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Now that 533 South Main has been discovered to be the correct address of the Optic Theatre, either the address of the Gaiety is wrong, or the Optic was known as the Gaiety at one time. As the Optic opened as the Optic about 1910, and was called the Optic when it was demolished some time after the mid-1960s, I think it more likely that the Gaiety was another name for the Olympic/Alphin/Omar/Moon theatre, which was at 523 South Main. See the recent comments at Cinema Treasures' Optic Theatre page for more details.
In February of 1971, the Century 21 was being operated by Loew’s Theatres. Loew’s also operated the Inland Cinema in San Bernardino at that time.
Interesting revelations, vokoban. Now we know that the Omar was indeed at 523 S. Main Street. As for the Moon Theatre at the same location, I doubt that it would have been a new building, as the article says that the fire in the Omar did only $500 in damage. That amount went far in 1918, but it wouldn’t account for the total destruction of a 1000 seat theatre in a substantial, three-floor building probably valued at tens of thousands.
Also interesting is the final paragraph in the May 14, 1918 article, which mentions that the Omar arsonist was part of a group which may have been involved in “…the purchase of motion picture theaters for the alleged purpose of destroying them in order to secure the insurance money.” I wonder if that indicates that the Omar was operating as a movie theatre at the time? If it was, it would justify giving it an entry at Cinema Treasures.
I don’t know if movie theatres were doing any extensive newspaper advertising in 1918, but if they were then there might be an ad for the Omar which could confirm its status as a movie house. Whatever its status may have been in 1918, though, the 1937 article suggests that, by that time, it had returned to being a burlesque theatre. (And, though it may be flippant to mention it, maybe the 1930 article does the same. Perhaps Mr. Grayson suffered his fatal heart attack as a result of over-stimulation by the bumps and grinds of some very talented striptease artiste.)
ken, the Olympic/Alphin must show in the 1917 photo you linked to in your comment upthread. Given the address of 523 S., it must have been either the Omar Theatre itself under a different name, or it was in the building next door north of the Omar (the other buildings on the block lacked the right configurations to have large theatres in them.) Using the zoom and scroll features of the USC archive, a closer view of the building next to the Omar doesn’t reveal any features that could positively identify it as containing a theatre, though.
Mr. Quinn’s interest in gardens was probably motivated by an event in April of 1917; the United States declared war on Germany. As in the second part of the world war, in the 1940’s, Americans in 1917 became concerned about the effect of farmers being drafted into the army, and there was a movement to encourage ordinary citizens to plant gardens in order to alleviate potential food shortages. As silly as Quinn’s notion of rooftop gardens downtown was (especially given the fact that Los Angeles was already a highly suburbanized city with plenty of huge back yards far more suitable for gardening), it isn’t particularly surprising. People have always come up with a lot of silly and impractical ideas when they are caught up in the giddiness which typically accompanies the onset of wars.
Though the Main Theatre appears to have been a 1960’s or 1970’s conversion from retail space,for the purposes of showing “X” rated movies, the building in which it was located dates from 1909, and was designed by the firm of Parkinson and Bergstrom, according to this page at the Parkinson Archives. (The caption on the page mistakenly gives the building’s address as 424-438 S. Spring Street, but the accompanying photograph is unmistakably of a building located on Main Street, and the theatre’s name is readable.) Despite the building’s architectural pedigree, I don’t think the theatre itself should be attributed to Parkinson and Bergstrom, unless some proof can be found that it was not a comparatively recent conversion from retail space, but the location of a theatre from the time of the building’s construction.
That Bard’s Eighth Street had a Broadway entrance is quite a revelation. The owners must have considered a presence on Broadway very valuable if they were willing to lease expensive retail space to provide one. I know that Grauman’s Metropolitan had a Broadway entrance in the 1920’s, but that theatre was several times the size of Bard’s, it’s Sixth Street entrance was a probably a hundred feet farther from Broadway than Bard’s, and the Metropolitan’s Broadway entrance probably occupied less ground floor space, as it ran mostly on the less costly second floor, entering the theatre at the mezzanine level via a bridge over the alley.
vokoban: My source for the information about Tally converting his Main Street theatre to vaudeville after six months is the American Heritage article by David Nasaw, to which I linked in my comment above. This was apparently not uncommon in the early days of movie theatres. Before 1905, there wasn’t much product available, and the novelty of the short reels of scenes and tableaux and random events which were then available soon wore off.
It wasn’t until movie producers began making comedy, drama and adventure films with at least rudimentary plots that theatres specializing in movies became financially successful. Of course, the vaudeville theatres themselves frequently ran films in those years, but they were not the main attraction. Tally was obviously persistent, though, so he probably exhibited movies in his theatre whenever there was something available that he thought would draw patrons.
It’s interesting that Tally changed the name of his theatre to the Lyric. It’s certainly a more fitting name for a vaudeville house than Electric Theatre would have been- and, if the name “TALLY’S ELECTRIC” was spelled out in capital letters, “LYRIC” was easily (and cheaply) made from the letters he already had.
