Alhambra Twin Cinemas
702 W. Main Street,
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Previously operated by: Edwards Cinemas, Principal Theaters Corp. of America
Architects: George Weir
Previous Names: Alhambra Theatre, Alhambra & Annex, Single Bill, Gold Cinema
The Alhambra Theatre was opened in December of 1924, and was then the largest theatre yet built in the growing, suburban community of Alhambra, eight miles east of downtown Los Angeles. The architect was George Weir. The announcement of the opening in the Los Angles Times called the Alhambra Theatre a playhouse, and plays were presented on its stage during its early years, alternating with vaudeville shows and movies. Operated first as an independent theatre, it became part of the young Edwards Theatre Circuit in the early-1930’s, after which time the Alhambra Theatre operated exclusively as a movie house.
The theatre building, located at the southeast corner of Atlantic Boulevard (originally called Wilson Avenue) and Main Street, included a row of shops with apartments upstairs, fronting on Main Street, with the theatre entrance at the east end, farthest from the intersection. The four-aisle auditorium was behind this commercial building, its axis parallel to Main Street, and the back of the large, red brick stage house was adjacent to Atlantic Boulevard. The street fronts of the building were faced with a rusticated tapestry brick, laid in a casual pattern, and there was a bit of classical detailing in white stone (or perhaps terra cotta.) In later years, the entire front of the building was painted white, causing the detailing to be nearly invisible. Above the theatre’s entrance was a large, arched window surmounted by a flat pediment, which was partly removed in the late 1950’s, to comply with a municipal regulation intended to protect passersby from possible earthquake hazards.
An unusual feature of the Alhambra Theatre was a false wall of glazed windows separating the auditorium from an inner lobby. The lobby was in three parts; The outer lobby with its box office; The main lobby where the concession stand was built in later years; And, separated from this by a broad curtain which was drawn open during intermissions, a dimly lit area which occupied the back of the auditorium itself, and was seperated from it only by this false wall. The high ceiling of the auditorium reached unbroken from the proscenium, back to the east end of the building. Against the east wall was a two story structure with restrooms on the ground floor and projection booth above. This structure was to the left as patrons entered the inner lobby from the main lobby. To the right was the long false wall, about nine feet high, and its row of windows overlooking the auditorium, and the draped entrances to the four aisles. The auditorium featured several rows of tall-backed leather upholstered loges, and a large number of ordinary orchestra seats. The total seating capacity of this room was probably more than 1,000.
But the most unusual feature of the Alhambra Theatre was a second auditorium, constructed (in 1940 and opening on November 5, 1941) in some of the commercial space adjacent to Main Street, and which was entered from a side passage opened in the side of the main lobby, opposite the concession stand. This second auditorium was called the Annex, and sometimes called the Single Bill Theatre. Double features had become the norm during the depression years, but some people still preferred single features, and The Alhambra accommodated both groups by showing double features in its main auditorium and a single feature in the Annex. (The Annex even had its own, small separate marquee, flat against the wall just west of the main theatre marquee.) Declining patronage at movie houses in the 1950’s led to the end of this policy early in that decade, and the Annex was left unused for several years. Still, the theatre continued to be listed in the newspapers as the Alhambra & Annex well into the 1960’s, and listings in the Alhambra Post-Advocate newspaper of that period continued to carry the tag line “World’s only double bill-single bill theatre”.
In the later 1960’s, with the growing popularity of multiplex theatres, the Annex was refurbished and re-opened as the Gold Cinema. Although the theatres shared the same box office and lobby and restrooms, as with any twin cinema, they continued for several years to be listed separately in newspaper theatre listings. Finally, in the 1970’s, the theatre was renamed the Alhambra Twin Cinemas, and thereafter their newspaper listings were combined.
The Alhambra Twin continued to be a popular theatre even after the Edwards Circuit built a new five-screen theatre called the Alhambra Place a few blocks away, in the early 1980s. However, the long career of the Alhambra came to an abrupt end when the Whittier Narrows earthquake of 1987 caused most of the main auditorium and its stage house to collapse into rubble. Fortunately, the earthquake occurred at an hour when the theatre was closed. A few hours earlier, and the Alhambra might have become the site of one of the worst theatre disasters in American history.
The remainder of the building was soon razed, and a ten-screen Edwards multiplex called the Atlantic Palace was constructed on the same site. It continues in operation today.
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Recent comments (view all 17 comments)
James Edwards' intention to add a second auditorium to the Alhambra Theatre was announced in Boxoffice, issue of July 23, 1938 (upper right corner.) However, the project was not completed until August, 1940.
Helen Kent’s illustrated article about the Alhambra and Annex appeared in Boxoffice of October 12, 1940.
great theatre i saw space balls and a lot of great movies.
