San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

320 S. Mission Drive,
San Gabriel, CA 91776

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This former movie theater opened as the Mission Playhouse in 1927. From about 1932 to the end of World War II, according to movie listings, it was used as a movie theater and was called the Mission Theatre. It is said that during the wartime housing shortage that its dressing rooms were used as apartments.

At the end of the war the Mission Theatre was bought by the city and it became the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium. Today it is used for a variety of the performing arts and is available for rental. It was re-named San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in 2008.

The nearby San Gabriel Mission, dating back to the early-1800’s, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Contributed by Ron Pierce

Recent comments (view all 14 comments)

tomdelay on October 9, 2005 at 2:59 am

In reality, the Wurlitzer organ in the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium is a 3 manual now 17 rank instrument. This organ was never of 4 manuals and 21 ranks. The Brooklyn Albee organ was known as a style 260-special. The organ was originally 16 ranks—15-ranks in the two chambers at the front of the auditorium and a single rank Vox Humana “Echo Organ” at the back of the balcony. When the organ was dedicated in San Gabe in 1971 or ‘72, the “Echo Organ” concept had been done away with and the parts from the Echo organ were installed with the main body of the instrument at the front of the San Gabe Auditorium. I have climbed about the insides of this organ many times through the years and know it well.

Wurlitzer opus 870 was shipped to the Albee from North Tonawanda, NY on 5/8/24.

This Wurlitzer was not the first pipe organ for the SGVA. When the auditorium first opened, a 2 manual 21-rank Aeolian residence style organ was installed and remained in the auditorium until the Wurlitzer was brought in from NY. Late local LA area organist Paul Beaver bought the Aeolian pipe organ, but it was never installed by Mr. Beaver due to his death. I do not know what became of the Aeolian on Mr. Beaver’s death circa 1974.

Also, a name is missing from “lostmemory’s” list above; Bruce Skovmand did yeoman’s duty to get the organ lift installed and operating for the grand opening of the organ in either 1971 or 72.

Point of fact, the facade of the SGCA was designed to resemble the San Antonio Mission in rural southern Monterey County. This was one of the 21 Spanish Missions in California built in the late 1700s to early 1800s.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 9, 2006 at 8:54 am

Here is a photo of the Mission Playhouse from September, 1940, during the time it was operating as a movie theatre.

MusicManA440 on October 14, 2006 at 3:21 am

The Auditorium’s address and phone number is listed above, but the number given actually is for the Box Office only. The MAIN number for the facility is (626) 308-2865.

kencmcintyre on July 1, 2008 at 5:19 pm

Here is an undated triptych from the LA Library:

kencmcintyre on July 1, 2008 at 5:30 pm

A multi-panel work. Usually three panels joined together.

missionplayhouse on September 23, 2009 at 6:44 pm

If you want to see this beautiful theater in action, visit the Playhouse on Sun 25th Oct at 2.30pm for a screening of the 1925 silent classic “Phantom of the Opera” starring Lon Chaney snr. Live music on the beautifully restored Wurlitzer. More info on 888-528-6722.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 26, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Arthur Burnett Benton drew the original plans for this Mission Playhouse in 1921, and the cornerstone was laid in 1923, but the progress of construction was slow and the building was not completed until 1927, when it opened on March 5.

I’ve come across several sources (a scholarly tome by William Deverell, published by the University of California, for one) claiming that, by 1926, Benton had become too ill (he died in 1927) to complete the project, and it was taken over by William J. Dodd and the firm Dodd & Richards (architects of the Kinema Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, later to become the Fox Criterion.)

Dodd is said to have substantially altered the design, so he should probably be credited along with Benton as the architect. Dodd & Richards also designed a 1929 addition to the playhouse, a project that added a curio shop and exhibition gallery.

thefilmguy on July 18, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Here is a link to a video I made for a friends graduation ceremony a few weeks ago. Shows the exterior, forecourt and interior of the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.

JAlex on August 9, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Stage dimensions: 50' deep; 100' wide.

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