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Earl Carroll Theatre

6230 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028
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A c.1938 view of the Earl Carroll Theatre from the Los Angeles Public Library. You can see the image as a postcard in Elizabeth Fuller's Old Los Angeles Postcards collection on Flickr.



The Earl Carroll Theatre as a studio for Nickelodeon. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

News: The building has been declared a City of Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Landmark. Julia Wick on LAist had a December 8, 2016 photo spread of many vintage views along with the story "Hollywood's Earl Carroll Theatre Gets Landmark Designation." Patrick Lee had a December 9, 2016 story on L.A. Curbed: "Hollywood building that once housed lavish supperclub wins landmark status."  The new owners plan to erect a mixed-use building in the parking lot west of the theatre but will be retaining the theatre building in their plans and doing some restoration work. More details are at the bottom of the page.

Opened: December 26, 1938 for lavish Earl Carroll musical comedy revues. The exterior featured a 20-foot high neon silhouette of Beryl Wallace, one of the Earl Carroll girls (and Mr. Carroll's wife). The lettering around the silhouette said: "Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world."



A souvenir postcard of the theatre from the site Card Cow. They have thousands of great vintage postcards to browse. Also see another souvenir showgirl card on the site. 



A souvenir photo folder. Like many nightclubs, the Earl Carroll sold photos to the happy couples attending the shows. This view of the cover of a 40s folder which contained the souvenir photograph comes from Marlaine Hysell's collection.  



Inside the souvenir photo folder: "This photograph is a souvenir of a breathtaking visit to the Earl Carroll Theatre Restaurant in Hollywood. Yes, Earl Carroll IS an international celebrity..." The text declares him "America's premiere authority of feminine beauty."  You can, of course, click  on the image for a larger view.  Thanks Marlaine! Also see: photo of the group | rear of the folder



An ad for a New Year's Eve celebration added to the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page by Kliph Nesteroff.  



Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr for this matchbook from the Earl Carroll Theatre. It's in his extraordinary Paper Ephemera collection. 




And, of course, there were even Earl Carroll Theatre playing cards. This one's a two of spades from the collection of Sharon Sekhon of the Studio for Southern California History.

The building was sold following the 1948 deaths of Earl Carroll and Beryl Wallace in an airplane crash. The theatre had a difficult time in the early 50s and in 1953 was re-opened by Frank Sennes as the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Sennes increased the seating capacity to 1,250. The theatre was also used for periods as a TV studio in the 50s, including for the "Queen for a Day" program.



A wonderful 50s billboard for a Moulin Rouge engagement of Louis Prima and Keely Smith. It's a Gary Leonard photo that popped up on Vintage Los Angeles as a post by Alison Martino.
 



A 1959 program cover from the Gs Jansen collection he once had posted on Vintage Los Angeles.

From 1965 until early 1968 it was the Hullabaloo Theatre. In 1968 it became the Kaleidoscope. In late 1968 it was renamed the Aquarius for a run of "Hair" and other shows. In 1977 it was briefly known as the Longhorn Theatre. It was also called the Sunset Blvd. Theatre, the Star Search Theatre and (in 1993) the Chevy Chase Theatre. Other uses have included being a venue for Jerry Lewis Telethons and Filmex.

Seating: 1,000 -- in a dinner-show arrangement

Architect: Gordon B. Kaufman, with interior and exterior design work by Count Alexis de Sakhnovsky and Kaufman. The cost of the building was estimated at $500,000.

The stage featured a 60' revolve with separately operated inner and outer sections. There was also a water curtain, an orchestra pit lift, a small circular lift downstage center for a soloist and a revolving tower of four pianos stage right.

Status: It's been used since 1997 by Nickelodeon and known as the Nickelodeon on Sunset as their west coast production hub. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for more information on the plans for redevelopment by the new owners.

The Earl Carroll in the Movies: 


We see all the wonders of the great stage demonstrated in "A Night at Earl Carroll's" (Paramount, 1940). The plot is slim, but it doesn't matter. A mobster engineers a kidnapping of Mr. Carroll and the lead performers so there won't be a show. But quite a show we get! In addition to Mr. Carroll, the film features Ken Murray, Rose Hobart, J. Carrol Naish, Lela Moore and Forbes Murray -- and a cameo by Beryl Wallace. See the Theatres in Movies post for more shots from the film.



We get some nice aerial shots in the Jerry Lewis film "The Errand Boy" (Paramount, 1961). Here looking west on Sunset it's the Earl Carroll (here renamed the Moulin Rouge) on the left and the Palladium across the street. See the Theatres In Movies post for a Hollywood Blvd. aerial view and visits to the Fox Westwood Village and the Chinese.



