Ricardo Montalban Theater

1615 N. Vine Street,
Los Angeles, CA 92262

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Artist's rendering image courtesy of Benny Ballejo.

This splendid Beaux Arts live-performance theater was built in 1926-1927. The premier performance was “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser. The theater also had a memorable run of the play “Philadelphia” during its early years. The theater features orchestra, mezzanine, loge and balcony seating.

During the depression of the 1930’s, the theater was renamed the Lux Radio Playhouse and became a cinema. The theater was then purchased by the Columbia Broadcasting (CBS) for local affiliate KNX radio and was used as a live performance radio auditorium and local radio station.

In 1954, Mr. Huntington Hartford bought the building for $200,000 from Columbia Broadcasting and extensively remodelled and “modernized” the theater at an additional cost of $750,000. He streamlined the building from the facade, to the lobby and through the auditiorium. The new design was created by a famed “decorator to the stars” named Helen Conway, who gave it a “fashionable” look popular at the time.

The re-design included a second floor mezzanine bar that served spirits… and advertised as the first such feature in any live theater. The facade featured white Vermont Marble in mid-century modern design. The lobby contrasted with black and silver carpet, specially loomed for the floors. The auditorium doors were black teak wood with gold fittings. The large auditorium had gray-green walls with black pilasters rising from either side of the stage. KTLA television did a live opening broadcast as 2,000 people lined Vine Street to see the stars arrive at the gala. The opening performance was Helen Hayes in “What Every Woman Knows”. Hartford ran the theater successfully for ten years.

In 1964 he sold the theater to James Doolittle (owner of the Greek Theater in the Hollywood Hills) for $850,000. Cary Grant had tried to buy the building, but lost over Doolittle. The theater was (not surprisingly) renamed the Doolittle Theater.

Eventually, the theater would run down into disrepair. Until bought in 2000 by the U.C.L.A. performing arts group “Nosotros”, an organization founded in 1970 by actor Ricardo Montalban “to help fulfill the goals of persons of Spanish-speaking origin in the motion picture and television industry”. Nosotros means “us” in Spanish and they wish to improve the image of people of Spanish-speaking origin as they are portrayed on the screen, help their members seek employment opportunities in the entertainment industry and to train them by offering theatre workshops and theatre productions they can be a part of. The founding board included members Desi Arnaz, Vicki Carr and Anthony Quinn.

The theater was reopened in May, 2004 and was renamed the Ricardo Montalban Theater and is being remodelled to appear more as it did when it was built in 1926. It’s Beaux-Arts exterior has been carefully recreated in the first phase of the project and the interior work is progressing.

This theater is often mistaken for other Hollywood theaters, most often with the Hollywood Playhouse at 1735 Vine Street, which in the 1960’s became famous as the Hollywood Palace TV show venue. That theater still stands one block to the north. The Ricardo Montalban Theater has even been confused with the former Jerry Lewis Theater and the El Capitan Theater, which are blocks away.

Contributed by R. Christian Anderson

Recent comments (view all 85 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 21, 2010 at 6:49 am

Bob Feigel: The theater from which Steve Allen’s show was televised was the old Filmarte Theatre, a few blocks south at 1228 Vine Street. In the 1950s it was also the venue for Art Linkletter’s show.

Bob Feigel
Bob Feigel on September 21, 2010 at 5:23 pm

@ Joe Vogel – Thanks for that. Reading through the posts I see Sonny & Cher mentioned. I interviewed them on several occasions. Initially in the offices of “Green Stone Productions” (named for Brian Green and Charlie (?) Stone) and at their new home in the valley. But the most memorable was the night they flew out for an ultra secret flight to perform at Caroline Kennedy’s birthday at Caroline’s request. Cher had given me and my photographer the exclusive, but we had to keep it under wraps until the party was over and S&C had returned to LA. Exciting times. I’ll post a link once I’ve written up that adventure and about the night I took the Makaha Skateboard Exhibition Team for an appearance on the Steve Allen Show (and the scene about the salami imprint in the concrete outside the theater).

Bob Feigel
Bob Feigel on September 21, 2010 at 6:47 pm

@Joe Vogel – Just checked it out on Google Earth and it looks like the theater was bowled at some point and replaced by a new building. I wonder what happened to the imprint of a salami on the sidewalk outside the stage entrance?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 22, 2010 at 5:24 am

Bob Feigel: Yes, the Filmarte is gone. The building now on the Filmarte’s’s site was erected in 1993. I don’t know what became of the salami imprint.

MHartford on November 15, 2010 at 12:25 am

This is beautiful history to read :)Thanks for all the effort and detail

Bob Feigel
Bob Feigel on November 25, 2010 at 3:23 pm

Thanks to everyone who responded to my posts and filled in the gaps. Cheers, Bob

dtrigubetz on May 27, 2011 at 3:18 am

The Mexico Film Festival was held May 19-25, 2011 at the Montalban and enjoyed huge attendance including several sellouts. I snared an $80 all access pass for $40 in a one-day promo on the L A Weekly website and saw nine films.

Milagro Tequila had a free drink and punch bar which I enjoyed. A number of Mexican actors and talent attended and it was refreshing to see a better dressed and younger crowd-about 95% Latino-than you see at other film festivals. The concession prices were quite reasonable: $2 for candy bars, bags of cashews, soft drinks, etc. Beer and wine were also available.

I am not Hispanic and my subpar Spanish hindered me in getting much out of the Q & As, mostly in Spanish. All films had English subtitles, except for one picture
sent to the festival in error with English titles.

abeebee1 on February 14, 2013 at 2:51 am

I am wondering if it is possible to get a copy of this photo? My friend is interested in owning a copy. Thank you! Anita

Julius on November 3, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Great to see this theater is still operating. I worked the stage door when it was still the Huntington-Hartford Theater and later the James A. Doolittle Theater. Great plays and terrific people who came backstage to visit the performers. Visitors included Helen Hayes, Barbara Stanwyck, Natalie Wood, Walter Matthau, Jane Fonda and a very shy Tom Hanks.

DavidZornig on October 1, 2018 at 12:03 am

1954 photo of the Intermission Bar at the Huntington Hartford Theater added via John A. Harris.

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