Burbank Theatre

548 S. Main Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 21, 2018 at 3:53 pm

Although I’ve never found any photos of the interior of the Burbank from its later years, and I was never inside the theater myself, friends who did go there in the early 1960s told me that the interior was still very old fashioned. I don’t think that the 1930s remodeling, or any later remodeling, made any significant stylistic change to the interior of the theater. Essentially all that was done was to slap a streamline modern facade onto the old building and clean up the lobby a bit.

A bit of the original interior style is revealed in the two photos I have found, both from 1898 (the proscenium and the men’s lounge) and though it’s possible that these were altered by one of the early 20th century remodelings, I’m quite sure that there was nothing particularly Art Deco about the place. Main Street was already in decline by the time the Art Deco style emerged in the 1920s, and nobody would have been spending money to update an old theater there with anything as costly as Art Deco. One advantage of Streamline Modern, emerging during the depression of the 1930s, was that it was simple and could be done on the cheap.

The original exterior was of course Romanesque Revival, but the early interior looks to have been that awkward Victorian pastiche of styles that, in America at least, often went by the misleading name Queen Anne, or sometimes the somewhat more appropriate name Eastlake, after the English architect and writer Charles Locke Eastlake, who promoted a somewhat similar style in Victorian Britain.

lroeder on May 31, 2010 at 3:46 pm

The Burbank Theatre was also known as “Morosco’s Burbank Theatre.” I have the brochure for the “Fiftieth Anniversary Testimonial to Harry S. Duffield,” held at Morosco’s Burbank Theatre, Tuesday Afternoon, September 10, 1912. My grandmother’s company played there. She (Sophia Caldwell (also known as Virginia Richmond) ) was a West Virginia silent film acress and vaudeville actress studying with the Egan School of Music and Drama, then celebrating its fourth year. I’ll be happy to scan a copy of the flyer for anyone who is interested. Larry Winter Roeder, Jr. www.artbyroeder.com

Kelyn on July 6, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Harry Carr Los Angeles City of Dreams (Illustrated by E.H. Suydam), D. Appleton-Century Co.: NY, 1935, 402 pp.
“ …

