Palace Theatre

630 S. Broadway,
Los Angeles, CA 90014

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Palace Theatre - Los Angeles, CA

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Opened June 6, 1911 as the Orpheum Theatre presenting vaudeville. This was the third Orpheum Theatre to open in downtown Los Angeles, and it is now the oldest surviving building in the USA that was built for the original Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. Designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh, assisted by Robert Brown Young, it is fronted by an office building that has a six story exterior loosely based on a Florentine early piazza, believed to be modelled on the Casino de Municipale in Venice, Italy. Built in brick and concrete, the façade is notable as incorporating the first use in Los Angeles of polychrome terra cotta as a decorative medium, here depicting multi-coloured swags, flowers, fairies and theatrical masks. At first floor level four panels depicting Song, Dance, Music and Drama – the muses of vaudeville – were sculptured by Domingo Mora, father of Joseph Mora who sculptured figures on the nearby Million Dollar Theatre. The name ‘Orpheum’ was sculptured into the stonework above the entrance.

Inside the auditorium, seating is provided on orchestra, balcony and, unusual for a normally tolerant Los Angeles, there was a second balcony with its own separate entrance that was for the use of African-American patrons only. The balconies are supported by slender posts, and when first opened there were four pairs of boxes on the side walls next to the proscenium. The decorative style of the auditorium is French Renaissance, and has remained unaltered over the years, apart from the removal of the boxes when it became a full-time cinema in the 1930’s. In their place are two large framed oil paintings by Anthony Heinsbergen in a French style. A Smith 2 manual 16 rank organ was installed at this time, and the second balcony was opened up to the general public in the 1930’s, but it has not been in use in later years. The ‘modern’ style neon lit marquee was another 1930’s addition to the Orpheum Theatre.

The Orpheum Theatre attracted many stars to appear on its stage, including: W.C. Fields, Sarah Bernhardt, Will Rodgers and Harry Houdini, as well as some of the greatest animal acts in vaudeville. When the new Orpheum Theatre was built further along Broadway in 1926, this theatre struggled along for a few years as a second house, known as the Orpheum-Palace Theatre. After conversion to movies it was operated for a time in the early-1940’s by Sol Lesser’s Principal Theatres Corp. of America as the Palace Newsreel Theatre.

Later taken over by Metropolitan Theatres it was occasionally used for film shoots which included “The Frank Sinatra Story” (a TV movie), the Bette Midler version of “Gypsy” and Steven Seagal in “The Glimmer Man”. It played out its final years as a movies theatre showing general release films with Spanish sub-titles until it was closed in late-2000. It was the last operating cinema in the downtown area, and the original silent movie screen still hung in the stage fly-tower. The fate of the Smith organ is unknown.

The Palace Theatre was then open for special events and all sorts of location filming. Last seen in the movie “Dreamgirls”(2006). In 2010, work began on a $1 million restoration, and the Palace Theatre reopened in June 2011 as a live show venue, with occasional film screenings.

The Palace Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 119 comments)

Homeboy on July 16, 2012 at 8:18 pm

The following appeared in the July 15, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“With $1-million restoration, the show goes on at Palace Theatre”

The Palace Theatre is indeed a place fit for royalty. Massive murals lord over the auditorium. Cornucopia moldings hang over the exits. And frescos cover the theater’s domed ceiling, a homage to an era when going to a show was truly a glamorous affair.

“It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?” David Linderman said as he sat in one of its plush seats. “It’s more of a palace than a theater.”

Linderman drove in from Moorpark with his wife for a public tour Saturday by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, which surveyed every nook of the theater, which had its first performance on June 26, 1911. (It was known as the Orpheum then, a vaudeville stage, where Joseph Hart’s “The Little Stranger” and “Musikal Girls,” were among the acts in the first show.)

The owners of the Palace Theatre, a name it adopted not long after, completed a $1-million renovation last year to restore the luster lost to time and inattention. The Palace is one of four historic theaters on Broadway in downtown purchased by the late real estate magnate and philanthropist Ezat Delijani, whose family continues to maintain and restore them. The family also owns the Los Angeles, State and Tower theaters.

The Palace had faded to a dismal state, said Ed Kelsey, who led the renovation. Leaks in the roof let water trickle in, causing severe damage throughout the building. It had become so humid inside that the paint was peeling. And coats of paint, layers of flooring and new fixtures added over the years, until the theater was closed in 1999, had lacquered over the original craftsmanship.

To reveal what had once been there, the renovation became something like detective work.

Sometimes it required incredible precision: A team had to examine an old photo with a microscope to spot the pattern on the wallpaper so they could re-create it; for the carpet, one person had to scrub off years of wear and dirt until the design was evident. Untangling a skein of electrical wiring from 1911 was certainly a tedious chore.

At other times, they had to be blunt objects, breaking through walls and floors to find the treasure underneath. “Hit it with a hammer and see what’s inside,” Kelsey said. They discovered the original tiled entryway in the lobby and wood panels in the gentlemen’s lounge. A bannister of concrete had a brass handrail inside.

