Baldwin Theatre

3741 S. La Brea Avenue,
Los Angeles, CA 90016

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luckybaldwin
luckybaldwin on March 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm

We kids didn’t know what the odd shaped building was going to be. Shortly after the war, it resembled a hangar, but where was the runway? My sister Eleanore Jean (EJ), according to legend (my other sister, Virginia), climbed to the very top of the arched roof during construction (no doubt barefooted).

When it finally opened we were delighted to have a new theater in the neighborhood. From our apartment in court one, it was a 5 minute walk away. Tickets for 12 and under were .09 cents. Adult tickets sold for $.50, as I recall.

The interior was elegant: plush carpeting and photos of movie stars in glass cases: Bing Crosby and Bob Hope in their heyday.

It was a fun place to run at seemingly super speed within it’s dimly lit confines. I remember my eyes adjusting almost instantly when I entered the darkness of the theater. Eyesight like a cat back then.

Sometimes Dad (Kingsley Close aka King or Kink) would send me there with a bag of popcorn. A little embarrassing, but no one said anything about bringing my own.

Standard fare was a double feature with a cartoon in between. On special occasions, there would be a bonanza of cartoons; as I recall a half dozen or more in sequence. Bugs Bunny and Mr. Magoo were particular favorites of mine.

My sister Ginny and I were mutually supportive watching the terrifying The Thing. War Of The Worlds and The Day The Earth Stood Still were another couple Sci Fi humdingers. I sat between my parents, enthralled, during Showboat, filmed in unabashed Technicolor, with the glorious singing of Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel (Why Do I Love You and Make Believe), William Warfield (Ol’ Man River), and sultry Ava Gardner .

After 4-5 hours engrossed in movies and cartoons, I’d sometimes leave disoriented, especially if day had turned to night.

I was thrilled and awed to meet friendly, handsome cowboy Roy Rogers there one day with my sister Virginia (Ginny) and Mom, Valborg (Bobby) Close.

My winter 1961 class of Dorsey High graduation was held there as were numerous St. Paul’s church Easter Sunday services. During graduation rehearsals, I still remember Mr. Horst asking me aloud why I was “stretching my visage all over the auditorium”, during a moment of horseplay. Someone sneezed loudly during the solemn graduation ceremony. I was sure it was my Dad and that everyone knew it. After graduation my boss at the 76 station, Ben Sutton, shook my hand and passed me a $5 bill.

Good times.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 6, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Featured in this speculative 1950 trade article: boxoffice

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on September 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Nice pictures! Hope to see some interior pics from it’s final days as a 3 screener.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on November 1, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Thats a great story .G.G.

carol5732
carol5732 on October 17, 2010 at 8:33 am

On January 26, 1950, I had a blind date with a sailor on my graduation night from Dorsey High School. In May of that year, he proposed marriage while we were watching “My Foolish Heart” at the Baldwin. We were married July 16, 1950 and celebrated our 58th anniversary in 2008, shortly before he passed away from Alzheimer’s. Seeing the photos of the theater brought back sweet memories.

whitecollarcrimeguy
whitecollarcrimeguy on August 14, 2010 at 12:27 am

I lived in Baldwin Hills until 1965, and my mother sent my brothers and I to the Baldwin Theater every chance she got, to get rid of us I think. I saw Goldfinger at least 3 times, and vividly remember having the daylights scared out of me by The House on Haunted Hill. The movies were pretty tame then, thanks to the Legion of Decency, so even Pussy Galore was as risque as it got. After we moved away to another part of Los Angeles, I never went back to the theater, but it will always be a cherished memory.

Stephen Russo
Stephen Russo on June 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm

The link from my previous post was today’s related news.
Know that the original Baldwin Theater closed in ‘94.