Chapter XV Underneath the Surface
p. 173 When I got a job as a reporter on a newpaper it was like moving into a new city … a Los Angeles I had never dreamed of; like going from a drawing-room through a trapdoor into an exciting and mysterious sub-basement … a world of crooks, policemen, actors, politicians.
I was still little more than a schoolboy when I began to write for an evening paper. Before I was old enough to dry behind the ears I was appointed dramatic critic.
The movies had not yet happened. There were two stock companies, a vaudeville house, and an occasional road show at the De Lux Theeater.
Lillian Goldsmith was then a vaudevill headliner with her exquisite little playlets: George Fuller Golden was the star monologist; McIntyre and Heath … Papinta, a raw-boned Mexican girl who danced with rainbow flaring (p. 174) skirts over plate-glass flushed from below with colored lights.
The Burbank Theater on Main Street was under the management of Oliver Morosco, who had been a professional acrobat. His piece de resistance was Tim Frawley’s traveling stock company. To our unsophisticated little pueblo it was rather a tony affair and the elect bought tickets for the season.
At another house down Main Street was a ten-twenty-thirty house that was considered to be somewhat beneath our notice. It thrilled the galleries with heroines who were tied by villains to railroad tracks, to be rescued by the magnificient young hero just as a teetery prop train came roaring out of the wings. The death-defying hero was William Desmond, afterward of movie fame, and the innocent heroine was Laurette Taylor. Afterward Miss Taylor married a charming young Irishman named Hartley Manners. He wore the first monocle ever to over-awe our pueblo. Under his influence, Laurette stopped dodging buzz-saws and railroad trains and moved over to the more aristocratic Burbank.
Mail service was slow in those days. One time a mauscript failed to arrive for the next week’s show and I well remember the panic at the stock compandy. I happened to be standing in the lobby of the theater wtih Hartley Manners when Morosco came out and told of the disaster. He asked Manners if he could scratch together some kind of play to tide them over for just one night. Manners consented and the little make-shift play that he scrambled together was “Peg o’ My Heart”-one of the greatest bix-office gold mines in the history of American theatricals. It has been produced three times in the movies and hundreds of stock companies have played it all over the world. To his dying day, Hartley Manners was bitterly ashamed of it.
Morosco finally moved to a new theater over on Broad (p. 175)way where he never quite repeated his triumps, Still …
One day they got into another panic for lack of a play, and an actress named Ann Nichols filled the gap with a piece she had written. It did not make much impression upon our pueblo. It lasted a week. It was “Abie’s Irish Rose,” which holds all world’s records for continuous runs.
Another company that came periodically to the Burbank in those days was the Frank Bacon Stock Company. Frank was from somewhere up the state. He was periodically on the edge of going broke and I recall how we used to consult as to what kind o story I could write for the paper that would get enough money into the house to pay off the actors on Saturday night. He was never more than one jump ahead of the sheriff. His favorite play was “General Grant’s Picture” … which he had written himself. In the Bacon family was an old farm which he sold for a song to help out the weekly play-roll. He told me that anyhow the farm wasn’t any good-couldn’t be worked -one corner was all gummed with sticky stuff. When the purchaser made a huge fortune by drilling for oil in the sticky, worthless soil, Frank only rubbed his nose and laughed.
Years after, I spent an afternoon with him in New York. He was then playing in “Lightnin,’” which was finishing its third year at standing room only. We went aroung behind the scenes and he told me in a hoarse whisper the secret. “Just the same character I’ve been playing all my life,” he said … “Just Old Bill who was in those plays I used to write in California. They wouldn’t have him then; now he is packing them in. Sell-out for three years every night.” He looked around cautiously to be sure we were alone; then he said slyly, “Carr, let me tell you. This play “Lightnin’” isn’t any good. Shucks, it ain’t worth a damn. Never expected it to get over at all. Now “General Grant’s Picture” there was a play.”
p. 176 Two blocks down the street from the Burbank was another stock house called the Belasco. It was under the management of a cynical, charming young fellow named John Blackwood. He had brains and sophistication. Leading ladies came and went but the pueblo would never consent to the changing of the leading man;. he was Lewis Stone, who as a movie star has held a continuous place in the affections of the public for a longer period of time than any other actor. One of his leading ladies was Bessie Barriscale. Came a young playwright from the University of California. His name was Richar Walton Tully and he had play that concerned a goddess of a volcano in Hawaii; “Bird of Paradise” also became one of the great money-winners of theatrical history.
On east First Street was a little burlesque house-admission ten cents and you could bring your own garlic on your breath. The squalid girl show produced Blossom Seeley and other stars.
One of the girls in this show was crossed in love and, embittered, forsook the stage world. She went out to Antelope Valley; took up a government claim and, at the plow, yelling at her mules, wore out her theatrical costumes-ballet skirts and all.
There was another girl show in town. This was run by Pop Fisher on Spring Street. The leading lady was a blonde of some heft and a compelling charm, although she talked so loudly you could hear her on a clear day for a mile. She came nearly every night after the show to sit with the dramatic staff in the Times office. She was continually anxious for our opinions as to whether she was too fat to wear tights. At no other period of my life have I discussed legs so earnestly or with such critical analysis. The lady was Texas Guinan. Behin the scenes was an assistant stage director who was something of a genius at make-up. His job was to see that (p. 177)the scenery was ready, that the girls were ready and that they had their tights on straight. This was Lon Chaney, afterward the movie star. To his last day he never changed. His best friends as a movie star were the ham actors who had been with him in Pop Fisher’s stock house. When any of them came to his parties in evening dress, he tore off their shirts and gave them bath-robes in which to dine.
Even in the days of his glory, Chaney had qualities that few suspected. He had studied the human face so long and so carefully that he could see souls behind. One day we were sitting at the table in a studio cafe. “That girl over there,” he said, indicating a very beautiful girl at the next table,. “Well, I only know her to speak to; but I can tell you something about her. Do you notice how she has the air of cocking her head as though she were listening to some one behind her-like a nervous horse trying to watch the driver’s whip . Well, she goes home at night and somebody tells her that the director is all wrong. It is probably her mother. She will see her greatest days when she marries.” And that was exactly the truth and his prophecy was fulfilled. She is now one of the greatest stars in pictures.” p. 177

kencmcintyre on May 5, 2009 at 8:38 pm

The Burbank is on the right in this circa 1950s photo:

kencmcintyre on May 1, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Here is a 1908 ad from the LA Times:

CONELRAD1999 on April 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

CONELRAD.com just posted this item on that concerns “atom bomb dancers” performing at the Burbank just two days after the Hiroshima bombing: View link

KDG on March 15, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Well, I just did the same thing as someone else in a previous post. Got my whole comment done here, forgot to log in and lost the post.
I’ll re-do it later.

kencmcintyre on February 6, 2009 at 1:14 pm

The Burbank was long gone when I moved to LA in 1984. I think the Art and Optic were still around, though. I lived downtown the first two weeks I was here, but I never made it over to Main Street, so I don’t recall seeing any of those theaters.

vokoban on February 6, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Yes, I saw it. It was kind of hard to tell, but it did look kind of vacant. There’s another movie on that disc called A Piece Of The Action that I haven’t watched yet. I don’t know if it was filmed in Los Angeles.

kencmcintyre on February 6, 2009 at 1:07 pm

Did you see the theater in the Cosby/Poitier film? It looked to be already closed by the time the film was shot.

