Earl Carroll Theatre
In Los Angeles, the film business might be going strong, but some of the city’s oldest movie theatres are fighting for survival. Often designed with palatial interiors, some now function as churches,, public meetings and some as shops.
Thanks to non-profits like the Los Angeles Conservancy – showcasing films in historic theatres through its ‘last remaining seats’ initiative – and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (LAHTF), cineastes can still watch movies inside some old-world gems.
These organisations are working to preserve and restore. Recent triumphs include saving the Earl Carroll Theatre (1938) on Sunset Boulevard. Current campaigns include efforts to revive the Hollywood Pacific Theatre (1928) where Al Jolson served as master of ceremonies.
One of six cinemas used by the LA Conservancy to screen films, this year, the State Theatre opened in November 1921 as the Loew’s State, showing A Trip to Paradise. The building’s interior includes a fire curtain depicting a fantasy city with towers topped by onions.
Spanish Renaissance in style, and boasting a decorative Spanish Rococo ceiling, it was designed to be the largest theatre on Broadway (in terms of audience capacity). Its structure is incorporated into a 12-storey Beaux-Arts building.
The State was acquired by Metropolitan Theatres in 1963, continued to show films until 1997, and was also used for some live performances. It was then occupied by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God for the next two decades. The LAHTF made possible the first public access to the State in 20 years, in April 2018, ahead of its renovation.
Million Dollar Theatre
Sid Grauman’s first big theatre opened in 1918 as Grauman’s, but was renamed the Million Dollar a few years later to reflect its price tag. Albert C Martin Sr designed the 12-storey building to exemplify the Churrigueresque style, named after Spanish church architect, José Benito de Churriguera. It also served as a church at one point.
Today, the Million Dollar Theatre is part of the Grand Central Square revitalisation project, which includes the historic Grand Central Market and apartments.
“Currently closed for regular operations, the Million Dollar was the first movie palace to open on Broadway,” says Escott O Norton, executive director of LAHTF. “The current tenants have plans to renovate and operate the Million Dollar. There is great potential for this end of Broadway to become a major focal point in Downtown. The Million Dollar should be a big part of that revitalisation.”
United Artists Theatre
The Theatre at Ace Hotel or the United Artists Theatre encapsulates the era of film’s golden age through mythical detail and richly-coloured murals. Built in 1927 with Spanish Gothic influences, the United Artists Theatre boasts 1,600 seats and a grand, three-storey lobby with a 35-feet- (11m)-high ceiling.
Silent film star Mary Pickford originally selected the site and architect, and spent a fortune on the property. The United Artists Theatre stayed active as a venue for the arts until 1989. After a renovation, the theatre reopened in February 2014.
Los Angeles Theatre
The Los Angeles Theatre cost about a million dollars to construct in 1931 when architect, S Charles Lee, designed it in a French Baroque style.
This theatre’s facade rises five storeys high, and is decorated with large columns and lavish detail, with an interior said to have been modelled on the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles.
Charlie Chaplin contributed to funding construction so that the theatre could open in time to premiere his film City Lights. The building features unusual amenities, including sound-proofed rooms for parents with restless children, an electronic monitor that calculates the number of available seats, and a basement lounge with a system of prisms that allows patrons to watch a film from different angles while socialising.
The Orpheum Theatre is one of LA’s most significant landmarks, known recently for its stints with American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.
Previously, the theatre hosted stars like Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald. The Orpheum Theatre opened its doors in February 1926, and adapted to the popularity of motion pictures by installing a Wurlitzer organ to accompany silent films in 1928.
“The Orpheum theatre was one of the first theatres on Broadway to receive a renovation in recent years. Owner Steve Needleman spent millions of dollars bringing the Orpheum back to its current elegant condition,” says Escott O Norton.
“The Orpheum is also the last Broadway theatre to have a working Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. In the last year the owner expanded the lobby space by opening the Orpheum Club in an adjacent store front.” (Credit: Don Solosan/ LAHTF)
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse is in the county of Los Angeles, and was constructed in 1927 to showcase John Steven McGroarty’s Mission Play.
The playhouse was influenced by the Spanish style and includes Spanish, Mexican, and Native American elements but after 3,198 performances, the failure to produce a show during the Depression in 1932 ended the long run of the playhouse.
The venue then became a movie theatre, and its dressing rooms were converted into apartments in order to combat a housing shortage during World War Two.
The building is now a venue for graduations, public meetings, film shoots and performances. (Credit: Wendell Benedetti/ LAHTF)
In 1911, the Palace Theatre opened as the third Orpheum theatre in the United States. The venue hosted many early stars until the 1926 move to its final location at Ninth Street and Broadway.
G Albert Lansburgh designed the theatre and styled it with a Florentine, early Renaissance facade and a French interior, with four panels depicting the muses of vaudeville: song, dance, music and drama. The theatre originally had a capacity of nearly 2,000 seats, but now holds about 1,000 after renovations in the 1930s.
“Many original items for the vaudeville days are still visible,” says Norton, “including a trap door used by Houdini and an animal lift to take livestock down to the dressing rooms from the stage. And it’s one of the last theatres in Los Angeles with working footlights.” (Credit: Wendell Benedetti/ LAHTF)
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre
The opening in 1927 of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was a big occasion in movie history. Cecil B DeMille’s The King of Kings premiered that night, and the theatre opened the following day to the general public.
Having built the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, Sid Grauman he then developed his ambitious plans for this two-million dollar project with architect Raymond Kennedy.
Chinese poet and film director, Moon Quon, supervised the creation of statues that eventually decorated the interior, and in 1968, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was declared a historic-cultural landmark. Restoration projects are in place to maintain its beauty, and in 2013 Grauman’s Chinese Theatre announced it was teaming up with TCL (The Creative Life) as part of a 10-year naming rights partnership.
“Grauman’s masterpiece, now called the TCL Chinese Theatre, was carefully renovated under the watchful eye of preservationists like LAHTF,” says Norton.
“It is now a state-of-the-art laser digital IMAX theatre. The Chinese Theatre is where the red-carpet premiere was invented, and the TCL Chinese still hosts some of the most lavish world premiere events.” (Credit: Wendell Benedetti/ LAHTF)
Tower Theatre was the first theatre designed by architect S Charles Lee, seated 900 people, and was created in the Renaissance-revival style, with French, Spanish, Moorish and Italian elements.
Its exterior features a clock tower, though the very top of this structure was removed after an earthquake. Tower Theatre opened in 1927 with the silent film The Gingham Girl.
It was the first Los Angeles theatre to be wired for talking pictures, and it was the location for the LA premiere of the 1927 revolutionary part-talking film The Jazz Singer.
In 1950, the theatre began running only newsreels, taking on the name Newsreel Theatre. It has also been known as the Music Hall Downtown. In 1965 the theatre adopted its lasting namesake, as it became a popular location throughout the 1990s for film production.
“The lobby is modeled after the Paris Opera House, and includes a huge, stained-glass window,” says Norton. “The Tower opened with the early sound films, but also featured some vaudeville on its tiny stage. The performers used to say that they would hit the rear wall of the stage when taking a bow.” (Credit: Mike Hume/ LAHTF)