Broadway Historic Theaters

The text below came from "Broadway Historical Theater District; A walking tour sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy." This brochure was published in 1986 by the Los Angeles Conservancy. Text was written by Mark Irwin, John Miller and Susan Richey, and brochure was designed by Jackie Morrow. It was made possible by grants from the Ahmanson Foundation and the Times Mirror Foundation. The original contains additional text about the history of the Broadway theaters and photographs.

Do not reproduce information from this site without acknowledgement.

Broadway, between 3rd and 9th Street, is the first and largest Historic Theater District to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, most of these theaters survive in their original forms, catering to an appreciative Spanish-speaking population.

Los Angeles' first theater district was focused around the Merced Theater at the Plaza. Flourishing from the 1860's to the 1890's, it housed visiting troupes that came to the rapidly growing frontier town. As the city expanded southward, Main Street became the second theater district (1883-1910). With the construction of the Pantages and the Palace Theaters on Broadway in 1911, the focus shifted to Broadway. The opening of Sid Grauman's opulent Million Dollar Theater in 1917 launched Broadway as a movie house district. By 1931, Broadway contained the largest concentration of movie palaces in the world.

The flamboyance, architectural grandeur and decorative opulence of the early movie theaters on Broadway reflects a unique combination of architectural history and commercial marketing. Architects were trained in European Beaux-Arts styles, drawing on a rich repertoire of antecedents ranging from Classical palaces to Baroque churches. A ticket to the show was a passport to a world of dreams and riches, royalty and spendor, that assaulted the senses from the moment of entering this enchanted realm.

Million Dollar. 307 S. Broadway, 1917. Albert C. Martin, Sr., Architect. William L. Woollett, theater designer, Joseph Mora, sculptor

Sid Grauman launched his career as a film showman in Los Angeles with the Million Dollar, said to have cost as much as its flamboyant name. On opening night, February 1, 1918, Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and other stars drove past kleig lights and a crowd two blocks long waiting to see William S.Hart in "The Silent Man." Today, business is brisk because of a Hispanic community that has made Broadway its premier retail district and supports live entertainment from the Mexican vaudeville circuit and Spanish language films.

The building was constructed for the Metropolitan Water District in the Churrigueresque style, popularized by the San Diego Panama Pacific Exposition of 1915. The firm of Albert C. Martin has produced major Los Angeles landmarks for three generations, including City Hall and the Department of Water and Power.

William L. Woollett went on to build important movie houses in Long Beach and Santa Monica; his crowning achievement, the Paramount Theater at 6th and Hill, was downtown's largest movie palace until its demolition in 1963.

Roxie. 518 S. Broadway, 1932. John M. Cooper, architect

The last major theater built downtown, it is notable for its zigzag and streamline moderne style. The Roxie was built on the site of an older theater, Quinn's Superba. By 1915, three theaters were doing extremely well just south of 5th and Broadway: Quinn's Superba, Clune's Broadway and the Pantages. They are all still in operation, although their names have changed: Clune's Broadway is the Cameo and the Pantages became the Arcade.

Like its predecessor, the new Roxie was equipped for live stage performances, but its long narrow auditorium was best suited for viewing movies. The glossy maroon and grey ticket booth is original and typically "moderne", built at a time when the theater-going audience took the Red Car downtown to hear the latest "talkie" in Los Angeles' most opulent theater district. The art deco faćade has a stepped profile rising to a central tower and zigzag surface designs.

Cameo. 528 S. Broadway, 1910. Alfred F. Rosenheim, architect

The Cameo is unique among the theaters of the Broadway Historic Theater District, and in California movie history. It is the oldest continuously operating movie theater in California. Unlike hundreds of its contemporaries, the Cameo survived almost intact from its nickelodeon days at the turn of the century. It opened as a nickelodeon called Clune's Broadway. Billy Clune was a successful Los Angeles movie exhibitor who also made films for release at his theaters at a makeshift studio on Melrose near Bronson. The Clune Studio is best remembered for its version of "Ramona," starring Donald Crisp.

Above this low scale theater is an original billboard that displayed large 24-sheet movie posters. The interior is intact today, with its original ceiling, screen and lights surrounded by Beaux-Arts Renaissnance ornament.