A vintage exterior photo of the theatre as the Earl Carroll that's used at the beginning of "Zoot Suit" (Universal, 1981).



Another exterior image from the opening. The end credits of "Zoot Suit" note that it was filmed at the Aquarius Theatre, as it was then called. There are some shots of the audience in the auditorium during the film -- but we really don't see anything in the except seats. There are, however, some views of the lobby.



A lobby shot from "Zoot Suit" Thanks to Lanna Pian for the tip on this one. The Theatres In Movies post has several more lobby shots.

A few lobby views: 


A boxoffice view by Maynard Parker. It's a photo in the Huntington Digital Library collection where on its page you'll also find thumbnail views of the 21 other photos of the theatre they have by Mr. Parker. It's also on Calisphere along with many more Earl Carroll Theatre views.



An amazing lobby photo by Maynard Parker from the collection of the Huntington Digital Library. It's also on Calisphere.  The description (on a now-vanished Huntington Library page) noted that "the statue by Martin Deutsch still graces the lobby, though her ribbon of neon is gone."



Thanks to the superb Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection for this 1939 view of the lobby. Yes, those vertical tubes at the top of the photo are neon. It's just one of many amazing views that the collection has of the Earl Carroll Theatre. Interior photos include: another lobby view | turntable construction | lobby stairs | table layout from above | 1949 show from above rear |

Exterior views in the Bruce Torrence collection include: at night - 1939 | 1940 night view | along the sidewalk | 1979 -- "Oliver" | another 1979 "Oliver" view | 1979 - "Ain't Misbehavin" | 1987 - as the Aquarius - "For Sale or Lease" | And you can browse many more Earl Carroll Theatre photos from the collection.



The lobby stairs up to the lounges. It's a 1939 photo on Calisphere by Maynard Parker in the Huntington Digital Library collection.



The top of the stairs. It's a view from the Los Angeles Public Library. Their great collection includes about a hundred photos of the theatre with many concerning specific productions and performers.



Across the landing at the top of the stairs to the lounges. It's a 1939 Maynard Parker photo on Calisphere.



A look at a lobby seating alcove. Thanks to Nile Hight for posting the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. It's a Maynard Parker photo that can be seen on Calisphere.



Another lobby view from the Huntington Digital Library collection. It's a 1939 Maynard Parker photo on Calisphere.



The bar in the lobby. The 1939 photo is by Maynard Parker in the Huntington Digital Library collection. It's on Calisphere. The glass columns were internally lit with neon.



The lobby in 2011. Thanks to Chuck Weiss for this one and his other photos that appear here. As of 2017 the building is still a production facility for Nickelodeon. In 2011 it was home to "Victoriuos," "iCarly" and other shows. Chuck, who was working in the building on "iCarly," reports that the owners were keeping the lobby in near mint condition. His Earl Carroll photos originally appeared on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles where you can see the comments they garnered.



The grand staircase in the lobby.  Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011



The top of the staircase -- leading to the restrooms. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011



Looking down toward the exit. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011. He notes: "The original statuette is in excellent condition, and still greeting those who enter the doors of this amazing place." See the comments to his post of the photo on Vintage Los Angeles.

Auditorium views:


A 1938 auditorium photo. Note the neon ceiling lighting. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A closer look toward the neon-bedecked proscenium taken in August 1939 by Maynard Parker. It's on Calisphere from the Huntington Digital Library's collection.


 

A house right auditorium photo taken in 1939 by Maynard Parker. It's on Calisphere from the Huntington Digital Library. 

 

The statue house right. It's an August 1939 photo by Maynard Parker in the collection of the Huntington Digital Library. It's on Calisphere.



A view across the house from stage left. The Maynard Parker photo from the Huntington Library is on Calisphere. Head to Calisphere for over twenty photos of the theatre by Mr. Parker plus many from other sources.



The rear of the auditorium. It's a 1939 Maynard Parker photo on Calisphere.



Chorus girls onstage in 1949.  It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

On the great stage:


A construction view of the revolving stage from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The caption says: "Earl Carroll's theater-restaurant is famed not only for its 'most beautiful girls in the world' but, also, for its unique revolving stage. During the show, leggy ladies of the line will parade onto the huge circular, revolving stage. This photo shows Earl Carroll and some of his aides and chorus girls examining the construction of the revolving stage in 1938." 




A c.1940 Peeping Tom look into one of the dressing rooms. Thanks to Jeffrey Finley for the photo on Vintage Los Angeles.



