Built in 1930, the Los Angeles Theatre was the last of the great, classic movie palaces constructed in LA’s Broadway theater district, which, at the time, boasted the highest concentration of movie theaters in the world. The area’s expansive growth reflected the public’s near insatiable demand for cinema throughout the early part of the 20th century, and afforded theatrical prominence to downtown LA before theaters like the Chinese, the Egyptian, and the Pantages began to shift moviegoing focus to Hollywood. In 1931, there were a dozen major movie theaters here within a six-block radius, with a combined seating capacity of 15,000.
With dazzling structures like the Million Dollar Theatre, the Orpheum, and the Tower already wowing neighboring audiences, independent film exhibitor H. L. Gumbiner was determined to match those opulent standards with his new theater, the Los Angeles, despite the lingering effects of the stock market’s crash one year prior. He enlisted Tower architect S. Charles Lee and property heir S. Tilden Norton to design the theater in a French Baroque style, evocative of Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles, at a reported cost of over $1 million. The Los Angeles opened on January 30, 1931, with the premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights—and actually, Chaplin provided some last-minute completion funds to make sure the theater was finished in time for his film’s opening.
Inside, the impressive, six-story lobby features enormous mirrors, fluted columns, magnificent crystal chandeliers, finely detailed, plaster-carved ornamentation, and a grand staircase leading to upper seating areas. The auditorium seats 2,000 (well, 1,967 to be exact) with three levels of orchestra and balcony seating. The original decorative curtain is a unique piece of mixed media art, as painted figurines are adorned with outfits made of real cloth and braided wool wigs. At the height of the theater’s popularity, it offered a playroom for children, a smoking room with built-in cigarette lighters, a ladies’ room with sixteen different kinds of marble, two soundproof crying rooms for upset babies, and a basement lounge with a periscoping projection system that reflected the main screen’s theatrical presentation in a more casual setting.
Today, the Los Angeles still stands, though, like many of the old movie palaces in the area, it’s used mostly for private events instead of the daily film showings and premieres upon which it built its reputation. Due to the ornate, period structure, the theater is also a popular filming location, having been seen in films like New York, New York, Man on the Moon, Charlie’s Angels, and television shows like Mad Men. The theater was also used as the basis for the Hyperion Theater in Disney’s California Adventure, which opened at the park in 2001, as seen below.
The theater’s current preservation can be attributed to the efforts of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, an organization dedicated to saving and restoring the theatrical history of the city. Check out their website or become a member to learn more about their events, including special screenings, concerts, walking tours, and broadcasts, such as their upcoming fundraiser and live Oscar viewing celebration at the Million Dollar Theatre.