Washington Theatre

845 E. Washington Boulevard,
Pasadena, CA 91104

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Washington Theatre exterior

The Washington Theatre was opened in 1925. It was operated by Fox West Coast Theatres for years. It was renamed Century 21 on March 6, 1968 and was later used as a venue for Spanish-language and finally, adult films until closing in 1990.

Contributed by William Gabel

Recent comments (view all 52 comments)

drb on January 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm


[quote]Preservationist try to restore old Washington Theater by seeking historic designation

By Janette Williams, Staff Writer
Posted: 01/16/2010 08:53:49 PM PST

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In a move to save the deteriorating Washington Theater-built in 1924 as the Southland’s first multi=use project (stores, offices, housing and the theater)-preservationist groups are applying to have the theater put on the local landmark list. (SGVN/Staff photo by Walt Mancini)

PASADENA – It was 1925, movies were silent, flickers were the latest entertainment sensation, and the Washington Theater opened its doors at Lake Avenue and Washington Boulevard.

It was never one of the lavish movie palaces that came later on, but it has its own historic distinction. The elegant Spanish Colonial Revival building designed by Altadena architect Clarence Jay is recognized as the first mixed-use structure of its kind in Pasadena, and possibly the Southland, according to Sue Mossman, executive director of Pasadena Heritage.

“There were four different uses in one building,” she said. “It had retail stores along the front, a 900-seat theater, offices – probably theater offices – above the shops and then housing in the back.”

But for the past 20 years or so, the empty, deteriorating and often-vandalized building’s fate had caused concern among preservationists.

Now, Pasadena Heritage and the Pasadena Neighborhood Coalition are banking that their nomination of the property for listing as a city historic landmark will help promote its long-term survival.

It has been declared eligible by city staff, and the City Council is expected to consider its listing next month, said Vicrim Chima of Pasadena’s planning department.

The property is tied in with the city’s earliest commercial history, Mossman said, and its place in a prominent corner of an emerging shopping and retail center in the 1920s is enough to support its historic designation.

But since its heyday, the property has had a “checkered history,” Mossman said.

In the 1960s the Washington Theater became Cinema 21, then closed in 1990 and never reopened as a theater. It was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Attempts in the early 1990s to run it as music rehearsal studios foundered when tenants complained of the noise, said Gina Zamparelli, who had managed the establishment at one time.

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Washington Theater entrance, with a painting mural of a Mayan theme at its door entrance. (SGVN/Staff photo by Walt Mancini)

Reusing old theaters is a tough proposition, said Zamparelli, a theater consultant whose efforts to preserve the Raymond Theatre in Old Pasadena failed.

“It’s not as easy to make money in theaters as it used to be, but it could be used for performing arts, film location shoots, conferences,” she said. “You have to vie for many uses – anything you can potentially get going, do it.”

Zamparelli said she met with owners Gagik “Gary” and Jacqueline Buickians of San Marino a few years ago, after they acquired the property from Norman Fuhrman, who bought it in 1980. She said the couple had talked then about making it a movie theater again.

Jacqueline Buickians did not respond to several requests for comment on possible designation, or any plans for the property.

One previous attempt about two years ago to have the Washington designated a local historic monument – which covers interiors and exteriors – fell through when the Buickians decided not to go ahead, said Dale Trader, who made the nomination. Historic landmark designation covers only the exterior.

Trader, a member of the preservationist Pasadena Neighborhood Coalition, said the Washington Theater property could be important in positioning its Lake-Washington Village neighborhood as an arts and culture district.

Plans could include live-work and retail space for artists and artisans, affordable housing, and art galleries to bring 24-hour life and activity to the area, he said.

The theater, he said, could become a “niche” movie venue on the lines of the Silent Movie House, a regional draw that could show “noir” or classic movies and host film festivals or other arts events.

“Some people are skeptical. They don’t think old theaters can work,” he said, citing the recent closure of South Pasadena’s historic Rialto. “But it all depends of the programmer…and if they show something audiences want to see on the big screen in the company of other movie-goers.”

Mossman said preservationists hope to convince the owners that tax benefits and possible access to redevelopment area funds, plus the more flexible exterior-only designation, makes listing good business sense.

“They have faced many challenges, including most recently the economy,” she said. “But bringing the theater back on line would be a great boost to the whole area.”

626-578-6300, ext. 4482[/quote]

bkazmer on March 19, 2010 at 1:43 am

Here is one from 1924
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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 9, 2010 at 3:33 pm

The claim in the opening paragraph of the Pasadena Star-News item quoted by DB above that the Washington was “…the Southland’s first multi-use project….” is odd considering that multi-use buildings were commonplace in cities everywhere (including Southern California) long before 1924 and only became rare after priggish zoning laws began restricting them (which was not long after the Washington was built.)

Even more disturbing is the later revelation that the writer got this odd misconception from the director of Pasadena Heritage. One would expect the head of an organization devoted to historic preservation to have more knowledge of urban history.

Kids these days! And get off my lawn! </cranky old guy rant>

Timetraveler on April 28, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Please see here for an update on the Washington Theatre and be sure to see the comments which also have quotes from recent and archival articles about the theater’s redevelopment.

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kencmcintyre on April 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm

This one is still listed as renovating? Last item was a year ago.

Matthew Prigge
Matthew Prigge on August 25, 2012 at 6:20 pm

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

marion142 on August 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Chuck1231, If this had been listed as Cinema 21 I wouldn’t have looked at it and would have wondered why the Washington Theater wasn’t listed. My friends and I used to like that theater because admittance was half the price of the fancier theaters. We saw a lot of movies there that we would not have otherwise been able to see.

AndrewBarrett on April 24, 2014 at 7:27 pm

“The Encyclopedia of the American Theatre Organ” by David L. Junchen, page 628, lists a “Pasadena Theatre” in Pasadena, California, as having a three manual Smith theatre pipe organ.

No other details, such as # of ranks or installation date, are given.

I could not find a “Pasadena Theatre” listed on this site right now (April 2014) but the “Pasadena Photoplay Theatre” (listed on its own page) has a fairly close name. However, according to Lost Memory, this “Pasadena Photoplay Theatre” apparently had only about 350 seats, and most three-manual theatre organs had at least ten ranks.

The largest known Smith organs were both 4 manuals and 16 ranks, so that this organ in question was probably between 10 and 14 ranks, or so.

That is quite large for a little 350-seat theatre, since most theatres of this size either had a photoplayer (such as those made by American Photo Player Co, or Wurlitzer) or simply a person playing the piano, or, if an organ, nothing larger than about six or seven ranks (and thus, two manuals). Thus, I think it is unlikely that the “Pasadena Photoplay Theatre” is the same theatre mentioned in the book.

Does anybody know more about this instrument, or a larger “Pasadena Theatre?” in Pasadena?


NOTE: I think that the Washington Theatre is about the right size to have had such an organ, so is a possible candidate for the actual place of installation of this organ, and I’m putting this here for the time being until proven otherwise.

DavidZornig on August 25, 2016 at 4:10 pm

1940 photo added courtesy of William Haupt III‎.

rivest266 on October 30, 2019 at 3:31 pm

This reopened as the Century 21 on March 6th, 1968. Grand opening ad posted.

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