A look onto the great stage with some Fanchon & Marco "Idea" scenery in place and the Western Electric speaker system in position. Those are Western Electric 12A horns with 555 drivers. It's a 1930 Mott Studios photo in the collection of the California State Library.
A closer look at the speakers. The whole box traveled offstage on a track instead of going up into the flies. It's another Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection. For lots more on early Western Electric sound equipment see Kurt Wahlner's Projection and Sound pages on his Grauman's Chinese website.
The Frank Adam/Major pre-selective dimmer board, offstage right. It's been removed to provide much needed space downstage. It's a Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.
In the basement under the dimmer board was this clapper board. The relays on the board controlling different banks of stage and auditorium lights were activated by switches (either manual or via 10 presets) on the board above. The Mott Studios photo is in the collection of the California State Library.
Proscenium width: 54'
Stage depth: 70'
Stagehouse width: 180'
Orchestra pit: It's on a lift, originally with a bandcar as well. Storage for the platform was in the upstage "bustle."
Pipe organ: Sorry, never got one. The chambers are there but the contract for the organ was cancelled during construction.
Sound in 1930: Western Electric. The film sound speakers traveled offstage via a monorail. In addition to the film sound system, the Pantages had PA speakers (around the proscenium) covering the auditorium. There were other concealed speakers in the lounge and lobby areas. These all were controlled from a PA room adjacent to the projection booth.
Projection: See the projection booth section for more information about the theatre's projection gear.
Movie screen in 1930: Ready for wide film or Magnascope, 30' x 60' with motorized masking.
Dimmerboard in 1930: The Frank Adam / Major pre-selective resistance dimmer board, now removed, was offstage right. Other theatres in Los Angeles to get similar Frank Adam boards included the downtown United Artists and the Warner Hollywood.
Terry Helgesen, in the Theatre Historical Society's Annual devoted to the Pantages, notes that "The huge switchboard installed in the Pantages was designed by Cass Hayes, consulting engineer for the Pantages circuit. The board cost $45,000 and was 8 feet longer than that of the famous Roxy."
For more about Frank Adam equipment see Bob Foreman's Vintage Theatre Catalogs article on Frank Adam equipment. It includes a complete 1952 catalog from the company as well as other photos and information.
Rigging in 1930: 75 sets, operated at stage level stage right.
Steam Curtain: Of course the Pantages had one, originally at the footlights. But it's gone.
Checking out microphones onstage. Note that one flown in from overhead. In addition to the film sound system, the Pantages had PA speakers (around the proscenium) covering the auditorium. There were other concealed speakers in the lounge and lobby areas. These all were controlled from a PA room adjacent to the projection booth. The footlights were of the "disappearing type" so the bandcar could roll off the stage and onto the pit lift. It's a Mott Studios photo from the California State Library.
A mic set up in the middle of the auditorium during a pre-opening check of the sound system. It's a Mott Studios photo from the California State Library. If you don't like the looks of that guy, there's another Mott Studios photo of the same view without him as photo #4 of the Library's photo set #001416979. Note the partial view of the screen above the stage with the size of the big Magnascope screen masked down to a more conventional size for 1.37 to 1 aspect ratio films.
An August 30, 1930 article in Exhibitors Herald-World discussed backstage and the technical equipment at the Pantages:
"... Seventy-five sets of scenic lines stretched overhead above the stage include the screen, which is 30 by 60 feet in size. A motor control masking device diminishes or increases its size, according to the picture, whether standard or wide film. The 'working' stage measures 60 feet wide and reaches a depth of 75 feet. Dressing rooms are capable of accommodating several hundred people. The automatic hydraulic elevator used to lift the orchestra pit to stage level, may be swung back on the stage when necessary.
Two miniature stages on either side of the main stage are used in presentations, or for poster display in announcing coming attractions. A mono-rail carries eight reproducing horns directly behind the screen. These are supplemented by five additional speakers lining the proscenium arch.
A public address system with seven horns provides an arrangement for broadcasting to any part of the auditorium, restrooms and lobby. These horns are concealed in the walls with grilled openings. The restroom and lobby horns are used for reproduction of popular phonograph records. Supplementation of the sound system to obtain special effects is also possible...."
A look at the Pantages board from the Terry Helgesen collection that appears in the Annual on the Pantages that was produced by the Theatre Historical Society. The man is Cass Hays, who was the designer.
