1040 S. Hill Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90015

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Mayan Theatre exterior

The Mayan Theatre, at 1040 South Hill Street in downtown Los Angeles, opened for live shows, in particular, musical comedies, on August 15, 1927 with the stage musical “Oh Kay!” starring Elsie Janis. Carved stone serpent heads, seven warrior figures in full head-dress (each representing the god of war, each used to light up after dark!) and celestial symbols and hieroglyphics were designed by artist Francisco Cornejo to ornament the structure designed by architects Morgan, Walls and Clements. That architectural firm also designed the exteriors of both the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood and of the Wiltern Theatre.

Inside every square inch, decor is fantastical Mayan Revival, from the floor paving to the furniture and fixtures. The entry lobby is a hall of Inscriptions and is coated with hieroglyphics. The foyer is the Hall of Feathered Serpents, In the auditorium, the huge central, polychromed plaster and metal chandelier is a replica of an Aztec calendar stone. The original painted fire safety curtain depicted Mayan jungles and temples, which completed the decorative scheme of the theatre.

The Mayan Theatre, which opened with 1,491 seats, was at first a legitimate theatre, then it showed second run movies. In the 1940’s, the theatre was a burlesque house and it is rumored that in 1948 a young Marilyn Monroe appeared here. By the end of the decade it tried arthouse films. From March 3rd 1950, the Mayan was the crown jewel of Francisco Fouce’s chain of Mexican film venues and the first presentation was – ‘Direct from Buenos Aires’ one of Latin America’s biggest stars Libertad Lamarque, ‘live on stage and on the screen’. The theatre became an adult porn theatre in the early 1970’s (some of the films were shot in the basement of the theatre) and around 1977 it was converted into a triple-screen theatre, still screening adult movies.

The auditorium has now been de-tripled and the current nightclub use, replete with the theatre’s original exotic Mayan interior, opened February 1990 and renamed The Mayan.

Showcasing the theatre itself, including its exotic interior, are movies including the murder mystery, set in a theatre;Reginald Denny in “It Couldn’t Have Happened-But It Did” (1936), “Save the Tiger” with Jack Lemmon (1973) and “The Bodyguard” with Kevin Costner (1992). Gorgeous photographs of its auditorium, and of the next door Belasco Theatre auditorium, are in the 1997 book ‘The Last Remaining Seats, Movie Palaces of Tinseltown’.

The Mayan Theatre is designated a Historic Cultural Monument.

Contributed by Howard B. Haas, Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 122 comments)

kencmcintyre on August 15, 2009 at 8:49 am

Here is a January 1940 ad from the LAT:

Senorsock on October 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I finally got to tour the inside of the Mayan Theater last Thursday night and am thrilled to say it looks as great inside as it does outside. Although converted to a nightclub, the Mayan is in great shape and still looks like a theater inside (okay, minus 1,400 seats or so). The auditorium and chandelier in particular are definitely something to see. I was surprised at the small restrooms located on the mezzanine level. They seemed way too tiny to service 1,400+ audience members. The nightclub has more restrooms backstage and under the stage, but those would have been inaccessible when this operated as a theater. Are there some “lost” restrooms located behind a false wall somewhere in or underneath the Mayan lobby?

socal09 on December 31, 2010 at 6:27 pm

As a nightclub Dec 31, 2009. Amazing that the plaster decor hasn’t fallen off the walls. Still in good condition inside with most of the decor intact. The seats have been removed on lower level, the floor leveled, a bar added under the balcony and DJ booth in the balcony area. Virtually the same thing that was done to The Palace in Hollywooed on Vine (now Avalon nightclub)
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monika on April 12, 2011 at 12:28 pm

A photograph my husband took recently of the blade sign (daytime) can be seen here:
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rivest266 on August 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

3-plex opening ad on March 14th, 1969

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on August 24, 2012 at 7:20 pm

If anyone has any stories about going to/ working at this threatre, I would love to hear them. I am chronicling the histories of adult theatres in the US. Please contact me at Thanks!

haiderodes on January 7, 2016 at 6:05 pm

Was just at The Mayan for Masterbeat’s big NYE party on 12/31/15. Very well kept interior even though it gets a lot use as a nightclub. Wish they had some lighting in the auditorium ceiling like The Belasco does next door.

rivest266 on August 8, 2016 at 4:41 am

August 15th, 1927 grand opening ad in photo section.

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