I remember as a little kid the excitement of sitting in “The Bowl”.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/srk1941/359637264/

Stephen Russo
Stephen Russo on June 10, 2010 at 8:55 pm

View link

Was my childhood theater in the 60’s.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on May 18, 2010 at 1:57 am

I agree with BWChicago and ken mc looks like McDonalds.

rog152
rog152 on March 1, 2010 at 4:57 pm

I knew both very well, Nelson Bennett more so as I ran the film booth from opening day in 81 till I left in late 83 due to money problems with there payroll. It was really a fun job and even after all these years I still miss it, my heart is broken that the building is gone. It was a beautiful place and I meet many wonderful people from the community.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on January 14, 2010 at 11:03 pm

I actually did see “School Daze” here. One of my 10 favorite movies of all time!

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on December 13, 2009 at 6:58 pm

Here is part of a December 1988 article in the LA Times:

Since its opening in 1981, the Baldwin Hills Theater in Los Angeles has stood as a symbol of pride to its mostly black patrons and a reminder to the nearby Hollywood entertainment community that black neighborhoods, traditionally under-served by major chains, will support top quality theaters showing first-run films.

Now, however, the Baldwin — one of the nation’s few black-owned movie theaters — has quietly been put up for sale after a series of financial and legal setbacks that threatened the owners' dream of bringing more such theaters to the black community.

Although hit movies such as “The Color Purple,” “Purple Rain” and “School Daze,” drew sizable audiences to the theater complex at 3741 S. La Brea Ave., the lingering financial fallout from a bitter 1981 lawsuit and a costly lease arrangement proved to be too big a burden to shoulder, according to owners Ernest E. Simms, 40, and Nelson Bennett, 38. The theater has also been hurt by a lackluster 1988 film season and rising film rental costs.

“Ernest and myself have done everything that two people can possibly do to try to provide first-run quality product for the Baldwin Hills entertainment complex,” said Bennett, who worked his way up from movie usher to various theater management posts before becoming vice president of Royal Entertainment Inc., the concern that operates the Baldwin. “It has been increasingly difficult to do that… . We’re not the big boys on the block; we’re the new kids on the block and we’re independents.”

While there are a handful of black-owned theaters around the country, the Baldwin is the only such theater that shows first-run films, according to Bennett. And it has been the focus of intense interest from both the powerful community of Southern California theater owners as well as the largely black, middle class Baldwin Hills area that supported Simms' and Nelson’s efforts to renovate what was a dilapidated, 39-year-old movie house and turn it into a first-class facility.

“I support their attempt to become movie theater entrepreneurs,” said David B. Humdy, a Walt Disney Co. executive who is also president of the Black Media & Entertainment Assn., a Los Angeles-based organization of entertainment industry professionals. “When you are in a market where you are competing against the major studios, it’s very difficult. But we need black theaters, and we need places so that we can exhibit (black films). We (blacks) owned more theaters in the ‘30s and '40s than we own today."
Bennett and Simms say they are weighing several offers — including one from an unidentified black buyer — to purchase the theater. They say they hope to sell the complex in the next few months and start over at another location with new financial backers.

The decision to sell the Baldwin Theater came after a futile 18-month-long search for a lender willing to provide additional funds to help reduce debt at the three-screen, 970-seat movie house as well as finance their ambitious plan to acquire and manage theaters in other black neighborhoods. The theater’s problems began in 1981 when Simms and Bennett filed a suit against the Mann Theater chain and Warner Bros., complaining that they unfairly restrained trade by barring film distributors from playing a film at the Baldwin if Mann had booked the movie in one of its big Westwood theaters nine miles away. The suit was settled out of court in 1984. Baldwin now gets an equal crack at first-run films. But the lawsuit, Simms said, “cost us more than $500,000 in legal fees. It buried us in debt.”

Rising film rental fees and the lackluster films produced in the wake of the Hollywood writers strike have also hurt business. Simms would not disclose how much costs have risen but said that it would take at least three additional screens at the Baldwin to make the theater cost-effective. A greater variety of films playing at one site increases the likelihood that theaters will attract more moviegoers, he said.

