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Los Angeles Theatre

Los Angeles Theatre

Architects: S. Charles Lee, S. Tilden Norton (Associate Architect)

First Opened: 30th January 1931 (89 years ago)

Status: Open for special events and filming

Website: www.losangelestheatre.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (213) 629-2939 Call (213) 629-2939

Address: 615 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014 Show address in Google Maps (new window)


Widely acknowledged as Los Angeles’ most lavish theatre, construction of this 2,000 seat movie palace took only six months and was completed in 1931. Owing to the Great Depression it was the last opulent movie palace to be built in Los Angeles. The stunning French Baroque interior heralds a particularly grand entrance lobby, modeled on the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors in France.

Featured Photos

Detailed Information

The Tower Theatre in Los Angeles, designed for H.L. Gumbiner in 1927 by S. Charles Lee
The Tower Theatre in Los Angeles, designed for H.L. Gumbiner in 1927 by S. Charles Lee

The theatre was commissioned by independent exhibitor Herman L. Gumbiner and designed by architect S. Charles Lee, who had previously designed the Tower Theatre for Gumbiner in 1927, where he replaced the earlier 650-seat Garrick Theatre with a 906-seat auditorium and retail space – a feat other architects thought impossible but which clearly impressed Gumbiner. Lee had previously worked at Chicago architect firm Rapp & Rapp (responsible for designing the Chicago, Oriental, and Palace theatres in Chicago, along with countless other movie theatres throughout the US). Samuel Tilden Norton, related to the Gumbiner family, was the associate architect.

The design of the theatre is similar to the Fox Theatre in San Francisco, built in 1926. Gumbiner had asked Lee to setup a tour of great movie palaces and the first stop was the San Francisco Fox. Upon seeing the Fox, Gumbiner called-off the rest of the tour having found the template he wanted to use for his new theatre. With an overall budget of over $1.5 million, the new theatre was the most expensive built in Los Angeles at the time on a per-seat basis. As an independent exhibitor Gumbiner believed he could challenge the big studios if his theatres were so enticing to the public that the studios would feel obliged to give him their pictures just to meet public demand. The Los Angeles theatre therefore contained many innovations and features designed to impress audiences and differentiate it from all others.

The sumptuous and spacious entrance lobby, 54ft (16.5m) in height
The sumptuous and spacious entrance lobby, 54ft (16.5m) in height

The theatre’s Front-of-House areas were designed to accommodate up to 2,000 guests waiting for the next screening. A ballroom, restaurant/refreshment room, children’s playroom, water fountain made of crystal and marble, grand retiring/restrooms, and soda fountain, were among the opulent features. The 54ft (16.5m) high Grand Lobby was a welcome departure from the cramped lobbies of other theatres.

Auditorium from first Balcony
Auditorium from first Balcony

The theatre also featured the latest technology. A large panel of indicators in the Grand Lobby told the ushers where seats were available in the auditorium, allowing patrons to be efficiently directed to empty seats. Dark blue neon lighting lined the aisles at floor level to guide patrons who needed to leave or enter the auditorium after the show had started. Originally there were no more than six seats between aisles to minimize disruption should someone need to leave their seat during a performance. For movie projections, a novel optical arrangement sent a duplicate image of the movie being projected on the big screen down to the lounge in the basement to allow staff and latecomers to follow the action. The “periscope” system was designed by Francis G. Pease, longtime assistant to Nobel Prize winner and noted physicist Dr Albert A. Michelson. Microphones in the auditorium conveyed sound to the lounge and other areas where it was desired. Soundproof “crying rooms” were located at the rear of the mezzanine for mothers with infants, and were equipped with their own dedicated speakers or choice of headphones, air conditioning, and restroom.

Ladies Cosmetics Rooms
Ladies Cosmetics Rooms

Construction was completed in the short timeframe of just six months by pouring concrete casts offsite (molds were used multiple times for repeating patterns) and simply piecing together the elements onsite. Charlie Chaplin injected funds to help speed construction along but on the condition that the theatre be open in time to premiere his latest movie “City Lights” in January 1931.

