842 S. Broadway,
64 people favorited this theater
The Orpheum Theatre was opened February 15, 1926 as a vaudeville theatre. Actress Ruth Chatterton topped the bill appearing in a stage presentation of “The Conflict”. Also on the bill were British comics Nervo & Knox and the latest Pathe News was shown on screen. It was the fourth and final Orpheum Theatre to be opened in downtown Los Angeles. The first was the Grand Opera House/Grand Theater, 110 S. Main Street (1884-1937), Los Angeles Theatre/Orpheum Theatre/Lyceum Theatre, 227 S. Spring Street (1888-1941) and Orpheum Theatre/Palace Theatre, 630 S. Broadway (1911-current). (all theses have their own pages on Cinema Treasures). Again favored architect of the Orpheum circuit G. Albert Lansburgh designed the 1926 Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles, his last contract for the company as he had a falling-out with them during its construction. The 12-story office building fronting it is just that, an office building devoid of any decorative features, but the theatre does have an enormous roof sign on top, which before other tall buildings were built downtown, could be viewed from a great distance. The wide, open lobby entrance has a high vaulted ceiling, hung with chandeliers, and originally the bronze double pay-box was located against the back-wall.
Through the entrance doors and into the main lobby which is quite small for the size of the theatres' capacity. But it is highly decorated in a French Renaissance style with white marble wall finishes up to the mezzanine level, where there is an open balcony with arches surrounding the area on three sides. Five huge bronze & crystal chandeliers hang in the ceiling and large statuesque figures in bronze of bare breasted women holding a flambeaux are located at the stair-ends. Beneath the lobby is a large waiting lounge which in days gone by also doubled as a tea lounge. It is decorated in oak panels with a mock stone fire-place, although the space has now been stripped of its plush oak tables & chairs.
The sumptuous 2,350-seat auditorium is again decorated in a French Renaissance style with two huge bronze & crystal chandeliers hanging from the highly decorated ceiling which is surrounded by a hidden lighting trough. Three boxes on each side of the 54ft wide proscenium arch step down the side-walls from the single balcony, which is supported underneath by Gothic fan vaulted columns; Above these boxes are the intricate designs on the organ screens hiding the organ chambers on either side. The drapes over the arches and the pelmet draperies within the top of the proscenium opening are the original ones installed in 1926. Under the balcony are great round stained glass panels that are illuminated from within to provide atmospheric lighting to the area which is decorated in gold leaf and stencil designs. The stage is 29 foot deep
The Orpheum Theatre was opened as a two-a-day vaudeville house and featured top stars of the day, and it was one of the most lavish theatres on the Orpheum Circuit. Just over two years after the theatre was opened, a Wurlitzer 3 manual 13 ranks organ was installed, first played by organist Newman R. Alton on 8th April 1928. (Later a Post Horn was added to the instrument making 14 ranks). It was operated by Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO) from 1929 and full time vaudeville was discontinued when the theatre was equipped for showing movies to supplement vaudeville acts on the stage. A projection booth was installed at the rear of the balcony at this time. On December 25, 1929 the World Premiere of the RKO movie “Hit the Deck” starring Jack Oakie was held at the Orpheum Theatre. The vertical Orpheum sign was installed on the front of the building in 1930. But the Depression was starting to hit deeply and the theatre closed down in 1932. The ‘dark’ theatre was taken over by Sherrill Corwin in September 1933 and his dream was to present high-class stage shows with movies. The company he formed was Metropolitan Theatres, who operated the theatre until 1964. The original marquee was taken down in 1941 and the spectacular neon lit marquee we see today was installed. The design of the new marquee was attributed to the Pantages Circuit architect Benjamin Marcus Priteca.
In the early days Jack Benny was the MC of the stage shows which attracted such stars as; Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, Will Rogers, Burns & Allen, the Marx Brothers, Olsen & Johnson, Edger Bergen, Red Skelton, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne & Sammy Davies Jr. plus many of the big bands of the 1940’s such as Count Basie & Duke Ellington. During this period special ‘Star Nights’ were a popular event every Monday evening, when a star of the feature film was introduced to the audience from the star box at the side of the proscenium. The stage show & movie policy lasted until 1952 when stage shows were dropped in favor of double feature movies. The 17-piece orchestra was made redundant and the Wurlitzer organ was rarely used and eventually became unplayable. The stage was used on occasions in the 1960’s when the Old Vic Company came over from London, England to present Shakespeare. Franco Zefferelli mounted a pre-movie production of “Romeo and Juliet” and the D'oly Carte Opera Company came over from England with some Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Following a production of the Richard Rogers musical “No Strings” starring Howard Keel, the stage went dark and the six floors of dressing rooms became storage areas.
In the mid-1970’s the theatre began a policy of showing general release films dubbed into Spanish. Work commenced in 1979 to restore the Wurlitzer organ by dedicated volunteers of the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society and it was de-dedicated on 21st February 1982 with a concert by organist John Ledwon. In 1989 The Friends of the Orpheum Theatre was formed to help promote the theatre, organise special events and keep it maintained. The Orpheum Theatre can be seen in many films which have used it as a location over the years which include: Barbra Streisand in “Funny Lady”, Arnold Schwarzenegger “The Last Action Hero”, Val Kilmer “The Doors” and Johnny Depp “Ed Wood” and the Austin Powers movie “Goldmember”. TV movies filmed here include; “Murder She Wrote”, “Hart to Hart”, “Return to Oz”, “The Jackson Family Story”, “The Frank Sinatra Story” and Bette Midler in “Gypsy”. The stage was also brought back to use with productions by the “Moscow Dance Theatre”, “The Joffrey II Ballet” and concerts by chamber orchestras from Vienna, Amsterdam & Prague. All this was happening in the theatre as well as its usual continuous daily screenings of movies in Spanish with English sub-titles until on 31st December 2000 the theatre was closed for an extensive $3 million refurbishment funded by the owner since 1964, Steve Needleman of ANJAC Fashion Buildings. It reopened in November 2001, with the rooftop sky-sign refurbished and re-lit after many years being unused. There was still more work to be done and a $4 million restoration in 2003 completed the job.
Today, the theatre’s auditorium, lobby and foyers are matched by its expansive balcony. Stunning at every turn, its downstairs wood panelled foyer recalls a more elegant time when going to a movie theatre meant going out on the town. Audiences again can thrill to the delights of this most beautiful theatre and listen again to the sounds of the mighty Wurlitzer organ, the only one in Los Angeles still playable in its original location. The organ console has now been moved from its orchestra pit elevator and is stored when not in use in a room off stage.
The Orpheum Theatre is a venue for concerts and legitimate theatre and for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Last Remaining Seats” classic film series held every summer.
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater