Gaiety Theatre

523 S. Main Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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OwenDriggs on August 4, 2015 at 10:20 pm

I’m reading this thread years after it ran out, because I’m researching the Socialist Movie Theater that opened on LA’s 5th Street between Los Angeles and Main in September 1911. And I’ve found an address that may offer some clues to it’s location.

Looking at Baist’s 1910 Real Estate Map, that block on Fifth Street covers #s 106-131. An “LA Record” article about the Theater from 1911 refers readers with questions about it to “Frank C. Hillyard, 129 East Fifth Street, Los Angeles,” which is in the correct block.

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, Hillyard was a lifelong union man (International Molders' Union), who was then in his mid-twenties and very active in LA during the “General Campaign Strike Committee for the Unionizing of LA,” 1910-12. So that seems to fit.

However, that address would put the Theater in the then-rather posh King Edward Hotel (117-131 5th Street), or in one of its street level commercial spaces.

Conversely, perhaps Hillyard was staying in the hotel (which seems somewhat unlikely, as it would have been new, fashionable,and perhaps expensive in 1910?)

Does anyone have thoughts on the likely candidacy of the King Edward as the location of the Socialist Movie Theater?

drb on March 9, 2011 at 10:25 am

Apparently, there was a “Louis Sonney’s Museum of Crime” on 521 S. Main St. in the 1920s, adjoining the theatre. An old ticket with that address was found in the mouth of the mummy of outlaw Elmer McCurdy, which is what allowed the police to ID the corpse, which had been found displayed in a funhouse at the Pike amusement park in Long Beach in the 1970s. Everyone had thought it was a badly-sculpted wax figure until its arm fell off. So after seeing a movie at the Moon, you could go next door and pay 25 cents to see a mummified inept train and bank robber.

cmayerro on March 3, 2011 at 10:03 pm

As a followup to the previous message, see the following for the first ten films in the collection, courtesy of our research librarian at the University of Alabama:

Also, the same librarian says the LOC promises to write back with a list of the other films within the next week. I’ll be glad to share if and when the list materializes.

cmayerro on March 3, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Thank you so much for your expeditious reply, Joe Vogel. The news of the Yeltsin collection of silent American films being donated is serendipitous, even if it turns out the Wolfe film isn’t among them. I’ll dig and see what I can learn. Incidentally, I’m searching for another film adaptation of a Zola novel, co-directed by French and Russian directors H. Etievant and N. Evreinoff, “Fecondite” (1929). I’ve written to every archive in France and have struck out there, but I still wonder about private holdings, possibly in Russia. Just putting this out there in case you have any ideas. Again, thank you, Carmen Mayer-Robin

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm

cmayerrro: I’m afraid I can’t provide you with any additional information about Wolfe’s 1913 movie. About 80% of all movies made in the United States during the silent era are lost, and the odds that a copy (even a partial one) of From Dusk to Dawn survives are pretty slim. It’s possible that reviews survive in publications of the period, and one or another of them might give you a clue to the story’s origin, but I’ve been unable to find any.

There’s a very slight chance that a copy of the movie survived among the cache of American silent films recently revealed to exist in Russia. There are 194 films, according to this article, and copies of them are being sent to the Library of Congress. I’ve been unable to find a list of the titles of these movies. Given the vast number of movies that have been lost, and the mere handful that were discovered in Russia, though, the chance that a copy of From Dusk to Dawn is in this cache of survivors is slight. Still, the movie’s Socialist theme makes it likely that prints of it would have made their way to Russia during the early Soviet period.

If andita is still watching this thread, Google Books has a preview of the David James book cmayerro mentioned, The Most Typical Avant-Garde, and I noticed that it says the movie premiered at the Mozart Theatre on Sunday, October 19, 1913, and played there for one week before moving to the Lyceum Theatre. The Mozart was on Grand Avenue, and the Lyceum on Spring Street.

If From Dusk to Dawn later played a house on Fifth Street, I’ve unearthed another possible venue at which it might have been shown. I only recently discovered that, in 1908, a good-sized movie house called the Globe Theatre was built at the southeast corner of Fifth and Los Angeles streets. It was operating at least as late as 1914, but was closed sometime before 1921. Given its early closing date, as well as its out-of-the-way location, it’s not surprising that its existence eluded our discovery for so long.

cmayerro on March 3, 2011 at 3:59 am

Does anyone know of an archival copy of the Frank E. Wolfe film mentioned in the thread above, From Dusk to Dawn 1913? David E. James lists the film as lost in his recent book, and his discussion of the film is based on an essay written by the director. In any case the film looks like it might be a loose adaptation of a Zola novel I am working on, Travail (Labor), published in 1901. The novel was also adapted for an epic six-part film by Henri Pouctal in 1919. Also, andita above suggests the Wolfe film “did blockbuster business”. How do we know? Suggestions of resources for this neophyte appreciated (I’m a scholar of literature, not film, working in a new direction). Thanks.

kencmcintyre on April 29, 2009 at 5:52 pm

Joe, almost all of these photos from the Dick Whittington studio were taken in 1939. I only posted the ones relevant to CT, but there are 2840 photos in the USC collection showing LA during this period. Go to the USC archive search engine and enter “Whittington” to see the entire collection.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 29, 2009 at 5:35 am

I notice that the unreadable vertical sign appears to be partly draped, as though they might have been working on it. I wonder if this was the time the Gaiety name was adopted for the house? It’s also possible they were getting ready to remove the vertical. It was certainly gone by the time Robert McVay took this 1947 photo (previously posted.)

The movies on the Optic’s marquee were both released in 1938. According to IMDb, the Dick Powell movie “Hard to Get” was released in November and “Orphans of the Street” in December. I don’t think the Optic was a first-run house any more by this time, but the latter movie appears to be a “B” picture of the sort that went to sub-run houses pretty fast, so if IMDb’s dates are right then the photo could date from late 1938 or early 1939.

kencmcintyre on April 29, 2009 at 3:22 am

I think the Gaiety is the theater farthest north on Main in this 1930s photo from the USC archive:

kencmcintyre on April 3, 2009 at 12:52 am

My only quibble would be that I don’t recall ever seeing billboards of that nature on Main Street, at least not on that part of Main. if it’s not this Gayety I wonder which one it could be. I think it may be on Broadway, but perhaps not in Los Angeles?

kencmcintyre on April 3, 2009 at 12:36 am

Interesting that they advertise it as having a Broadway stage show. There is a Gayety on Central Avenue in LA but none on Broadway that I know of. Maybe they were fudging since Broadway is three blocks away.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 27, 2008 at 5:17 am

Ken, in the photo you linked to in your October 8 comment, I see they spell the name “Gayety” in that sign over the entrance.

kencmcintyre on October 26, 2008 at 9:43 pm

There was a story in the LA Times dated 12/4/18 about a man charged with arson at the Omar Theater. Address was 521 ½ S. Main Street.

kencmcintyre on October 9, 2008 at 5:32 am

I bought this photo at a bookstore last weekend. There’s no source or date, but it looks like the next building down has the number 525, so I have a hunch this is our place:

kencmcintyre on May 6, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I posted a 1914 lineup on another DTLA page, but I can’t recall which one. If I come across it I will put it on this page.

andscharf on May 6, 2008 at 8:03 pm

We actually know the theater where FROM DUSK TO DAWN showed was on 5th, so looking at this list, it could have been The Auditorium (before it became the Clune in 1914) or the Metropolitan. Or it could have been a storefront that is not listed.

And as you said the Metropolitan, Los Angeles is not listed on Cinema Treasures. If I discover anything I will update.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 6, 2008 at 4:51 am

First, a CORRECTION: I wrote in my comment just above that Asher Hamburger owned the site of Clune’s Broadway Theatre, but I confused my names. It was Tally’s Broadway Theatre that was on land the Hamburger Trust owned, next door to Hamburger’s store on South Broadway.

Almost all of the Los Angeles area theatres listed thus far at Cinema Treasures were built later than 1913, and many of the listed theatres existing at that time didn’t begin showing movies on a regular basis until later. The best place to look for information about what was showing in late 1913 would be the newspaper ads and theatre listings of the era. I don’t have access to any newspaper archives of the time myself.

By 1913 a lot of movie theatres were operating in L.A.. Among the larger downtown theatres of the time that were built specifically to show movies were the Optic (a few doors down from the Gaiety), Clune’s Broadway (later the Cameo), Tally’s Broadway Theatre, which was actually built later than Tally’s New Broadway Theatre (later the Garnett), and the Hyman Theatre (later renamed the Garrick.)

There were also a few good-sized theatres which had been built for stage productions but converted to full or part-time movie houses by 1913. Among these were the Mozart Theatre on Grand Avenue, which underwent many name changes but was the Mozart in 1913, and the Grand Theatre on Main Street- at that time still one of the city’s largest venues- which had opened as the Grand Opera House and had been the first Los Angeles house to become part of the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit.