Although investors expressed interest in helping Simms and Bennett expand to other sites, no one wanted to bail out the Baldwin after examining its books and lease arrangement. And it remains to be seen whether the pair can establish a successful new theater chain and theater consulting business in an industry increasingly dominated by a handful of large, corporate players.

“There’s no question there’s a market for good films written with black themes that would appeal to the black community,” said Bernard Anderson, managing partner of the Urban Affairs Partnership, a privately held urban development consulting firm in Philadelphia. “But I don’t see any market out there for management or consulting services to theater owners. The margin of profit on these places is very small, and most owners would think, `Why get somebody else to manage it when I can do it myself?‘” Only a year ago, Simms and Bennett reported doing record business at the Baldwin when, for the first time in its history, their movie house opened a black-oriented, big-studio picture on each of its three screens.
The owners did not disclose how much business was generated by the three films — Disney’s “Shoot to Kill,” Columbia’s “School Daze,” and Lorimar’s “Action Jackson.” But in a deposition taken in a 1987 lawsuit against the theater, Bennett estimated that the Baldwin Theater complex would earn total gross profit of more than $80,000 a month after it added a third theater in 1986.

Much of the money has been eaten up in legal fees, higher rental fees and a costly lease arrangement under which the landlord of the Baldwin Theater is paid a percentage of ticket sales, Simms said. Such lease arrangements were once rare, experts say, but they have become more common recently with the rise of smaller multiplex theater facilities, which take up less space but can generate more revenue than one big movie house.

“These guys have gone through the full gamut seeking out investors and venture capital firms … but they just haven’t been able to secure any interest in” an expansion deal that would allow them to hold on to the Baldwin, said Kenneth T. Lombard, senior vice president at ERC Capital Fund, a venture capital firm in Lynwood that helped finance the Baldwin when it first opened in 1981.

“It’s not like we have a wealth of resources out there available to us,” explained Simms, a soft-spoken entrepreneur who has a masters degree in business administration from Harvard. “We have to make our own way. And we’ve been told that this is the best way to do it — for the financial community to feel comfortable in giving us the kind of dollars we are talking about. The only major asset we both own, since we are not independently wealthy, is the theater.”

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 28, 2009 at 9:45 pm

The theatre has been reconfigured as a mixed use retail center housing a branch of Chase Bank, some restaurants and some sort of community office of sorts. Looks nothing like a theatre anymore…except for that bowl shape.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on May 11, 2009 at 5:31 am

Here is an April 1969 ad from the LA Times:
http://tinyurl.com/pxs7jh

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on February 8, 2009 at 9:04 pm

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 3/13/94:

For Les Roberson, the closing last month of the Baldwin Theater-the only black-owned movie house in the inner city-marks the end of an era. “As a kid, my friends and I walked down the street and saw movies there all the time,” said Roberson, a 30-year-old Baldwin Hills resident and sales representative for PacTel Corp. “I was waiting for `Sugar Hill' to come out so I could go see it there. And then one day last week, I was out jogging and saw it was closed. I was stunned.”

The owners are not saying when, or if, the Baldwin will reopen. The theater, along with a six-screen multiplex in Hawthorne, was part of Inner City Cinemas, a joint venture formed in November, 1992, by the national theater chain American Multi Cinema Inc. and Economic Resources Corp., a nonprofit real estate agency based in Lynwood. It was envisioned as the start of the nation’s first black-owned cinema chain. But a year and a half after reopening, the three-screen Baldwin quietly closed shortly after Inner City Cinemas filed for bankruptcy.

Ted Fortier, president of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce and an area resident since 1959, said that whatever the theater’s fiscal problems, the community is the real loser. “Now, when we want to go to the movies, we’ll be forced to go outside the area,” he said. “It’s really a shame. The Baldwin offered first-run movies, had good security, made honest attempts at providing good service."
Many politicians and business people in the Crenshaw community had high hopes for Inner City Cinemas, particularly for its plans to develop an eight-screen multiplex in the nearby Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. But problems within the partnership snowballed.