The Edwards Atlantic Palace, which stands on the site of the old Alhambra Theatre, is scheduled to be demolished on July 1, 2011: View link
The Alhambra Palace 10, or whatever it was called, has ceased operating and is now closed. The theater is now dark and only a poignant “Thank You Alhambra” is all that remains on the marquee. All that remains is to remove the seats and fixtures, gut the place, and then demolish it. Coming soon: a Los Angeles County administration building on this site. Yet another theater on Main Street in Alhambra – gone – where once there were many. Joining The El Rey, the Capri and the Century and Temple farther east on Las Tunas, now the only theater that survives on Main Street is the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance 14 on the corner of Garfield and Main Street. Saw lots of great movies over the last 45 years at both the Alhambra Palace and also at the old Alhambra and Gold Cinemas before the Palace replaced it when it was destroyed in the Whittier Earthquake in 1987. This theater was a large part of my youth and it will be missed.
Here is a photo of Jimmy Edwards standing in front of the Alhambra Theatre in the 1930s. The circa 1939 date given on that page is wrong. As I recall from earlier research, Edwards bought the lease on the Alhambra not long after he acquired the Mission (later Monterey) Theatre in Monterey Park, and that was in 1930. By 1939, Edwards was operating a circuit of more than a dozen neighborhood theaters, and the Alhambra was his flagship house. If this photo depicts the theater just after Edwards acquired it, it probably dates from the very early 1930s.
The July 23, 1938, Boxoffice Magazine item about Edwards' plans to add a second auditorium to the Alhambra Theater, mentioned in my earlier comment, has been moved to this link.
The article by Helen Kent about the opening of the Alhambra’s second auditorium, in the October 12, 1940, issue of Boxoffice, now begins at this link, and continues on the subsequent two pages of the magazine (click “next page” links at top or bottom of the page scans.) This article has several photos of the theater as it appeared in 1940.
Jimmy Edwards' desire to build a theater in San Marino was the subject of an item in the February 12, 1937, issue of Southwest Builder & Contractor. Plans for a 750-seat reinforced concrete movie house with dimensions of 55x130 feet were being prepared by architect John Walker Smart.
Three years after being rebuffed by San Marino, Edwards was planning to build a theater on Huntington Drive in adjacent South Pasadena. A February 9, 1940, Southwest Builder item said that S. Charles Lee would be the architect for the South Pasadena house. This project was never carried out either, though I have no idea why.
I’ve come across several references to proposed Edwards theaters that never got built. Among them were two proposals for theaters on Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park— a 1,000-seat house in 1939 and a 1,200 seat house in 1945— that failed to materialize.
Incidentally, John Walker Smart was the architect of Sylvester Dupuy’s Pyrenees Castle, the hilltop mansion in Alhambra which became infamous a few years ago as the site of record producer Phil Spector’s murder of Lana Clarkson.
Smart was also the architect of an unbuilt Moorish-style theater proposed for Alhambra in late 1923. It’s possible that it was intended for the site of the Alhambra Theatre itself. Even if Smart’s project was intended for some other site, if it had been built the Alhambra, dating to late 1924, might not have been.
The Alhambra Theater was the location of the murder of an Alhambra Police Officer who interrupted a robbery. I believe there wass a plaque at the newer theater.
The Single Bill theatre opened on November 5th, 1941. Grand opening ad uploaded.
My father managed the Alhambra and Gold Cinemas during the 1960s and 1970s after managing the Temple Theater (Las Tunas Dr & Rosemead Blvd) for 12 years. I worked at the Alhambra and Gold Cinemas from 1972 to 1978. Before the Annex was remodeled and reopened as the Gold Cinema in, I believe, 1968, it was used to warehouse thousands of old movie posters and displays which all got thrown away during the remodel. Before the remodel, there was a very large old organ, covered in chicken wire, at the front of the Alhambra Theater up against the old vaudeville stage. This organ was removed during the remodel as well as the hay-filled loge seats at the rear of the auditorium. I spent many Saturdays, before the theater opened to the public, searching through the loge seats finding money that fell out of people’s pockets. I also spent many days and nights exploring this place including the old dressing rooms in the basement. One of these rooms was padlocked where Mr. Edwards stored all obsolete admission tickets. These included tickets when admission ticket prices rose and for theaters that were closed. I was given permission to go in and take strips of tickets but was overwhelmed. I really miss the old Alhambra Theater. As a previous post mentioned, the Whittier Narrow earthquake was its demise. The water-filled air circulating unit on top of the building, nicknamed “Big Bertha,” crashed through the ceiling and took out the screen and first 5 rows of seats. This happened several hours after the initial quake. It eventually took months to completely tear down the building as it was taken down brick by brick.