time in the late 1920s and helped draw the Los Angeles Pantages.

In 1951, Priteca became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He remained active as an architect well into his eighties, working as a consultant in the design of the Seattle Opera House (1962) and the Portland, Oregon, Civic Auditorium (1968).

Priteca died in Seattle on October 1, 1971. He was posthumously awarded honorary membership of the Theatre Historical Society of America.

Information primarily sourced from Wikipedia Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

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Sumner M. Spaulding Sumner M. Spaulding

Born: 1892 (Ionia, Michigan)

Died: 1952 (Los Angeles, California)

Spaulding was born in Ionia (Michigan) into a farming family and moved to California just before turning 30. Spaulding initially worked as a draughtsman for Myron Hunt around 1921 before forming his own architect firm in 1923 and partnering with other architects the following year.

Spaulding collaborated with fellow architect Walter I. Webber on several projects including the Avalon Theatre and Ballroom on Catalina Island for chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., and two houses for prolific movie star Harold Lloyd.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

William G.R. (W.G.R.) Sprague William G.R. (W.G.R.) Sprague

Born: 1863 (Australia)

Died: 1933 (Maidenhead, UK)

Sprague was an articled clerk for Frank Matcham for four years, then in 1880 was an articled clerk for Walter Emden for three years. He was in a partnership with Bertie Crewe until 1895.

Sprague went on to design a large number of theatres and music halls, almost all of them in London. At the height of his career he showed a productivity worthy of mentor Frank Matcham, producing six theatres in Westminster in less than four years.

Unlike Matcham and Emden, Sprague studied architectural forms and conventions and used his knowledge in his designs, saying of himself that he “liked the Italian Renaissance” as a style for his frontages, but would take liberties when needed “to get the best effects”.

In 1902, the theatre newspaper The Era described Sprague as “Britain’s youngest theatrical designer, with more London houses to his credit than any other man in the same profession”.

Information primarily sourced from Wikipedia Link opens in new window.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

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Walter I. Webber

Born: 1864 (Massachusetts)

Died: 1943 (Los Angeles, California)

Webber was born in Massachusetts however was actively practicing on the US West Coast by the early 20th century. Webber collaborated with fellow architect Sumner M. Spaulding on several projects including the Avalon Theatre and Ballroom on Catalina Island for chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., and two houses for prolific movie star Harold Lloyd.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

William H. Wheeler

Born: 1874 (Melbourne, Australia)

Died: 1956 (San Diego, California)

Australian-born Wheeler was educated in Melbourne where he also studied architecture, before emigrating to Canada in late 1893. Wheeler relocated to San Francisco by 1900 however after the devastating earthquake of 1906 he moved to Tucson, Arizona, where he was the supervising architect for the Southern Pacific Railway from 1907 to 1912.

In late 1912 or early 1913 Wheeler moved to San Diego from where he would operate a successful firm for 30 years. In San Diego, Wheeler is known for the Balboa Theatre (opened 1924), the Eagle’s Masonic Hall (both the original building in 1917 and the remodeling completed in 1934), Temple Beth Israel Synagogue (1926), and All Saints Episcopal Church (1928). Wheeler also designed the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles (1922).

In the late 1920s Wheeler founded the San Diego chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). Around the same time he was appointed by the Governor of California as President of the State Board of Architecture, a title he would hold for eight years.

Wheeler was an accomplished operatic and vaudeville performer in his own right, and it is thought that his familiarity with entertainment and the arts led to some of the performance-enhancing features of the places of entertainment he designed, such as generously-sized orchestra and performer accommodations and favorable acoustics.

Theatres on this website in which this architect was involved:

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