Ricardo Montalban Theater
1615 N. Vine Street,
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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.
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