The original seating capacity was 1,949 and the current capacity is 1,937. Capacity reached over 2,000 in the 1940s when some aisles in the orchestra were removed and replaced with seats, and the orchestra pit was covered-over with seating right up to the front of the stage.

Original 1931 Act Curtain
Original 1931 Act Curtain

The elaborate act curtain was said to be one of the most expensive commissioned in its time, depicting Louis XIV, his wife, his mistress, as well as the French Army and Navy. It is constructed in silk with a three-dimensional effect called “trapunto” or “stuffed technique”, such that the figures and animals actually stand out from the curtain by a few inches to give them depth. The main figures have real wigs, the hair gently billowing as the curtain moves up or down. The act curtain can be seen in closeup detail in the YouTube video below. The original valance is also still in place and features elaborate swags and drapes in red and blue velvet and gold satin, with the seal of the City of Los Angeles (as it was in 1931) featured in the center although now very faded.

Projection Booth
Projection Booth

The theatre’s projection booth houses two modern xenon projectors however much of the original equipment is also still in situ. A third projector retains its carbon arc lamphouse, and additionally a carbon arc followspot and a working Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph survive to this day. The YouTube videos (below) include a demonstration of the Brenograph.

Although designed primarily as a movie theatre, the Los Angeles had a full stage, orchestra pit, and dressing rooms so that elaborate live prologues could be presented before movie screenings, or entire stage performances.

The theatre was originally equipped with a 2-manual, 10-rank Wurlitzer organ (Style 216, Opus 1620) which was relocated from the Tower Theatre. The organ mysteriously disappeared around 1976 and no-one knows what happened to it. “The Console”, a periodical for organ enthusiasts, noted in January 1979 that: “Recent developements [sic] in the mystery surround[ing] the disappearance of the Style 216, 2m/10r Wurlitzer from the Los Angeles Theatre disclose that the missing organ is still of concern to both Metropolitan circuit officials and the holder of the master lease on the structure. This month requests were made by the theatre chain for the opus number of the Wurlitzer for insurance purposes and to inform the Los Angeles Police Department to help identify it. No leads have turned up to give an indication [of] what happened to [the] organ”.

Basement Ballroom
Basement Ballroom

Due to the Great Depression, Gumbiner was forced into bankruptcy just three months after the theatre opened. The theatre operated under a receivership arrangement for the remainder of 1931 until it closed in December of that year. William Fox later reopened the theatre, having gained control of it through the bankruptcy courts and his ownership of the underlying land. Fox operated the theatre as a second-run movie theatre until 1939 when it was leased to Metropolitan Theatres, who started showing first-run MGM movies in 1944.

In the late 1940s, with the breakup of the studio system, management turned-over to Fox West Coast, who operated the Los Angeles until 1962. Competition with television was tough, and Metropolitan was left as the only major operator to remain in Downtown Los Angeles when they took over management of the theatre. Many formats were tried over the years including first-run action movies, Mexican, English with Spanish subtitles, and adult movies. The theatre finally closed in 1994.

Lobby featuring new carpet
Lobby featuring new carpet

Since 1987 the theatre has been owned by the Broadway Theatre Group, who also own the Palace, State and Tower theatres, all located on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles theatre is open for filming and special events such as the Last Remaining Seats summer movie season and Jose Huizar’s annual Night On Broadway event.

In late 2015 the Broadway Theatre Group commissioned replacement carpets throughout the Grand Lobby and Front-of-House areas which replicate the original 1931 carpet. This vast expense demonstrates the Broadway Theatre Group’s ongoing commitment to preserving the Los Angeles theatre for generations to come.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Movies

Television

Music Videos

Documentary

Videos from our YouTube channel:

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Los Angeles Theatre?

As of March 2017 The Los Angeles Theatre does not offer its own tours however the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats program generally uses the theatre as a venue for screening classic films at least once a year in the month of June. Pre-screening Backstage tours are often available but very limited in numbers and fill-up quickly. Check out the Last Remaining Seats website Link opens in new window for schedule and more information.

Cinespia occasionally hold movie screenings at the Los Angeles Theatre, particularly during the winter months. Check the Cinespia website Link opens in new window for upcoming events and more info. Other promoters who sometimes run events at the theatre are Spaceland Presents Link opens in new window and the Secret Movie Club Link opens in new window.

