All About the United Artists Saturday, December 11th

posted by nickmatonak on December 6, 2010 at 7:46 am

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation presents

All About the United Artists Theatre (1927) Docu-Tour

933 S. Broadway, Downtown Los Angeles

Saturday, December 11, 2010.

Tour phone —– 213 999-5067

LAHTF memberships are available for $25 at

11:00am —– 1:00pm —– General Public Tour – Admission $10.

A limited number of tickets will be available to the General Public

Advance Tour Tickets may be purchased at

11:30am —– Auditorium Light Show


UA History PowerPoint by Theatre Historian Ed Kesley

(featuring rare stills courtesy of Marc Wanamaker and Bison Archives)

Why Save the United Artists?

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation opens the United Artists Theatre for the first time in more than 20 years for its comprehensive All About the United Artists Theatre (1926) Tour set for Saturday, December 11. LAHTF Members-only full access tour begins at 9:30am. LAHTF memberships are $25 and will be available for purchase at the door or through PayPal at . At 11:00am the general public is invited to join the tour for $10 admission. A limited number of general admission tickets are available at Due to limited capacity, those interested in participating in this event are urged to purchase tickets in advance.

L.A.’s only theatre chain flagship, the United Artists Theatre is the theatre that Mary Pickford, Doug Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith built. Employing young theatre architect E. Howard Crane, Mary Pickford was especially active in the design and furnishings of the theatre. Having recently honeymooned in Spain, Pickford was taken with castles and churches —– particularly the Cathedral at Segovia, and incorporated a Spanish Gothic style for the theatre. Pickford’s private basement screening room will be included on the tour. Two glorious Heinsbergen murals dominate the side walls of the auditorium featuring likenesses of the great stars, directors and cameramen of the United Artists surmounted with allegorical paintings of the Triumph of Motion Pictures Over the Forces of Darkness.

After more than 20 years as the University Cathedral, the United Artists and the attached office building are currently for sale. The LAHTF views the UA as a critical element in the revitalization of the Broadway Historic Theatre District. The LAHTF seeks donors and investors to work with us in securing a theatrical future for this one of a kind landmark. Surely, there is a role for the theatre that Pickford built in the future of Los Angeles entertainment.

  • more –

Why Save the United Artists?

  • Built by the United Artists —– Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, who are featured with others in one of a kind murals in the auditorium

  • Location an anchor for Broadway Theatre District (Orpheum nearby)

  • Critical economic development element in re-establishing the theatre district

  • Architecturally, historically and culturally important — anchors South Broadway

  • Unique movie palace and office building design

  • Only flagship of a major theatre chain sited in the film capital

  • Surrounded by acres of parking

  • Office Building component aids operational economic viability' rent offsets operating expenses

  • Vacant land available (parking lot) for stage expansion and loading facilities

  • Theatre has been in continuous use, is in good repair and very usable condition

  • Unusually large Lobby space and public areas

A Non-Profit Approach to Operation –

Non-profit Ownership-Leasing/Management/Operation

Produce, Present, Lease stage and film productions

  • Raise funds from government, public and private individuals, foundations and other sources to purchase, restore and renovate the theatre. Establish operating endowment.

  • Without debt service for theatre(s) purchase and rehab, theatre may operate on a breakeven basis minimizing heavy annual fundraising.

  • Maximum utilization of theatre resource. Programming 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

  • Theatre Program Mix – Income from touring Broadway shows and concerts, film series, location shoots and other profitable programming will off set losses for music, dance, international and local programs. Keep theatre booked and active as much as possible.

(Excerpt from The Historic Theatre Dream, blogdowntown weekly, 8/12/10)

What’s the upside for a buyer to come in and lease to you (LAHTF)? Could they still turn a profit?
There are many owner/developers with strong track records in profitably restoring and rehabbing historic office buildings. On the other hand, accomplished, successful private owner/operators of for-profit historic theatres is a very short list. If a benefactor were to purchase the entire UA parcel for the LAHTF (and/or another non-profit operator) does not materialize, we’d be very interested in working out a deal with a partner to buy the property and set up a lease-purchase deal for the theatre. The developer could potentially make money on the office building piece and recoup some of the purchase price by splitting the theatre from the parcel. So, yes, it is feasible that a private investor could buy the building, lease or sell the theatre to the LAHTF, and make a profit.