Afred Rosenheim was a major Southern California architect whose work included the May Company downtown (1908), the Hellman Building at 4th and Spring Streets (1903; now Banco Popular), the second Christian Science Church at Hoover and Adam (1908) and the Pompeian room in the Doheny Mansion at Chester Place. He became the first president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Arcade. 534 S. Broadway, 1910. Morgan and Walls, architects

The Arcade was originally the Pantages, named after the legendary Alexander Pantages who started his vaudeville circuit for miners working the rivers and hills of Alaska during the Gold Rush. The earliest of several Pantages Theaters in Los Angeles, Alexander Pantages' decision to locate his vaudeville house here was a primary factor in establishing the Broadway theater district. The present name refers to the Arcade Building with its midblock arcade between Broadway and Spring Street. However, the name "Pantages" is written in concrete over the marquee.

Originally designed in the English music hall style, the Arcade has undergone extensive exterior remodeling. However, the auditorium is largely intact and boasts a cast plaster ceiling constructed as a suspended shell with a basketweave patterned surface. Terrazzo sunburst designs created in the thirties are embedded in the sidewalk. Composed of marble or granite chips pressed into mortar and brightly polished, elaborate and colorful terrazzo designs still grace the front sidewalks of many buildings on Broadway.

Morgan and Walls also designed the Globe Theater on Broadway, and went on to become pre-eminent Los Angeles theater architects in collaboration with Stiles O. Clements. Their work includes the Mayan, the Belasco, the Hollywood Paramount and the Wiltern theaters.

Los Angeles. 615 S. Broadway, 1931. S. Charles Lee, architect

Designed by S. Charles Lee, one of Los Angeles' most gifted theater architects and technological innovators, this was the last movie palace built on Broadway. It was constructed in 90 days for H.L. Gumbiner at a cost of more than $1 million. Completed for the premiere of Charlie Chaplin's silent film "City Lights," opening night ceremonies contrasted starkly with a Depression breadline across the street. The theater became the Fox Studio's leading downtown theater in 1932.

Designed in the style of the Fox Theater in San Francisco, tragically demolished in 1962, its opulence reflects the glories of Versailles. The narrow lobby space is illusionistically widened by the use of mirrors, flanked by colossal marble columns and gilt ornament, set off with bronze bannisters and sumptuous crystal chandeliers. The central staircase culminates in a crystal fountain and Heinsbergen mural. Designed as a grand sequence of spaces encased in rich ornament, the theater abounds with decorative extravagances including colorful marble bathrooms and a paneled lounge and restaurant.

The auditorium ceiling is crowned by a lunette containing Heinsbergen trompe l'oeil murals. Tall arches along the sidewalls resemble those in the lobby, while the plaster decorative is backlit for colorful effects. Seating 1800 in rows originally no more than five seats across, the Los Angeles was a grand finale to the movie palace era on Broadway.

Palace. 630 S. Broadway, 1911. G. Albert Lansburgh, architect. Domingo Mora, sculptor

The oldest surviving Orpheum theater in the world once showcased the nation's greatest vaudeville stars. Singers, dancers, comedians and animal acts filled the eight-act programs, which were presented twice a day. With the Orpheum circuit playing at the Palace and the Pantages circuit at the Pantages Theater (now the Arcade), Broadway's future as Los Angeles' premier theater district was assured.

Styled after a French Renaissance palace, the brick and concrete building features rich sculptural decoration and figures in tinted terra cotta. Four figures represented the muses of vaudeville: song, dance, music and drama. Domingo Mora, the sculptor, was the father of Joseph Mora who later decorated the Million Dollar Theater.

The name was changed to the Broadway Palace in 1926 when the new Orpheum opened below 8th Street.

Loew's State. 703 S. Broadway, 1921. Week and Day, architects

Because of its prime location at downtown's busiest intersection during the twenties, Loew's State was Broadway's most successful theater, with entrances from both 7th Street and Broadway. During its early vaudeville days, Leow's featured its own orchestra, chorus line and the Fanchon and Marco vaudeville troupe. In 1929, Judy Garland made some of her first appearances on stage as a member of the singing Gumm Sisters.

Built in steel and concrete faced with red brick veneer and stucco, its styling is Spanish Renaissance.

On August 7, 1963 it became a Spanish language movie house, premiering Cielo Rojo for the growing Hispanic community that was making its entertainment and retail home on Broadway.

Globe. 744 S. Broadway, 1913. Morgan and Walls, architects. A. F. Rosenheim, theater designer

Theatrical producer Oliver Morosco (who went on to produce plays on New York's Broadway) opened his first theater in Los Angeles for legitimate plays, a novelty for Broadway which contained mainly vaudeville houses. Leo Carrillo played here with Edward Everett Horton and the Henry Duffy Players, and the marquee featured a new show every week. Later, this became Los Angeles' first newsreel theater. It has undergone many names and identity changes since it opened: the Morosco, the President, the Newsreel and the Globe. However, the interior is completely intact, with the oldest remaining suspended plaster ceiling, two balconies, rectangular proscenium and cove lighting.