Last August AMC sued the Economic Resources Corp., charging the black-operated agency with mismanagement and misrepresenting its financial state. The suit also alleged that ERC owed more than $100,000 in film rentals, and that an ERC executive used joint venture funds to pay off nearly $80,000 in internal debts. Economic Resources officials could not be reached for comment.

In a statement, AMC Vice President Gregory Rutkowski, a former Inner City Cinemas director, said ICC’s financial troubles left American Multi Cinema no choice but to dissolve the partnership. After an extensive review of our options, we feel this (bankruptcy) filing is in the best interests of all concerned,“ he said. "We regret that this is necessary, but we go forward with the knowledge that this is the only alternative possible at this time.”

The Baldwin, a spacious movie house built in 1949, featured a regular lineup of black-themed films. It also frequently held premieres and special screenings; last fall it screened “The Nation,” an independent film about the Nation of Islam, and recently showed the celebrated short film “Sweet Potato Ride,” shot in and around Crenshaw and Leimert Park.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 7, 2009 at 4:11 am

Google Maps is upset that the address above says La Brea Blvd. instead of the correct La Brea Avenue. It shows a map of the whole United States and asks “Did you mean 3741 S La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90016?” Then you have to click their link before they will show you the local map.

Looks like Google Maps is even pickier about details than I am.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 16, 2009 at 11:57 pm

I am parked in front of the Baldwin. Lots of “for lease” signs.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 13, 2009 at 6:49 am

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 2/22/54:

A $2200 robbery of a theater at 3741 S. La Brea Ave. early yesterday turned out to be a sort of “open house”, police reported. David Draper, assistant manager of the theater, said he was approached by a bandit who shovied a pistol in his ribs and forced him to go into the office and open the safe. The robber took $1500, then ordered Draper to open the box office so he could steal the receipts.

The bandit then tied Draper with a length of rope. At that point, a couple of patrons of the theater were shown to the manager’s office by an usher. They wanted to lodge a complaint. The bandit asked them to please come in, accentuating his request with a motion of his pistol. They complied.

Then the second of the bandit pair, who had been standing watch in the lobby, came in and said there was a newspaperboy out front who was “looking around too much”. At pistol point he herded Frank Rocatto, 12, into the office to join the others.

The bandits ended up taking the manager only as far as the rear door of the theater, where they left him and escaped.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on December 13, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Here is an item from Boxoffice magazine, May 1950:

Burt Jones, manager of Fanchon & Marco’s Baldwin Theater in the Baldwin Hills area since it opened last August, resigned and headed for Oregon to go into business for himself, not show business, however. He’s been replaced at the Baldwin by Rube Wolf, Jr., son of the managing director of the Downtown Paramount.

TBernez
TBernez on December 12, 2008 at 5:47 pm

I grew up in 60’s going to two theaters primarily: the Leimert and the Baldwin. The Leimert was the older, more austere theater at that time (now a church I think), but the Baldwin, now that was where you always wanted to see your movies! It seemed so modern back then, with its neon-lit arches and long sloping overhang. I recall watching Sean Connery kill Odd Job in Goldfinger, the Beatles race around England in A Hard Days Night and Help!, and Sidney Poitier bring home a white girl in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, all while glued to my seat at the Baldwin. I fell in love with Raquel Welsh, Jordan Almonds, and Debbie Blackwell (altho I doubt she ever knew it), at the Baldwin. Sorry its gone now. Long live the Baldwin Theater!

Broan
Broan on December 2, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on McDonald’s architecture. Their first restaurant was the Airdrome in Arcada in 1937; in 1940 this was cut in half, moved to the San Bernardino site, and enlarged as a BBQ stand and drive-in; in 1948 they converted it to the self-service concept, and in 1953 the first arches model was built in Phoenix. The San Bernardino restaurant was replaced with one of the standard model later in the year.

I should be clearer – by 1949 the McDonald’s had long since sold their theater in Glendora, but they always kept a keen eye on their drive-in competition; that’s how they became innovators. Given their movie theatre experience it seems likely they watched what the theaters were doing also.