Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre – Los Angeles Theatre

Jun 20, 2010 by Lisa Newton

In the heart of the Broadway Theatre Corridor is the magnificent Los Angeles Theatre. Built in 1931, the Los Angeles Theatre was the brainchild of three men; William Fox, who founded Fox Film Corporation, which still bears his name, S. Charles Lee, who designed the Tower, previous to his involvement with the Los Angeles Theatre, and H.L. Gumbiner, who worked with Lee while building the Tower Theatre.

With the help of Charlie Chaplin, who wanted the Theatre for the premiere of his movie, City Lights, construction was completed in less than six months and at the time it cost $1.5 million, making it the most expensive theatre at the time on a per seat basis. Before the construction of the Los Angeles Theatre, William Fox was struggling both physically and financially.

Designed by S. Charles Lee, the inside of the Los Angeles was modeled after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Considered one of Los Angeles’ most copious theatres, the interior is French Baroque with crystal chandeliers, an ornate central staircase, marble, gold leaf, silk damask wall coverings, and an extraordinary fountain of marble and crystal in the upper lobby. With its soaring 50 foot ceiling, the Los Angeles’ main lobby and basement lounges were designed by Lee to accommodate up to 2,000 people per showing.

If you’d like to see photos of the inside, the Big Orange Landmark has some great shots.

Inside the Theatre, the main stage drape, designed by the B.F. Shearer Company, is an unbelievable three-dimensional scene rendered in silk, depicting events in the life of Louis XIV. It’s said to be one of the two most expensive drapes ever made for a movie palace.

Lee designed the theatre with many special features for the comfort and delight of patrons, including a children’s playroom; a refreshment room with a soda fountain; two ‘crying rooms’ on the mezzanine level: where mothers and their infants could watch the show in a glassed-in booth with its own speaker, air conditioning controls and a rest room; a large cosmetics room next to the ladies toilet with individual vanities and a three-sided full length mirror; a three-chair shoeshine stand in the men’s room; eight aisles on the main floor so that there were no more than six seats in each row; and separate loge sections on the main floor separated and elevated above the other seats. Source: LA Theatre History

Three months after the Theatre’s opening, Gumbiner’s company went into bankruptcy. After a closure in late 1931, Fox gained control of the Theatre again, and operated the Los Angeles as a second-run film house until 1939, when the theatre was leased to the Metropolitan Theatres which operated several other Broadway Theatres, including the Orpheum, Rialto, Palace, and the Tower.

Continuing through World War II, the Los Angeles was a wonderful place to go, and was financially successful successful with a $30,000 gross per week.

During the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s, the theatre tried many formats, from first-run action films to adult films to Mexican films to English films with Spanish subtitles, but nothing worked. Just as with the other theatres on Broadway, the decline of the area proved too difficult to overcome.

In 1994, the Los Angeles closed its doors to hosting films, but continues today as a unique location for filming and video. From Chaplin to Charlie’s Angels II to numerous commercials, today’s Los Angeles is still hanging in there, but looking forward to heralding a new era with the Bringing Back Broadway City Hall initiative.

Here’s a time-lapse video of the Los Angeles Conservancy’s screening of Cabaret at the Los Angeles Theater:

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Architecture, Culture, Downtown, Los Angeles

2 Responses to “Sunday Afternoon at the Theatre – Los Angeles Theatre”

  1. Name says:

    We were just there last Thursday, for a Los Angeles Conservancy screening of “The Graduate.” What a wonderful place! I also recommend the book “Last Remaining Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown,” which tells the story of all theaters of that day — on Broadway and in Hollywood — with great photography:


    Lisa Newton Reply:

    @Name, I haven’t been able to attend the Last Remaining Seats performances, yet, but thanks for sharing your great experience.


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