The photo above also appears on Bob Foreman's Vintage Theatre Catalogs blog. His post on Frank Adam equipment includes a complete 1952 catalog from the company as well as other photos and lore. Bob is Atlanta based and while his major mission is documenting the technical aspects of the Atlanta Fox, he has many interesting articles on other vintage technical topics as well. See his Backstage at the Fox 1929 and Fox Fact - a companion site.
The Pantages website has a Facts and Trivia page. On it they discuss the theatre in 1930:
"At a cost of $1.25 million, the new Pantages Theatre was clearly state of the art when it opened in 1930. The hydraulic lift that raised and lowered the orchestra pit and musicians was so powerful, it could do the same with an average bungalow. The stage, at 10,000 square feet could practically accommodate a baseball game. And the lights that illuminated the stage were said to be enough to illuminate the entire length of Hollywood Boulevard."
A 1940 Herald-Examiner photo by Otto Rothschild of the L.A. Philharmonic, led by Albert Coates, onstage at the Pantages for a "young peoples" concert. Note the interesting rebuilt profile of the front of the stage. Here the pit lift is down several feet from stage height at "overture" position. It's a photo in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.
A photo of the stage renovation underway in 2000 for "The Lion King" from the Pantages website's Facts and Trivia page. They note: "To prepare the Pantages for the local premiere of 'Disney’s The Lion King,' a 40 x 40 foot pit was cut in the stage to accommodate the state-of-the-art computerized hydraulics required by the elaborate musical. The many dressing rooms that used to exist under the stage had to be relocated to a new two-story subterranean area below the building."
The view toward stage right. Thanks to Albert Domasin on Flickr for his 2010 photo.
Offstage right: a look up at the flyfloor and beyond. Thanks to Howard Nugent, former master electrician at the theatre, for his 2014 photo. It was taken during the run of "Pippin."
Up the ramp to the loading door. Thanks to Albert Domasin on Flickr for his 2010 photo.
One of the dressing rooms. It's a photo from Albert Domasin on Flickr in his 2010 Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation Pantages Tour set. Thanks, Albert! Also see: another view toward stage right | lockrail view | looking toward stage left |
Terry Helgesen, in the Theatre Historical Society Annual devoted to the Pantages, notes:
"The stage shows at the Hollywood Pantages really never fully utilized the huge stage during the Fanchon & Marco reign with their 'Ideas.' It was simply too vast, both in depth and in width for the average Fanchon & Marco 'Idea' presentation. True, they did augment the chorus line, just as they did in all the big Fox houses.
The one stage show which did use the huge stage to its fullest capacity was an independently produced version of Ravel's 'Bolero' -- done after Fanchon & Marco had departed. It was an outstanding production, a 'one-time' affair that possibly may never again be duplicated.
The production started with the augmented orchestra rising in total darkness as the house curtain rose -- one could see all this because of the orchestra-stand lights. The orchestra reached stage level and the band car slid back to the last 20 foot area at the rear of the stage; a scrim came down to partially hide them. The pit, in the meantime, had lowered again and came up with the dancers who, in pairs, slowly proceeded on to the stage dancing to the sensuous rhythm. They were costumed lavishly in every color imaginable. The set was a courtyard of an old Spanish inn.
When the music had built up to the point of the entrance of the premier danceurs, who were costumed in gold and silver, the stage appeared to be filled with dancers undulating and whirling about. A large refectory table had appeared onstage and the principal dancers were elevated onto it to be seen above all the others just before the finale.
Each pair of dancers appeared to have their own spot (overhead backstage spots -- so very effective) -- it seemed like hundreds were onstage -- the primcipal dancers were spotted in white and gold, the rest in various fabulous colors, all being constantly followed by their individual spot.
But just as the climax started the steam curtain at the footlights started to rise and the effect of all those spotlights, plus the concert borders and the tree-spots on the steam, which rose to the top of the proscenium, gave the wildest blurred effect one could imagine. The feeling of heat was intense and the whirling of the gaudy costumes in the steam was sensational. With the last chord in the climax of the music the entire stage was blacked out.
The orchestra took first bows by coming forward on the band car to the pit (once again at stage level -- during the blackout the refectory table had been removed to the wings) then descended into the basement. Next the dancers took their bows the same way.
This was one production which really used the huge switchboard to its fullest capacity as well as the complete stage facilities. hat a pleasure to have seen such a production and to recall such a fantastic performance."
Thanks to theatre historian Kurt Wahlner for sending along the Helgesen text. The Pantages used to be his favorite theatre -- until they stopped running movies. The new favorite is the Chinese. Don't miss his exhaustively researched Grauman's Chinese website.
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