How would a revived UA compete with a theater like the Orpheum? How do you get enough shows interested in coming to Broadway to keep multiple screens and stages busy?
A revived United Artists Theatre would serve more to complement the Orpheum than to compete with it. Plus, the Orpheum has about 400 more seats than the UA, which will always be a solid advantage to a for-profit promoter. The Orpheum operates strictly as a rental house – it does not produce and present shows. It rents the theatre to promoters, producers and film locations, who bear the expense of producing/promoting the event and they collect the profits or suffer the losses from the event presented. This model works for the Orpheum, but means that often the theatre is not booked for days/weeks at a time. The goal of non-profit operation of the UA (and other Broadway theatres) would be to keep the theatre overhead very low and to activate the theatre by keeping it lit and busy as much as possible. A combination of rental users, shows we produce (i.e. film series, premieres and special events), and shows the LAHTF would present or co-present with promoters, sponsors and underwriters. This fare could include a popular priced Broadway subscription series, dance – fine arts series, major speakers and all manner of music and concerts. Profitable show would subsidize shows that lose money. The key to keeping the UA overhead low is to raise money from public and private sources to fund the purchase, restoration and rehabilitation, so the theatre is brought up to modern production requirements and is bought and paid for. There’s a huge body of experience around the country that proves this concept. If freed of the debt service for purchase, restoration and re-hab, the theatre can operate on a breakeven or better basis. There are 10 more theatres to fully activate on the street. When successful at the UA, the LAHTF could take on the management and operation of several other theatres on the street using this model and the economies of scale central management and operation would afford. If all 12 theatres on the street are privately operated, who will ensure that all 12 are not dark at the same time for days or weeks? Finally, Broadway producers and promoters will go wherever they think they can make money. Thanks to Steve Needleman and the Orpheum, it has been proved that there is money to be made on Broadway’s historic stages and screens.


933 South Broadway

A Brief History

The United Artists Theatre opened on December 26, 1927. Two other movie palaces (one in Detroit , and another in Chicago, which was a remodeling) opened within a year heralding the studio’s entrance into the arena of theatre operation. The opening of the studio’s F1agship premiere house in LA marked the beginning of a theatre chain that was one of the nation’s largest. Mary Pickford herself selected the site and the architect spending so much money that the plaster cast molds had to be re-used in Detroit and Chicago to amortize their cost. Although C. Howard Crane of Detroit was engaged to design his only theatre west of Omaha (not counting Sydney, Australia), the 12 story office frontage for the complex was designed by the L.A. firm of Walker and Eisen for a long term lease by Texaco for their western regional offices. The UA Building was the tallest privately owned structure in LA until 1956, when the city finally repealed its Beaux Arts inspired “City Beautiful” concept of a 125foot height limit for everyone but City Hall. In fact, the tower on the roof exceeds that limit but squeezed through on a technicality since it was unoccupied space used to house elevator equipment, sprinkler system reservoir, and other equipment. The building permits described it as “signage.”

The style of the building was originally described as “Spanish Gothic,” a rare combination for an auditorium. Much of the plaster decoration around the building entrances and in the auditorium are copies from the Cathedral at Segovia , although the Spaniards themselves never contemplated anything on this scale. The lobby of the UA is half a block long, separating the auditorium from an adjacent office building. To mitigate the length and height of the lobby space, Crane designed two double-decked bridges to connect each balcony with a staircase on the opposite side of the lobby. The vaulted ceiling is finished in fresco murals, the only installation of its type on a west coast theatre. All mirrors in the lobby are gold-backed. Stairways at either end lead to basement lounges, a smoking room and a powder room. The smoking room was elaborately furnished in the Moorish manner and still retains its elaborate Malibu tile baseboards. Most of the original furnishings were relocated to Santa Barbara when the Fox Arlington theatre was restored as a performing arts center. The lavishness of the smoking room could probably be explained by the fact that it also functioned as a lobby for a private screening room built for Mary Pickford’s use. The screening room is also connected by passageways with the dressing rooms, and elevators from the lobby to the balconies.

Although United Artists needed a theatre to guarantee an outlet for their product, they had no intention of operating it themselves. The Publix unit of the Paramount Corporation was engaged to open the theatre, an arrangement that lasted until the depression. Always more committed to film than to the stage, United Artists discontinued stage productions here several times, but always seemed to revive them when competition got the edge with downtown stage shows. The theatre was closed briefly during the depression, then reopened to spotty attendance, due to the relatively remote location it occupied too far south on Broadway. Saddled with a 50 year lease they couldn’t break, UA decided in 1956 to day and- date first run with their Hollywood houses by remodeling the UA for 70mm Todd- AO wide screen projection. The booth was relocated from the second balcony to the main floor, a curtain and a screen were installed in front of the proscenium (necessitating the removal of some decorative elements), and the first balcony or “golden horseshoe” was removed to guarantee sightlines from the back corners of the orchestra level. The remodeling cost over $200,000. The theatre reopened with a first-run engagement of “ Oklahoma ,” which soon closed, as did the theatre. After being dark for the next 10 years, the UA reopened as a Spanish language movie house, in surprisingly good condition as a result of the wear and tear it was spared in the early 60’s.

Several notable features of the UA include the auditorium murals depicting the history of the film industry, featuring UA players, of course. The fire curtain bears an adaptation of the Shakespeare quote “The Picture’s The Thing” implying the ultimate triumph of the motion picture over performing arts. The theatre also contains one of the most ambitious lighting systems of its time, controlled by an immense 35 foot, pre-set control board. All ceiling fan vaulting is backlit, as are organ screens, illuminated in layers. The ceiling dome is indirectly floodlit, and can be adjusted to contrasting and changing color combinations. The 4 manual Wurlitzer was removed in 1955, but an orchestra pit lift still functions (outliving those at the Hollywood Pantages and downtown Paramount .)

Courtesy of the L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation

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