Thanks to Nile Hight for this c.1942 look at an Earl Carroll show.  It was a post on Vintage Los Angeles.



A view of Earl Carroll showgirls from a program page posted by Tam Tim O'Connor Fraser on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. Tam's mother, La Gay Guistina, is in the upper right. She was with the theatre for a year or so around 1945.  Also from Mr. Fraser on Vintage Los Angeles see program photos of Earl Carroll and Harry Revel and a promo photo of two Earl Carroll beauties.



An elevator under the stage to take a dancer up to stage level. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011. He notes: "Under the stage of the Earl Carroll Theater, this is one of the tiny elevators the dancing girls would ride up to stage level. A corkscrew lift would take the scantily clad dancer up to an opening in the stage floor where she would be a part of the show."  The post of the photo on Vintage Los Angeles generated many comments about the building. 

 


We're under the stage looking at the rollers and track for the stage turntable. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011. He notes: "Apparently the rotating turntable stage had two separate movements - one part of the stage could rotate at a different time/speed/direction than another section. I'll have to crawl around the basement more to see how this was accomplished."



A detail of the rollers and concrete race that supports the turntable. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011



The motor for the turntable -- now disconnected. Photo: Chuck Weiss - 2011. Thanks, Chuck!

A few more exterior views:


A 1938 Herman Schultheis shot of the installation work on the famous neon on the exterior. The piece, a 20' high likeness of Mr. Carroll's companion Beryl Wallace, is ringed with the words "Through These Portals Pass the Most Beautiful Girls in the World."  It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Thanks to Nile Hight for posting the photo on Vintage Los Angeles, prompting a look for it in the LAPL collection.



Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for this early postcard of the theatre from his Theatre Talks collection.  There's also a version of this one on Card Cow.  Card Cow also has another night postcard of the theatre from across the street.



The exterior in 1938. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



An August 1939 photo by Maynard Parker. It's from the Huntington Digital Library collection and also on Calisphere.  The link to the Huntington will also get you thumbnail views of 21 additional photos of the theatre by Mr. Parker



A great look at the famous neon face that was once posted by Brian Michael McCray on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Thanks, Brian! 



A 1939 Frasher Foto Card in the collection of the Pomona Public Library. Their Frasher Postcard Collection has hundreds of photos from all over southern California. The card above also appears as part of an Earl Carroll album on the Facebook page SoCal Historic Architecture.



A card from the site Card Cow. The L.A. Conservancy also has a version of this card on their "Earl Carroll issues" page. The number in the lower corner isn't the date -- it's earlier than that. 



An Ansel Adams shot of the "neon Earl Carroll girl" on the facade. The photo is in the collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.



A night postcard view by Bob Plunkett from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Another version of the card from the Michelle Gerdes collection appears on Photos of Los Angeles.



Earl Carroll and some of the showgirls with autographed blocks that would be installed on the theatre's facade. It's a photo that once appeared on Vintage Los Angeles.

 

A 1940 view of the tire shop along the east side of the theatre. Thanks to Michael Hayashi for the photo, a post on Photos of Los Angeles.




A 40s view of the theatre from
"The Aquarius Theater," Alison Martino's 2009 post on her Martino's Time Machine blog. The photo also appears on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page and with her 2015 Los Angeles Magazine article "Uncovering a Secret Gem...."



The Wikipedia article on the Earl Carroll Theatre has this 1942 view taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration.  It's in the Library of Congress collection.



A 40s postcard view of the Earl Carroll. Thanks to Mark for the card with his post about the theatre on the blog Having A Nice Time.  It also appears in the Hollywood section of the site Penny Postcards of California.

The back of the card reads: "The Earl Carroll Theatre - Restaurant in the heart of Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard near Vine, is a favorite Nite Spot in the Film Capital of the World. Seating arrangements are terraced so all guests may enjoy an unobstructed view of the lavish stage production with 'Sixty of the Most Beautiful Girls in the World.'"



A postcard view of the celebrity autograph plaque wall from Brian Michael McCray's amazing Hollywood Postcards collection, formerly displayed on Picasa. Thanks, Brian! Another version of this star wall postcard from the John Marshall collection appears on Photos of Los Angeles




Thanks to Richard Wojcik on Vintage Los Angeles for this great 1945 shot of servicemen visiting the theatre. 



 A 40s snapshot from the Sean Ault collection. Thanks, Sean! 



