Red Lantern Theatre

134 S. Brea Boulevard,
Brea, CA 92821

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The Red Lantern Theatre, at a cost of $25,000 and seating 900, opened in March of 1922 and was Orange County’s largest theatre to date. A simple ad in the Fullerton Daily Tribune proclaimed it as “Orange County’s most beautiful and most original picture and vaudeville palace”. The lessee of the Chinese-themed theatre was L.A. Schlessinger, who in 1915 built the County’s first theatre for the purpose of movies, the West End Theater in Santa Ana. The Brea Historical Society says that the opening attraction was “A Game Chicken” starring Bebe Daniels.

In the 1930’s it was renamed the Brea Theatre and about this time, according to the Historical Society, had a manager named Robert Gumm whose niece Frances Gumm became Judy Garland. Always an independent, it received a modern facade and marquee in the early 1950’s.

Closed in the 1970’s, it was being used as church before it and most of the downtown area was demolished in 1987.

Contributed by Ron Pierce

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

grandcornet
grandcornet on March 2, 2008 at 6:20 am

This theatre was equipped with a four-rank Robert Morton pipe organ. Does anyone know which church was using this building before 1987?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on August 7, 2008 at 6:14 pm

I remember passing by the Brea Theatre a couple of times in the 1950s. From the outside it was quite unprepossessing, and I never would have guessed it had the ornate interior described above. All I recall is that it had a tiny marquee and a somewhat shabby facade.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 7, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Various issues of Southwest Builder & Contractor from August through November, 1921, carry items about the Red Lantern Theatre. It was designed by architects Jeffery & Schaefer (Elmore Robinson Jeffery and Frank R. Schaefer.) The project was built for investors Culp & Sexton, and the construction company was Fowler & Lindsay, of Santa Ana. Early plans called for reinforced concrete construction, and later articles say the theater was being built of concrete block.

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on January 1, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Here is part of an LA Times article dated 10/26/76:

The old Brea Theater apparently will be transformed from an adult movie house into a house of worship. Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and the lessee have worked out preliminary arrangements by which the church will acquire the building lease next Monday.

Calvary Chapel would require a conditional use permit to use the theater for church services. However, the use permit probably would be granted by the city, even though the chapel would be next door to the Church of the Good Shepherd.

MagicLantern
MagicLantern on June 17, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Just around the corner from Edwards Brea Stadium Cinemas, this address is nothing but new houses now.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 21, 2012 at 11:14 am

This 1964 trade report shows a Brea Theatre without identification. Caption merely says it was in a town of 14,000 population which had been without a picture house. Can anyone find a location for it? Boxoffice

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 30, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I believe the Brea Theatre in the Boxoffice photo Tinseltoes linked to is this one. Despite the impression the caption gives that it was new construction, nobody was building theaters that looked like that in 1964, and they certainly weren’t making neon Art Deco marquees like that anymore. The Brea must have been closed for a few years, and Mr. Goodin must have renovateded and reopened it.

Although Google Street View shows the Improv comedy club with a marquee very like the one on the Brea Theater, I’m not sure it’s the same marquee. The aerial view shows that the building the Improv is in is not as deep as the theater must have been. It might be entirely new construction, though the Brea’s marquee might have been saved, reconditioned, and attached to the new building. I’m not even sure if the Improv’s entrance is in the same location the theater’s entrance was. The whole town has changed so drastically that it’s unrecognizable.

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