The Los Angeles Theatre was the last (and many say the most beautiful) of all the theatres built in Downtown LA’s historic Broadway theatre district between 1911 and 1931.
The Los Angeles was designed by prolific architect S. Charles Lee (who also did the Tower Theatre just down the street and the Max Factor Building/Hollywood Museum) in the Baroque style, and the lobby was based on the Hall of Mirrors in France’s Palace of Versailles. Others have compared the look of the Los Angeles to that of the Fox Theatre in San Francisco, which was built in 1926.
The sweeping lobby is six stories high, with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, and there are all kinds of flowing drapes and crystal chandeliers and columns that give it an incredibly opulent feel. It is impressive to think that this whole theatre was built in less than six months.
It all began when independent exhibitor H.L. Gumbiner convinced William Fox (who founded the Fox Film Corporation and the Fox West Coast Theatre chain) to let him develop a theatre on a piece of land that Fox owned. Fox agreed, and Gumbiner was the one who hired architect S. Charles Lee to create the Los Angeles. However, as the Great Depression deepened, Gumbiner ran out of money.
Enter Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin’s CITY LIGHTS was a silent film, and is now regarded as BRILLIANT. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and do that now. But in the early thirties, talkies were all the rage and CITY LIGHTS had gotten some…shall we say “unfavorable” reviews and he was having a hard time finding a place to premiere it. Remember that at this time, film companies owned theatres and they would open and run the movies they had made in their own theatres.
Since Gumbiner was an independent and not tied to a studio, it was decided that the film would debut at the opening of the Los Angeles. Legend has it that Chaplin invested his own money into finishing the theatre, and in January of 1931 the film and the theatre premiered together with a huge gala. Two notable guests: Actress Gloria Swanson…and Albert Einstein!
All of this grandeur must have distracted patrons, at least for a few hours, from the nightmare of the Depression. But reality and fantasy collided even on the theatre’s opening night; there were crowds in front of the Los Angeles to see the stars, but also a crowd across the street…waiting in a breadline.
The draperies and carpets were all custom-made for the theatre in shades of deep red, gold, and royal blue. And even though the stage looks perfect for hosting a musical like PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, since the Los Angeles was built as a movie house there is not a lot of room backstage for props and to accommodate large live productions.
If you were super fancy, you may have enjoyed a film away from the general public in a box seat. But even the “cheap seats” are wonderfully detailed, and there are eight aisles on the main floor so that each row has no more than six seats. There is a balcony, too, along with offices and ballrooms and lounges downstairs. And right off of one of the ballrooms is one of the loveliest bathrooms we have ever seen, with a large “cosmetics room” full of individual vanities and mirrors and (I never thought I would type this sentence) a very beautiful row of stalls. Men always talk about how women go to the restroom in groups and then stay in there gossiping, but with a powder room this grand, why would you ever want to leave?
- Keep an eye out for Los Angeles Theatre tours offered by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
- Host a party, performance, or screening at the Los Angeles. You can also get married here!
- Visit some neighborhood spots that are also located on Broadway, like the Tower Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre, and reVamp Vintage.
Los Angeles Theatre
Los Angeles, CA 90014