Big plans for a new film theatre were announced in 1946 but never realized. The Los Angeles Public Library photo appeared on Vintage Los Angeles, where Brian Michael McCray offered details on the never-built theatre:

"Seating 7,000, $15 Million, structure to be larger than Radio City Music Hall, Sunset Boulevard, a half a block east of current structure. Proscenium 130 ft., THREE revolving stages 75x100, and ice rink AND a water tank, so that Esther Williams and Sonja Hennie could BOTH perform simultaneously while 110 dizzy dames twirled. Movie Theatre, TV studios, nightclub and a high rise office tower topped with a heliport. (And we got The Cinerama Dome instead.)" Thanks, Brian! 




A Burton Frasher Card with a 1947 night view in the collection of the Pomona Public Library. There's also a higher resolution version on Calisphere.



The "Celebrity Wall" in 1948. It's a postcard in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. There's also a different black and white postcard using a photo by Bob Plunkett. Both Card Cow and Penny Postcards of California have copies of that one.



Thanks to Sean Ault for this fine night view taken when CBS was using the theatre. It's also on Vintage Los Angeles as a post from Richard Wojcik. 



The theatre became the Moulin Rouge in 1953. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this early 50s "All New Show" shot on Photos of Los Angeles.



This great Moulin Rouge postcard with the show "Paris Toujours" playing is from Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles. A version is also on the site Card Cow.



A lovely 50s view from Jeanne Be on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



A c.1953 view showing the theatre when it was operating as the Moulin Rouge. It was once on Vintage Los Angeles as a post by Laura DeMarco but has now vanished from the page.



A great 3 minute compilation of c.1954 Hollywood footage, Luke Sacher's "Hollywood 50s Neon" on YouTube features the Earl Carroll in its Moulin Rouge days, Grauman's Chinese, the Egyptian and lots more.



Picketing NBC's Fred Astaire show in 1959. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the photo on Photos of Los Angeles.



A lovely 1961 Moulin Rouge view. The show was "C'est la Vie" with Louis Armstrong. Thanks to Alison Martino for the post on Vintage Los Angeles. The image also appears with her 2015 Los Angeles Magazine article "Uncovering a Secret Gem...It's also on Photos of Los Angeles.



Thanks to G.S. Jansen for posting this nice "Queen For a Day" view by an unknown photographer on his Noirish Los Angeles post #1506



A Moulin Rouge shot that Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality found on eBay for his Noirish post #23819. Also see several nice views of the theatre on his Noirish post #5759. Visit Noirish LA for a great ride around the "bright and guilty place" that is Los Angeles!  



A 1965 look at the celebrity autograph slabs from the Richard Wojcik collection on Vintage Los Angeles.  Note here we still have the Beryl Wallace neon on the building. Thanks, Richard! Also see Alison Martino's post of a 1966 L.A. Times photo of the Turtles at the Celebrity wall.



Thanks to Richard Wojcik for this June 1966 photo of the Palladium and the Earl Carroll, here as the Hullabaloo. It was a post of his on Vintage Los Angeles. He notes that the dirt in the foreground is the site of the then recently demolished NBC complex at Sunset and Vine.

 


This cropped version of Richard's photo is from Alison Martino on FlickrThe image also appears with her 2015 Los Angeles Magazine article "Uncovering a Secret Gem...." Thanks, Alison!  



A look at the Earl Carroll in 1968 with lines for a Janis Joplin show. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the photo on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



Thanks to Richard Wojcik for this early 1971 photo taken after "Hair" had completed a nearly two year run at what was then called the Aquarius Theatre. It was a post on Vintage Los Angeles. Don't miss Alison Martino's post "The Aquarius Theater" on her blog Martino's Time Machine.



 A 2009 look east on Sunset Blvd from Argyle. That's the Palladium on the left. Photo: Google Maps  | interactive version



The Nickelodeon signage c. 2009. Thanks to Mark for the photo with his post about the theatre on the blog Having A Nice Time.



A c.2011 look at the building from Ken Mcintyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



A 2013 look at the building by Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.

The future of the building: A December 9, 2016 L.A. Curbed article mentions "restoration" of the theatre but offers no details other than facade work. Which may be, along with preservation of existing deco lobby details, about all we get. Not to complain-- this is a better outcome than it looked like at the beginning of negotiations. LAist says the agreement with the owners "will ensure that one of the last remaining examples of modern entertainment venues constructed during the height of the Golden Age will remain for decades to come." But don't expect to go to a show. There is no program to restore the auditorium. It hasn't been a public performance venue for years and may or may not be returned to that use in the future -- it depends on what sort of tenants the building gets.

