El Centro Theatre

804 N. El Centro Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90038

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El Centro Theatre

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Operating as the Ivy Theatre by 1915, when it was listed as a motion picture theatre in the Los Angeles City Directory, this was one of Hollywood’s earliest movie houses. It was later converted into a garage for a mechanic. It is now a 45-seat theatre called the Chaplin Stage, and is part of the El Centro Theatre.

The history of the El Centro Theatre as a stage house began in 1946, when a group of UCLA students converted a grocery store just south of the Ivy’s former building into the Circle Theatre, as a home for their budding theatre company.

With some assistance from Charlie Chaplin, the company was a success, and later expanded into the former movie house next door, calling their second stage the New Theatre. This two-stage complex has since been the home of several small theatre groups, and one of the most significant venues of the Little Theatre movement in Southern California.

The 99-seat main stage of the El Centro Theatre remains in the former grocery store at the corner of El Centro and Waring Avenues. The current operators of the house have renamed the performance space in the former Ivy Theatre’s building the Chaplin Stage, in honor of the movie star who helped the original Circle Theatre company in its early years. The buildings have been gradually undergoing renovation for several years.

Contributed by Joe Vogel

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

theatremonkey on February 22, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I run the El Centro Theatre. I stumbled across this post and wanted to say thanks for confirming some info for me. I have been talking to bob burn the original lighting guy for the theatre, and he told me about the theatre being one of the first silent movie theatres in Los Angeles.

I have to say I love this building and have been working hard on renovations for the past 8 years. I have been doing an archive of all the shows that have been done here for the past few years. I should have them all up in a few months.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 23, 2009 at 9:58 pm

TheatreMonkey: Thanks for your efforts in preserving this historic building.

Following is additional information about the El Centro Theatre’s buildings, which I didn’t include in my original submission of the theater to Cinema Treasures, as it involves a bit too much speculation, and I thought it would be more suitable to a comment until more evidence about the Ivy’s history can be found.

The L.A. County Assessor’s Office says there are two buildings on this property: 1) A 2086 square foot building built in 1910, with an effective year built (meaning a major alteration or addition at the later time) of 1924; 2) A 3690 square foot building built in 1914, with an effective year built of 1927.

Judging from the satellite views of the buildings at Google Maps, I’d surmise that the building housing the Chaplin Stage is the 1910 structure, and the corner store building which was converted into the Circle Theatre in 1946 is the one built in 1914, and that what looks from above like a third building to the east of the corner building is an addition which gave the corner building its effective year built of 1927.

Even assuming that the older building was built in 1910 does not mean that it was built specifically as a theater, of course. It might have been built for some other purpose and then converted into a theater by 1915, when it was listed as such in the City Directory. However, if it was in fact built specifically as a theater, it would displace the Idyl Hour Theatre built in 1911 at 6265 Hollywood Boulevard (now demolished) as Hollywood’s earliest known movie house.

I don’t have access to any city directories from before 1915, or between 1915 and 1929, so I can’t check to see if the Ivy was listed (under that name or another) before 1915, or how late it might have been listed (it might not show up in an L.A. directory for 1910 in any case, as that was the year Hollywood was annexed to Los Angeles, and the directory for that year would probably have gone to press before the annexation took place.) I can’t find a theater listed at this address in the 1929 directory. My guess would be that the Assessor’s effective year built of 1924 would mark the conversion of the building into a garage, and the closing date of the theater might have happened either then or some time earlier.