Here is a photograph of Tally’s Theatre at 833 S. Broadway. The name “Broadway” does not appear on any of its signage. Judging from the dress of the women on the sidewalk, the age of the autos parked on the street, and the general new look of the building, this picture must date from the theatre’s first few years. Whether it was called Tally’s Broadway Theatre at some later date, I don’t know.
Here is an earlier photograph of Tally’s New Broadway Theatre at 554 S. Broadway. The photograph dates from 1909, according to the L.A. Public Library. This theatre has the name New Broadway clearly displayed. The location on Broadway just north of 6th is unmistakable.
Though the newspaper report quoted above by vokoban refers to the theatre at 833 S. Broadway as the “New Broadway Theatre,” It’s possible that it never actually bore that name. It wouldn’t be the first time (nor the last) that a journalist made a mistake.
Strangely enough, it was Tally’s New Broadway Theater at 554 S. Broadway which opened first, a few years before Tally’s Broadway Theater next door to Hamberger’s Department Store. The New Broadway is listed at cinema Treasures under its later name, the Garnett Theatre. The theatre next to Hamberger’s is listed here as Tally’s Broadway Theatre. There are extant photos of both theatres, with the locations identifiable by surrounding landmarks, so the names are confirmed.
Perhaps Tally called his first Broadway theatre the New Broadway in order to differentiate it from an even earlier Broadway Theatre owned either by him or by someone else. There was also a Clune’s Broadway Theatre (later called the Cameo), but it didn’t open until 1910. There have been at least four theatres bearing the name of the street, and at least two of them were operating simultaneously (Clune’s and Tally’s.)
As for this theatre at 428 S Broadway, I’ve never seen anything about its history anywhere but here. William says in his first comment that in 1924 it became the first theatre in what became the Metropolitan Theatre Circuit, but his second comment says that the theatre dates back only to the 1930’s. Magic Lantern says in comment five that it was Tally’s New Broadway from 1919 to 1925. I have no idea which of those conflicting dates is accurate, and don’t know the original sources for them.
Drat. I mean it was in the the 200 block, since it was just north of E. Third Street.
The address of 136 S. Main is incorrect. The Liberty Theatre can be seen in a number of old photographs of Los Angeles, and it was located on the east side of the 300 block of Main Street, opposite the end of West Third Street. Two photographs showing the Liberty can be seen about halfway down this page of Brent Dickerson’s “A Visit to Old Los Angeles” web site. The second photograph is of the view east along Third Street toward Main, showing the Liberty Theatre and its next-door neighbor, the Hotel Gray, at the end of the street.
Here is a 1923 photograph of 8th Street, looking east from just west of Hill Street. A corner of the marquee of the Hillstreet Theatre can be seen at the right. On the left side of 8th Street is the site of the Bard’s 8th Street/Olympic Theatre.
Though the angle of view is oblique, it does look as though the building, which then still housed a restaurant (the letters “LL” can be seen on the wall, probably the end of the “Maison Marcell” name), is the same building in the opposite view of 8th Street from Broadway in 1927, by which time the site was occupied by Bard’s 8th Street Theatre. So it appears that the restaurant building was converted to a theatre, rather than demolished and replaced with new construction.
The facade revealed in these pictures (and perhaps the interior) probably remained largely unchanged until Charles Matcham’s 1942 remodeling.
Now that I think of it, the puppet show probably wasn’t at this theatre. There was a night club, adjacent to the theatre, which (if I finally remember correctly) was called PJ’s. That’s where the puppet show was. I think the Paris was still showing movies at the time (early 1960s), but I don’t recall what type.
mujerado: You might be thinking of the Century Theatre.
Before Miller’s California Theatre was built, there was a Miller’s Theatre a few doors farther south on Main Street. It can be glimpsed in this ca1917 photograph from the USC digital archive. The theatre’s rooftop sign is just below right center of the picture, and the top of the marquee just below that. A building on the left side of the street features a large, painted ad for the theatre on its wall.
The ornate front of Bard’s College Theatre can be seen in this July, 1928 photograph of Hill Street north from 5th Street, from the USC digital archive. The building to the theatre’s left is the old California Club, at the northwest corner of 5th and Hill, demolished to make way for the 1930 art deco Title Guarantee Building. The theatre may have been demolished at the same time.
The picture is definitely 8th Street. Hill Street has always been wider, with two traffic lanes each way, and in 1927 it had streetcar tracks. Also, the picture shows a short block. The north-south blocks downtown are almost twice as long as the east-west blocks.
What a queer (1;2) name for a town!
And, another recent photo of the Bad Axe Theater, from a photostream at Flickr (I see a couple of other theaters in there, too.)
Though I know that both demolition and construction could be rapid in those days before complex permit processes and frequent inspections became the norm, that the Times article of February 3 announces the immediate demolition of the existing building on the site, and the article of April 1 announces the opening of the new theatre, means that no more than two months passed between the announcement of the project and the opening of the theatre.