Escott O. Norton, of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, offered more details: "The developer says that the current tenant, Nickelodeon, will continue to use the property. When they choose to leave then the developers will look for a new tenant. They are not in the theatre biz, so if we can find the right operator for this unique property, it might very well be returned to a public venue. We were able to add protections for some of the interior elements, including the rotating stage which is currently covered by the production facility floor. Also, there will be some dedicated parking for the theatre, not nearly enough but some."

The building and its adjacent parking lot are currently owned by Palo Alto based equity fund Essex Property Trust. They're proposing to build a 7 story mixed use structure, the 6250 Sunset Building, in the parking lot west of the theatre that would contain 200 apartments and 4,700 sf of commercial space. The existing building would be retained and connected to the new via a "paseo."

The initial proposal from Essex contained no assurances that the theatre would remain an entertainment-related venue or that any of the remaining historic features (such as the deco lobby) would be preserved. Preservation organizations including Hollywood Heritage and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation had negotiations with the developers regarding preservation of historic aspects.

The developers are planning to restore the facade to its 1938 look, including the vertical neon stripes on the Sunset facade and (eventually) the neon sculpture with the lettering "Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world." No cement signature blocks, however. The developers have expressed enthusiasm about retaining the deco lobby but there have been no assurances about the auditorium. Unlike the lobby, the auditorium has been extensively remodeled over the years. As of 2016, some of the original stage equipment (including the revolving stage) still remains in place.

The building may stay as a production facility if Nickelodeon leaves. Or get turned to other commercial use. Initially there was little chance it would ever again be a public venue as Essex didn't want to meet the necessary parking requirements. Now, with some dedicated parking, that possibility has been left open for the future.

It's unknown how much protection the City of Los Angeles landmark status gives the building. But it was a big step as earlier the developers had expressed an interest in applying -- but only after their work was completed. While much of the building has been altered, enough historic features remain to make the Earl Carroll also eligible for inclusion on the National Register. The developers have also talked about a facade easement to the L.A. Conservancy to obtain certain tax credits.

The Los Angeles Conservancy has a fine page outlining the project. Hit the "our position" tab for more information about their reservations about the project as originally proposed. Also see the Draft Environmental Impact Report from March 2015 and a pdf with the Conservancy's comments.



Looking west on Sunset across the facade of the historic theatre toward the proposed new building. It's a rendering from a 2014 Curbed L.A. article by Bianca Barragan on the project "Here's the Latest Look for the Sunset-Vine Mixed User."

Thanks to Richard Adkins of Hollywood Heritage for updates on the project. He notes that "There are some good things to their plans for the new adjacent building. It has a facade on Hawthorne as well as Sunset in order to upgrade that street. They are borrowing rhythms and massing from the Carroll and they are restoring or returning elements of the vintage signage."

More Information: See the Bruce Torrence article on Frank Sennes and the theatre's years as the Moulin Rouge. Alison Martino's 2015 Los Angeles Magazine article "Uncovering a Secret Gem..." has some history of the venue. You Tube has a nice 2 1/2 minute clip from Robbies Video Archives "The Hullabaloo Club, Hollywood, 1966" with a nice discussion of its transition from the Earl Carroll/Moulin Rouge.

The Wikipedia article on the Earl Carroll Theatre has an informative history on the Hollywood theatre and Earl Carroll Theatre in New York City. Also visit their listing for Earl Carroll. Earl Carroll also has a listing on Find A Grave.

Carroll also was a film producer with titles including the cult-classic "Murder at the Vanities" (1933) as well as "Stowaway" (1936), "Love is News" (1937), and "A Night at Earl Carroll's" (1940).

The Missing Plaques: The Earl Carrol had a whole wall of little plaques that were signed by the stars. In a June, 2011 story, L.A. Magazine's Chris Nichols answers a question about what happened to them:

"In 1968, a Dutch art collective known as the Fool replaced the nameplates with a psychedelic mural of Greek muses and stored the autographed pieces in the basement. They stayed there until 1979, when Magic Castle founder Milt Larsen acquired them for his Variety Arts Center downtown."

"Gene Autry lassoed them for his museum later that year. Finally, Butterfield & Butterfield auctioned off 104 of the plaques in 1989 and 1990. Two bearing the names of Norma Shearer and Amos ’n Andy had been left beneath the theater stage. They were put on display until 2006, when the property was sold again—it’s now the Nickelodeon Theater—and the owner gave the pair to the handyman."  Thanks, Chris! As of 2015 some of the plaques were evidently still in the possession of Milt Larson. 

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