I believe that some other Cinema Treasures contributors have access to more city directories than I do, and they might be able to check the theater listings in them to see if the Ivy is listed in years other than 1915.

jcrosse on March 6, 2009 at 9:59 am

As architect William Krisel’s biographer I have some info to add to the history of the old Circle Theater. Bill was close boyhood friends with Sydney and Charlie Chaplin, Jr. His father represented Charlie, Sr., United Artists and other studios in the Far East and was based in Shanghai. When the Krisel’s moved back to the states in 1937 they moved directly across the street from the Chaplains and just down the street from PickFaiar and other Hollywood luminaries. Sydney founded the Circle Theater after World War II with some help from his father. Krisel, then an architecture student at USC, designed the stage and the outdoor signage for the theater and was a stand-in for absent actors from time to time. Another link to this period is former actress Gloria Greer, currently Social Life Editor at Palm Springs Life Magazine. She mentione fondly the old Circle Theater days at Krisel’s Palm Springs “Walk of Fame” induction ceremony last month.

jcrosse on March 6, 2009 at 10:06 am

TheatreMonkey: I forgot to mention in my previous post that it would be fun to arrange a reunion of any living members from the Circle Theater’s founding days such as Gloria Greer and William Krisel. Krisel’s e-mail address is and Greer can be reached at Palm Springs Life. They could probably put you in touch with others from that era who may still be alive such as Sam Goldwyn, Jr. etc.

jcrosse on March 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm

TheatreMonkey: I just got off the phone w/ Bill Krisel. He was elated!! with the El Centro Theatre web site. That is his Cadillac in front of the theatre on an opening night, not Sydney’s as the caption says in one of the photos. He said Sydney bummed a ride everywhere. Those are Krisel’s letters on the facade. He cut them out of plywood and mounted them. It is Bill bending over the bucket in the photo of the gang working outside to ready the theatre for opening night. I recognized him from his WWII army photos. Krisel said all of the actors shared the work to run the theater. Krisel designed the set for “Rain” depicted in one of the photos.

He couldn’t believe I found this stuff. He had just gotten off the phone w/ Sam Goldwyn, Jr. They had just spent 45 minutes reminiscing about Sydney whose obit was in today’s Times. Sydney and Sammy were the “Bad Boys” of Blacke-Fox Academy and both hated it. He said the obit got it right that it was just a dumping ground for movie star’s kids and Sydney dropped out after 8th grade or so.

Gloria Greer, current Palm Springs TV personality and Social Life Editor for Palm Springs Life Magazine, was then known as Gloria Grant and she is on the playbill for the first play to be performed in the theater. In the third photo from the bottom left she is the woman at the bar (Sydney is the bartender). She later married a man named Jim Greer whom Bill designed two small jobs for in the early 1960s. The one-year anniversary photo has whom Bill thinks is Paulette Goddard cutting the cake, Sydney in the back and Charlie on the left. Paulette used to go out w/ the Sydney, Carlie, Jr. and Bill in Charlie’s Rolls-Royce to cruise Sunset and Beverly Hills when the boys were just teenagers.

jcrosse on March 6, 2009 at 1:10 pm

TheatreMonkey: How does one go about obtaining Hi-Res scans of some of the photos on the El Centro theatre web site for use in Wm. Krisel’s biography? My e-mail address is .com Thank you very much.

theatremonkey on March 10, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Im so happy to hear so much more info on the theatre.

Joe, thanks for your additional information. I have some Sanford Fire Insurance maps. One from 1919 and the other from 1950.
Here are links to the files
View link
View link

theatremonkey on March 10, 2009 at 2:40 pm

I glad that some of the info found has brought back some good memories. I would be happy to talk to anyone that was part of the history of the theatre. I will also make a change on our site about the caddy. All info and pictures are taken from Jerry Epstein’s book “Remembering Charlie” and the car was listed as Sydney’s from the book. We are going to have some of the images made into large prints for our lobbies. I would be happy to post a link to the high rez images when I get a chance to scan them in, probably in a few days. I also have scan of reviews and programs from a few of the first shows donr in the theatre. Ill post those as well.

theatremonkey on March 10, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Sorry its Sanborn Fire Insurance.

SchineHistorian on July 22, 2012 at 2:44 am

‘Psych’ star James Roday and Matt Shakman buy El Centro Theatre


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