Morgan & Walls was the oldest architectural firm in Los Angeles, responsible for major buildings downtown such as the I. N. Van Nuys Building, 7th and Spring; the W. P. Story Building, 6th and Spring; and he Pantages (now Arcade) Theater on Broadway.

Tower. 802 S. Broadway, 1927. S. Charles Lee, architect

This was S. Charles Lee's first theater, completed when he was only 27. This site was only a 50-foot lot and was south of the major business district. The architectural solution was to build a tower, visible as a landmark, and to develop an ingenious floor plan accommodating 1,000 seats.

The design blends various architectural sources: Spanish Baroque, Moorish and French Baroque. The exterior surfaces are glazed terra cotta, with indirect lighting. The exterior sculpture features male directors (clothed) and female actresses (nude). The stained glass windows, best seen from inside, depict the art of film. The lobby contains painted plaster, custom designed chandeliers and trompe l'oeil painted on marble. The auditorium carries elaborate richness to further heights.

During construction, the theater was modified to accommodate the new "talkies," and opened with the Los Angeles premiere of "The Jazz Singer."

Rialto. 812 S. Broadway, 1917. O. P. Dennis, architect

Built as a nickelodeon by J. M. Quinn, one of Los Angeles' first theater entrepreneurs, the Rialto was bought by Sid Grauman in 1919. It was remodeled by William L. Woollett at that time.

The Rialto, with its two-story pink stucco faćade, was recently upgraded to meet the city's seismic code. The theater seats 1,000 and features Spanish language films. Its marquee is not original-none of Broadway's marquees are. Nor is it box office. Both marquee and box office were generally small, ornate stylish boxes set forward towards the street, complementing the flickering neon of theater marquees.

Orpheum. 842 S. Broadway, 1926. G. Albert Lansburgh, architect

In 1926 the Orpheum Circuit commissioned noted theater architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design his second Broadway Theater, following their earlier theater (now the Palace) in 1911. This French Gothic fairytale was the fourth and final home of the Orpheum Circuit vaudeville chain in Los Angeles.

Lansburgh was one of the country's most successful theater architects, commanding fees of $50,000 at a time when many professionals earned $5,000 a year. His concentrated his time and efforts on the interiors.

The theater experience begins with the marble terrazzo floor which extends out to the sidewalk, the polishes brass doors and the ticket booth. Entering through grand archways, the ornate lobby is filled with rich detail and gorgeous materials; note the marble walls, bronze railings and light fixtures. The lobby is relatively restrained in comparison to the theater auditorium, styled after the late French baroque. Décor includes Scalamandre silk wall coverings, custom wool carpets with the Orpheum standard fleur-de-lis and immense crystal chandeliers. Much of the later work is gold leaf and stenciled, creating rich luminescent effect with low and indirect lighting.

Opulent stage shows were accompanied by a 17-piece orchestra and the last great organ installed on Broadway. In 1932, [Orpheum] became a movie theater, and was taken over by Metropolitan Theater in 1933, which now controls most of Broadway's major theaters. The marquee is not the original, but dated from c. 1936, possibly by B. Marcus Priteca, another famous theater architect.

United Artists. 933 S. Broadway, 1927. Walker and Eisen, architects. A. Howard Crane, theater designer

The United Artists was the only theater on Broadway built as a flagship house by a major studio. It is a grand picture palace in flamboyant Spanish Gothic style, with a dummy tower to circumvent the local height restriction of the time-the tower is a detached 50-foot high "sign" erected on stilts. The United Artist/Texaco building was the city's tallest privately owned building for 20 years.

The theater was financed by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin, whose portraits appear on interior murals inside the auditorium. Gothic tracery shoots vertically up the building's faćade, accented by pointed Gothic arches. Gotesqueries appear in the terra cotta ornament, depicting the film industry. The narrow lobby continues the Spanish Cathedral form, with vaults and frescoes painted by Anthony Heinsbergen. The ornate stained glass window patterns were originally repeated in the carpet design. Hand railings are hand-carved teak wood. The auditorium drips with gothic tracery, whose dazzling effect is enhanced by tiny glass mirrors and hanging prisms. The wall murals feature United Artist players, and also the faces of the Board of directors affixed to youthful bodies.

Walker and Eisen were noted for richly decorated building constructed downtown in the twenties, particularly the Fine Arts Building and the Oviatt Building.

Back to Historic Core of Los Angeles ||| Buildings in Downtown Los Angeles