Alhambra Twin Cinemas
702 West Main Street,
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The Alhambra Theatre was opened in December of 1924, and was then the largest theater 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 theater, 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 theater 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 theater 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 theater’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 theater 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 theater 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 theaters, the Annex was refurbished and re-opened as the Gold Cinema. Although the theaters shared the same box office and lobby and restrooms, as with any twin cinema, they continued for several years to be listed seperately in newspaper theater listings. Finally, in the 1970’s, the theater 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 theater 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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