347 Pine Avenue,
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Opened in November, 1915, The Laughlin Theater was designed by the San Diego architect Irving Gill, a pioneering modernist whose clean, simple designs, anticipated those of the European modernists by several years. Though his work was largely inspired by Spanish Colonial architecture, particularly the Franciscan missions of California, his simplification of these forms also anticipated the Art Deco designs of the 1920s. This was certainly the case with the Laughlin Theater, built fifteen years before the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industrials Modernes, held in Paris in 1925, lent its name to the style.
The main facade of the Laughlin, along Pine Avenue, was divided into four bays, three of two floors, and a four story tower above the theater entrance. The bay on the corner of 4th Street was slightly higher than the two bays flanking the tower, and was surmounted by a dark, flattened dome of twelve segments. This dome was repeated atop the tall tower. The overall effect of the design was quite modern, the decoration being limited mostly to a few clusters of terra cotta ornament on the tower bay.
The interior of the theater was somewhat more ornate, featuring a decorative domed ceiling in the vestibule, and murals depicting “The Spirit of California” painted by the American Impressionist artist William Wendt.
Though Gill was an early proponent of reinforced concrete construction, the Laughlin was built of less durable brick and hollow clay tile. Gill may have stretched the theater’s construction budget too far, in order to make the spectacular statement of the proto-deco tower. The earthquake of March 10th, 1933 caused the tower to collapse, and severely damaged the remainder of the building, and it was subsequently demolished.
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