“What a job! What a job! Look at the detail work,” Carole Koenig, 60, said as she examined the molding. “The kind of quality craftsmanship, they don’t make anymore.”

On the tour, the guides showed how the building had evolved in its various iterations: It originally had box seats, but those disappeared with the introduction of talking movies. It had an organ, and then it didn’t. There had once been an orchestra chamber, but now it was gone. And the instrument room didn’t originally have a functioning toilet right by the door.

Other stops included a ladies' lounge with a window overlooking the entrance so that women could spot their dates, outdoor stairs to the upper-level galleries used at a time when the theater was segregated.

“They’re not dead,” Koenig said of the theaters. “They’re living pieces of architecture for people to continue using in new ways.”

Linderman, 54, loves the old theaters. He even sat through a Spanish-language church service once just to see the State Theatre, also on Broadway.

“It gives you a reason to come down, to see things other than closed buildings, wondering what it was,” Linderman said of the renovation of the Palace Theatre, which once hosted entertainers ranging from Fred Astaire to Houdini.

A year after reopening, many hope for more: The former shine has been largely restored, but it hasn’t come back to life. The Palace is still holding out for a revival.

MJuggler on September 8, 2012 at 10:51 am

More good news about the theatre owner:

HowardBHaas on September 8, 2012 at 10:56 am

The essence of the news sited above is this excerpt:

For years, the status of four Broadway theaters owned by the Delijani family has been one of the biggest trouble points for the revitalization of Broadway. Although many have envisioned a revived Palace, State, Los Angeles and Tower theaters functioning as mini-epicenters of nightlife, the family has been slow to act, worried about the cost, loading issues and a perceived lack of parking.

Now, all that could change. If the new plan comes to fruition, the family could have a major role in really bringing back Broadway.

Next week, Shahram Delijani expects to file documents with the Department of City Planning for a proposal that would bring the turn-of-the-20th-century theaters back to life by transforming them into concert venues and delivering restaurants and bars. The plan involves securing a series of permits that would, in essence, consolidate all four venues into a single “theater complex,” even though they are on different blocks.

AndrewBarrett on April 24, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Interestingly, “The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ” by David L. Junchen notes (on pg. 628) that a two-manual, 15-rank Smith theatre pipe organ was installed in a “Palace Th.” in Los Angeles. The book does not give any more details, or say when the organ was installed.

Smith apparently installed most of their organs between about 1916 and 1926.

Since there were two Palace Theatres in Los Angeles open during this time, and since I am not sure which “Palace Theatre” he meant, so I will put this on both theatres' pages for now.

In my personal opinion, however, the organ was probably installed in the larger of the two “Palace” theatres, since the largest two organs installed by Smith (of which the size is known) were both 16 ranks, and this one is listed as 15 ranks, meaning it would probably be for a fairly large house. Most of the firm’s other organs, of which the size of the organ is known, were under 10 ranks.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Andrew, this house opened in 1911 as the Orpheum Theatre and kept that name until the new Orpheum opened at 842 Broadway in February, 1926. This house was then called the Broadway Palace Theatre for a few years before becoming simply the Palace Theatre. I suppose it’s possible that an organ was installed in early 1926. As the Orpheum it had been a two-a-day vaudeville house, and would not have needed an organ. I don’t think it showed movies with any regularity until after becoming the Broadway Palace.

Patrick Crowley
Patrick Crowley on July 15, 2014 at 2:08 am

The Palace Theater is featured in the video for Weird Al’s song Trashy (which is a spoof of Pharrell William’s hit song Happy).

You can see the top floor, a backstage elevator and other areas, a bit of the auditorium, and an emergency exit on the side.

dickneeds111 on July 24, 2014 at 11:55 am

By saying it is the oldest Orpheum Theatre in the country I question that because I don’t understand. The Orpheum theatre in Boston was built in 1852 making it older. It became the Loews Orpheum very early and it stayed that way until the 70’s when it ceased being a movie theatre and became a music hall and became the Aquarius for a few years and then returned to being the Orpheum. It is still the Orpheum and is still a Music Hall theatre and does show a music film occassionally.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 24, 2014 at 12:17 pm

dickneeds111: The Palace is the oldest surviving theater built for the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. The description could use clarification on that point as there had been quite a few theaters called the Orpheum before the circuit was launched from the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, which was opened by Gustav Walter in 1886. Most of those other Orpheums, like the one in Boston, were never part of the Orpheum circuit or its successors, KAO (Keith-Albee-Orpheum) and RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum.)

Homeboy on November 20, 2014 at 9:38 am

The following is an excerpt from an article in the June 27, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“When the [Palace] theater opened, the upper "gallery” level was earmarked for non-white theatergoers. Reportedly designated “Negroes Only,” it featured bench seating, had separate restrooms and could be reached only through an outside entrance. Historians have noted that such an arrangement was unusual in a city that, in those days, was more tolerant than other places.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 20, 2014 at 12:48 pm

The Mason Opera House on Broadway had a separate entrance on Hill Street to a gallery seating people of color. I believe the Morosco (Globe) Theatre also had a segregated gallery with an entrance from the alley.

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