The theatre is an active participant in Councilmember Jose Huizar’s annual Night On Broadway event (usually the last Saturday in January) when the theatre is opened-up to the public for free and hosts a variety of live entertainment programming. Check out the Night On Broadway website Link opens in new window for more details.

Further Reading

Online

Books

Technical Information

Flying System
Counterweight System
Single-Purchase, for the first 15ft from Fire Curtain, operated Stage Right at Stage level
Hemp Sets
Last 10ft of Stage depth
Linesets
21 counterweight linesets downstage and 10 underhung hemp linesets upstage
General Information
Seating Capacity
1,937 (Orchestra & Loge 1,305; Mezzanine 276; Balcony 356)
Movie Projection
Projection Booth to Screen
136ft
Projectors
3 Simplex XL with Super Simplex bases; 2 with LP Associates Xenon lamphouse 4,500 watts. (The Strong 6kW lamphouses seen in the photographs below belong to the Los Angeles Conservancy)
Screen Dimensions
55ft by 27ft (top and side masking attached to frame)
Stage Dimensions
Grid Height
68ft
Proscenium Arch height
32ft
Proscenium Arch width
60ft
Stage Depth
25ft from Fire Curtain to Rear Wall
Stage Width
99ft (wall to wall)
Thrust Stage
Curved; 20ft deep from Fire Curtain at Center.
Wing Space
19ft wide by 25ft deep, Stage Right and Stage Left
Historic Photos & Documents

Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Los Angeles Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium
  2. Historic Act Drop Curtain
  3. Auditorium: Closeups
  4. Grand Lobby
  5. Other Public Areas
  6. Exterior
  7. Backstage
  8. Projection Booth
Auditorium
Historic Act Drop Curtain

The elaborate act curtain was said to be one of the most expensive commissioned in its time, depicting Louis XIV, his wife, his mistress, and the French Army and Navy. The act curtain is a traditional canvas backdrop mounted on a wooden frame, with figures made of silk using a three-dimensional effect called “trapunto” or “stuffed technique”, such that the figures and animals actually stand out from the curtain by a few inches to give them depth. The main figures have horse-hair wigs, the hair gently billowing as the curtain moves up or down. The act curtain can be seen in closeup detail in the YouTube video (above).

Auditorium: Closeups
Grand Lobby

The stunning French Baroque Grand Lobby was modeled on the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors in France. The Grand Lobby is 54ft (16.5m) high.

At the top of the grand central staircase is the mezzanine lobby which contains a 25ft (7.6m) high crystal fountain which originally flowed with water.

Other Public Areas

The various lounges, bars, and restaurant were designed to accommodate up to 2,000 people so that the whole next audience could be within the building ready to move into the theatre when the program for the current audience came to an end.

The basement lounge originally featured a screen showing the movie being projected within the theatre. An ingenious system of prisms, mirrors, and light channels guided the image down to the lounge from the projection booth.

Exterior

The theatre’s “bull nose” marquee is not original and was added in the mid/late-1930s. The angled design allowed for readerboards which were easier to read from within a car driving past the theatre.

Backstage

The Los Angeles Theatre has a very shallow stage, and only the first half of the stage has full height counterweight flying capabilities. The rear half of the stage has a low sloping roof which allows for a light well on the outside to admit light to the lower floors of the office building sited back-to-back with the stagehouse rear wall (both buildings were built by the same owner).

Projection Booth

The theatre retains its Brenkert F7 Master Brenograph, a “magic lantern” device which consists of two carbon arc projectors mounted one above the other, with their beams being projected side-by-side using a system of mirrors. An array of optical effects could be inserted into the beam path of either projector such as colored templates, words, song sheets, photographic glass slides, announcements, colored surrounds for enlivening a black-and-white movie, beam shaping, rotating effects discs, etc. Cross-fading between each projector allowed for smooth projection of these special effects either as a feature in of itself or to complement the movie being projected. Whereas most U.S. movie theatres of the late 1920s and early 1930s had a Brenograph, now only a handful survive and even fewer are in working condition.



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