Any of these theatres would have provided a capacious hall for the opening run of a popular movie, though there were certainly others. I don’t think Marcus Loew had opened a theatre in Los Angeles yet in 1913 (Loew’s State opened in 1921), but if the movie was showing in vaudeville houses such as Loew’s in the east, then it might have been shown in a vaudeville house in Los Angeles as well, so such theatres as the Pantages (later the Arcade) and the third Orpheum now the Palace) were also possible venues.

andscharf on May 6, 2008 at 1:34 am

Yes “From Dusk to Dawn”, which debuted in Sept 1913, did blockbuster business. Socialists were a significant political force in that era. In may cities, the film showed at the local Loew’s theaters.

I still don’t know actually where it played in L.A.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 6, 2008 at 12:04 am

Re-reading the comments from the last few years (especially those by vokoban on Jul 26, 2006), I see that the shows presented at the People’s Theatre in its early years indicate no particularly socialist bent. The Ethel Tucker Stock Company appearing in September, 1906, was a well-known travelling troupe of the era, and the show presented in February, 1908, by the Great Don-Fer appears to have been some sort of minstrelsy.

So, the People’s Theatre appears to have presented pretty much the same sort of popular entertainments as the other theatres in Los Angeles at the time. We’ve got no firm date at which this theatre first showed movies, though. As it was built as a playhouse in 1906, it’s very unlikely that it had a projection booth as part of its original design, and its use as a movie house would have been limited by that until one was installed.

Despite the building having been built by H.J. Woollacott, I wonder if the house was then actually operated under lease by, or for, Asher Hamburger, owner of A. Hamburger’s Department Store, later The May Company Los Angeles and earlier The People’s Store? He apparently had some connection with the earlier People’s Theatre on North Main Street, and he owned the Majestic Theatre on Broadway. He was one of the partners who built the fourth Los Angeles Orpheum. He also owned the land on which Clune’s Broadway Theatre stood, and may have financed its construction, and for a while he actually operated a movie house inside his department store after it moved from the Phillips Block to the big building on 8th, Broadway, and Hill.

In any case, it seems unlikely that the name People’s Theatre was, in this case at least, a reference to socialism. Also, IMDb reveals that “From Dusk to Dawn” was distributed in the U.S. by States Rights Independent Exchanges, which was a highly successful company operating from 1912 to 1962 (though at a considerably slower pace after 1939.) This company distributed such enormously popular early movies as Jame’s O'Neill’s version of “The Count of Monte Cristo”, the early Cecil B. DeMille production, “The Squaw Man”, and numerous others. It seems unlikely that the company would have had any trouble getting regular movie theatres to show Wolfe’s film, despite its socialist theme. That means the movie might have been shown at many theatres around the city.

andscharf on May 5, 2008 at 6:24 am

This is very helpful. Wish there was better coverage on it alone, but this is good. Thank you.

kencmcintyre on May 4, 2008 at 11:47 pm

That’s the photo. Thanks.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 4, 2008 at 11:28 pm

andita: The sign on the building near the subway terminal was for The Peoples National Bank, which occupied the premises at 409 S. Hill from 1924 to 1929. Note, just beyond the subway building, the white skyscraper which was still under construction at the time this photo was taken (you can see that the sidewalk is displaced by a wooden bypass of the sort used during construction.) That skyscraper was to be the new home of the bank, which changed its name to National Bank of Commerce when it moved there in 1929.

The 1907 photo ken mc posted which no longer opens is probably this one (USC digital archive changed all its url’s). It shows Main Street from above, with this building (Gaiety Theatre) at lower right sporting a “People’s Theatre” sign.

If the Socialist Movie Theatre was actually on 5th Street, it might have been a simple storefront conversion. The majority of early movie thetres were storefront conversions, and they came and went like mayflies. Few purpose-built theatres were ever erected on 5th Street. There was one theatre called the Metropolitan (not to be confused with the later Grauman Metropolitan on 6th and Hill), which is not listed at Cinema Treasures because we don’t know if it ever ran movies or not. The Metropolitan was on 5th at the northwest corner of either Wall or San Pedro.

Other than that, there were only Clune’s Theatre on Main at the corner of 5th (also not yet listed here, as nobody’s gotten around to it), and the Auditorium, owned by Temple Baptist Church, and also operated by Billy Clune during its movie house days (ca.1914-1920.)

andscharf on May 4, 2008 at 7:57 pm

That would be great. Thank you.

kencmcintyre on May 4, 2008 at 7:51 pm

I will see if I can find the link. I think it was from USC.