True, Santa Monica’s Fox Dome Theatre was rebuilt from scratch in less than two months in 1924, but it was an exception to the rule of construction schedules several months long, even for smaller buildings such as Bard’s 8th Street. Does the Times article of April 1 give any confirmation that the theatre was in a new building, constructed from the ground up? Without clear confirmation of that, I’m wondering if maybe William Gabel’s information that the building was merely remodeled might be correct after all, despite Lou Bard’s intentions for new construction as announced in the first Times article. Maybe Bard changed his mind about building anew, and settled on a quicker and less costly remodeling.
Then there is the photograph of the theatre to which stevebob linked in his comment of Nov. 30 (mislabeled by the USC archive as having been taken from 7th and Broadway, though it is clearly 8th Street that is shown.) The style of the building’s facade seems a bit old-fashioned for 1927, but it would have been quite fashionable for 1917.
There is also the problem of the attribution of the building to architect L.A. Smith. He had died by 1926, before Bard’s intentions to build this theatre were even announced. There’s no way he could have designed the theatre from the grave, but, if this were only a remodeling job, he could have designed the original 1917 restaurant building. If this was entirely new construction, it must not have been designed by Smith.
There were probably quite a few Woodleys in Los Angeles in those days. I’ve found that Frank Woodley was the real estate developer after whom Woodley Avenue in the San Fernando Valley was named. He also spent some time as a Los Angeles County supervisor and in the state legislature. He’s also mentioned in some early histories of Hollywood, though I don’t have access to the sources themselves, only references to them, so I don’t know the nature of his activity there. Real estate development seems likely. It’s possible that he and Robert Woodley were related, but I’ve been unable to find any information about R.W. online.
Ken, vokoban must be right about the address of the Optic. It was situated right where Main Street makes that little bend, which was about mid-block. The Art Theatre, at 551 South Main, was only a few doors south of the Optic. The Burbank, at 542 South Main, was immediately south of the bend. 523 is too low a number for the Optic’s location. In fact, 523 may have been the address of the Omar Theatre, which was a few doors north of the Optic.
The only references at the L.A. Public Library Regional History database to the Woodley Theatre on Broadway give its only other names as Victory (until 1920) and Mission (1920 to demolition.) There’s no indication of when the name was changed from Woodley to Victory. I suppose it might have been called the Optic at some point.
I’m a bit surprised that Mr. Woodley owned the Olympic, assuming that this was the Olympic on 8th Street. This was a later theatre than the Woodley or the Optic, and every early reference to it I’ve seen indicates that it was opened by Lou Bard.
ken mc: The Art was south of the Optic, which was itself south of the Omar. The Art was only a few doors north of 6th Street, and its site doesn’t show in the USC Archive picture.
A comment above suggests that the first movie theatre in the world was opened by George Melies in Paris, in 1896. In fact, Melies theatre (named Theatre Robert-Houdin), which he acquired in 1888, was a live performance venue, specializing in magic acts. Melies added movies to his programs in 1896, but continued to present the magic shows as well. Theatre Robert-Houdin, therefore, would not qualify as an actual movie theatre, any more than would the many Vaudeville houses and other theatres in the United States which began including early movies as part of their programs about the same time Melies did.
Here is a page about Melies and his early work in the development of movies.
Thomas Tally’s Spring Street location was not the first theatre especially built for movies. As can be seen from the picture linked in the comment above by ken mc, this was the location of Tally’s Phonograph Parlor, which was a storefront arcade containing phonographs and primitive viewing machines through which an individual viewer could see “moving pictures” produced by means of a device which flipped through a series of still photographs on cards.
The room at the back was “Tally’s Theatre” which he opened in 1896, following the great success of the first exhibition of movies in Los Angeles, at the Orpheum Theatre (the Grand, on Main Street) earlier that year. Here is a quote from David Nasaw’s article on the early history of motion picture exhibition, published in the November, 1993 issue of American Heritage Magazine:[quote]“After two weeks of sold-out performances, the projector and its operators left the Orpheum for a tour of nearby vaudeville houses. But it turned out that theaters outside Los Angeles could not provide the electrical power needed to run the projector, so the machine was hauled back to Los Angeles and installed in the back of Thomas Tallyâ€™s amusement parlor.
“In the front of his store, Tally had set up automatic phonograph and peepshow machines that provided customers, for a nickel a play, with a few minutes of scratchy recorded sound or a few seconds of flickering moving images. Tally now partitioned off the back of his parlor for a ‘vitascope’ room.”[/quote]
It was Tally’s Electric Theatre at 262 South Main Street which was opened in 1902, and was the first permanent theatre in America built especially for the exhibition of movies. It proved not to be as permanent as Tally had hoped, though. The venture was a financial failure and, after six months of showing movies, Tally converted the house into a Vaudeville theatre.