United Artists Theatre
933 South Broadway,
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The downtown United Artists Theatre was opened on December 26, 1927 with Mary Pickford & Buddy Rodgers in “My Best Girl”. Built by the founders of United Artists Pictures; Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford, who needed the massive Spanish Gothic style movie palace as a venue for world premieres of their movies. The castles and cathedrals that Fairbanks and Pickford saw on their honeymoon in Spain, inspired them to instruct architect C. Howard Crane to design their movie palace in that style. It was replicated the following year in the United Artists Theatre in Detroit, Michigan.
The 13 story office building which fronts the United Artists Theatre was designed by the architectural firm Walker & Percy Eisen, in a Spanish-Gothic style. There is a double height ogival window over the theatre entrance and many niches containing statues on the facade, including one of a figure holding an early movie camera. On top of the main tower feature is a large highly decorated clerestory and sky-sign.
The interior of the theatre was designed by noted theatre interior designer Anthony B. Heinsbergen. In the lobby the ceiling is painted to imitate stained glass, while in the main foyer the vaulted ceiling is painted to resemble tapestries, and has the look of an old Spanish cathedral. An open balcony runs across the foyer at mezzanine level, whilst on the opposite wall are huge gold edged mirrors. Under the foyer was located a private screening room for Mary Pickford.
Seating for 2,214 was originally arranged in orchestra, mezzanine and balcony levels. The deep recess in the ceiling is covered with tiny mirrors, which glitter when the cove lighting plays on them. On the two side walls are magnificent murals by Heinsbergen depicting heraldic Medieval scenes with painted characters depicting Fairbanks and Pickford and other Hollywood figures, including the heads of United Artists board members serving in 1927, tacked onto voluptuous bodies of flying gods and goddesses. The organ screens, serving the Wurlitzer 3 manual 17 ranks organ, and the proscenium arch are highly decorated in an elaborate Gothic style.
The theatre was a great success and was operated by United Artists Theatres circuit for the majority of its life as a movie theatre. During the 1950’s, a new wide-screen process was installed, and a giant curved screen was erected in front of the proscenium arch. Although little damage was done here, the mezzanine was totally removed to acommodate a new projection booth, which gave a straight throw onto the new screen.
In its later years, the United Artists Theatre was operated by Metropolitan Theatres and it closed as a full time cinema in the summer of 1989, screening Spanish language movies. It briefly became a legitimate playhouse, staging Spanish language comedies, dramas and musical comedies for adults.
In the fall of 1989, it was taken over by Dr. Eugene Scott for church use. Volunteers from his organization toiled for many hours to remove years of smoke stains and grime from the building, which now looks as good as it did on opening night, back in 1927. The former United Artists Theatre became home for Los Angeles University Cathedral. Upon the death of Dr. Eugene Scott in 2005, the church continued to use the building for a few more years. It was put up ‘For Sale’ in 2010, and was sold in the fall of 2011, to a developer, with possible plans to convert at least part of the building in a hotel.
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