vokoban on February 6, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I’m reading a book called City Of Night, written by John Rechy in 1963 and a major part of the book takes place on Main street near the Burbank. Even though its not mentioned by name, there are a few references to the bars and theaters around there. I had no idea that this area was the gay ghetto back then. Also, after reading this book, Pershing Square takes on a whole different meaning when I look into the now ‘dead’ park.

kencmcintyre on February 6, 2009 at 12:59 pm

Tihs is excerpted from the Los Angeles Times, 10/26/45:

Rubbing his knuckles across his forehead as if to banish what seemed like a nightmarish dream, Pfc. Curtis Legerton, 21-year-old soldier, yesterday in Central Jail groped for an explanation of how he shot and critically wounded Philip Plude, 37, stage doorman at the Burbank Theater, late Wednesday. Plude is in General Hospital with a German Mauser automatic pistol bullet wound in his abdomen. Surgeons fear he may die. Legerton is being held on suspicion of attempted murder.

According to police reports, Legerton, who returned home two months ago from duty in Europe with the 99th General Hospital unit, attempted to enter the theater stage door at 548 S. Main Street, and was blocked by Plude. Legerton drew a .635 mm pistol from a field boot and fired once. Legerton said he had taken several drinks of whisky during the evening, and passed the theater foyer a couple of times in his wanderings.

“I looked the billboards over in front” he said, “and laughed at the pictures of the Follies dancers because I had seen the Follies Bergere in Paris. These dames wear necklaces. In Paris they don’t even wear that”.

Legerton said he’d been drinking since he was 17, and frequently had to ask friends what happened when he was intoxicated. “When I’m stiff”, he said, “I don’t know anybody, not even my relatives or closest friends.”

Legerton said his 45-day furlough was up last night and he was supposed to report to Ft. MacArthur for transfer to Camp Siebert, Ala., where he was expected to receive a discharge.

kencmcintyre on February 4, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I parked on the bones of the Burbank today:

jraven on January 10, 2009 at 2:14 am

My Great, Great Grand uncle John Stewart White worked at the Burbank Theatre around 1917. He was the Superintendent of Morosco’s Theatre. This information was listed on his World War I Registration Card under employment.

StewartAllen on December 30, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Thareen Aurora and Mimi Reed were my grandmothers. They both worked at the Burbank in a show with Betty Rowland.
I have some pics from back stage.
I would love to hear from KDG if she remembers them…..

kencmcintyre on December 3, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Here is a 1936 photo from Life Magazine:

Kelyn on December 3, 2008 at 11:55 am

Were these links useful, redundant or irrelevant? Should I keep looking?

kencmcintyre on November 14, 2008 at 11:55 am

The establishing shots during the opening credits are of another city, but the street scenes were filmed downtown.

vokoban on November 14, 2008 at 11:53 am

I had to buy that movie because of you. It was only $9 on amazon.

kencmcintyre on November 14, 2008 at 11:49 am

In the 1974 film “Uptown Saturday Night”, the by then closed Burbank is visible in several shots, towards the beginning of the film.

Kelyn on November 14, 2008 at 4:41 am

Ocean Park float in the parade of La Fiesta de Los Angeles, 1915, USC Special Collections

View link

Ocean Park float in the parade of La Fiesta de Los Angeles, 1915

Description: Photograph of the Ocean Park float in the parade of La Fiesta de Los Angeles, 1915. Four people in bathings suits (all women?) sit, lay or stand on the back of the flower-bedecked float. Their bathing suits and the float itself bear the name “Ocean Park”. The driver of the float is dressed in white. Two cars are parked at the curb. Residential buildings are visible behind. Legible posted bills read: “Morosco’s Burbank Theatre, The Burbank Stock Co., […] May”…

Title: Ocean Park float in the parade of La Fiesta de Los Angeles, 1915

Record ID: chs-m11052; Names & Dates: 1915

kencmcintyre on October 26, 2008 at 5:34 pm

LA Times reported a major fire at the Burbank on June 5, 1897. The theater was gutted, but plans were made to rebuild the structure with improvements.

JGKlein on August 1, 2008 at 4:10 pm

Here is a June 8, 1908 ad from the Los Angeles Times for a comedy “The Wrong Mr. Wright” at Morosco’s Burbank Theater:

View link

sweetwater on July 13, 2008 at 11:51 pm

My uncle, Allen E. Hanson, was a projectionist at the Burbank in the late 40’s, when they still showed movies AND had live burlesque entertainment. My aunt would bring him his lunch and we’d watch the movie in the little seating area just outside the projection booth, then, when the live “comic” came on stage and before the first stripper came out my aunt would grab me by the arm and hustle me down the stairs to the street. (I was about 6 or 7, I think.) Never DID get to see Tempest Storm’s act until I took in the Palm Springs Follies a few years ago. She still looked pretty great!