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Hollywood Playhouse / Avalon: history + exterior views

1735 Vine St. Los Angeles, CA 90028  | map |

Also see: Hollywood Playhouse / Avalon: interior views 


The Hollywood Playhouse, after many incarnations as a legitimate theatre and television studio, is now a music venue. That's the Hotel Knickerbocker behind the theatre. Photo: Bill Counter - 2020

Opened: January 24, 1927 as the Hollywood Playhouse, a legitimate theatre operation. The initial show was "Alias The Deacon" staring Berton Churchill, then the biggest star on Broadway. The Playhouse was the last of four major legit theatres to open in Hollywood in less than nine months. The earlier ones were the El Capitan (May 3, 1926), the Music Box, now called the Fonda (October 20, 1926) and Wilkes Vine Street, now the Montalban (January 19, 1927). 

"Hollywood Becoming Another White Way of Show World" was the headline for a full page in the L.A. Times issue of January 16, 1927 that discussed the Playhouse and the Vine Street along with other new Hollywood theatres. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating this for his Historic Theatre Photography site. He has made the full page available as a PDF. See his page on the theatre for several other Times articles about the opening.

Status: The theatre is now a concert facility and music club called Avalon Hollywood. Also in the building is Bardot at 1737 Vine St., a somewhat separate restaurant and club occupying the second floor areas fronting on Vine St. as well as the rooftop patio behind those spaces. Use of all the areas is fluid depending on the requirements of a particular event. There are patio photos at the bottom of this page. Scroll down to the bottom of the interior views page for several photos of the Bardot space.

Phone: 323-462-8900  Website: AvalonHollywood.com | History | Bardot | Facebook |

Never a film house, it's always been a live venue of some sort. After its early legit career it became a TV studio. The building got a major makeover in 2003.

Architects: Gogerty and Weyl. Henry L. Gogerty (1894-1990) and Carl Jules Weyl (1890-1948) also designed many other Hollywood buildings. See some of their other projects listed on the Theatres by Architect page. Steffan Horbaczek was responsible for the building's decoration. Earlier he worked as a painter for William Lee Woollett on the Metropolitan Theatre and also painted sets for the Los Angeles Grand Opera Association.


One sheet of the Gogerty and Weyl plans for the building from the collection of Joël Huxtable. He's a lighting designer who also took on the task of being the theatre's archivist until 2009. He's continued collecting material about the building.

Seating: Originally 1,178. The main floor has been terraced and seats removed. In 1949 the capacity was listed as 1,142 with 656 of that on the main floor, 178 in the balcony loges, 296 in the balcony upper section and 12 in the boxes.

Stage specs:  The proscenium is 37 '8" wide and 45' high. It's 34' 4" from the curtain to the backwall. The stage is 71' wall to wall. Grid height is 71'. It was originally a hemp house but a number of  counterweight sets have been added. You'll find more details about the stage down near the bottom of the interior views page.

The Playhouse in the Movies: 


We get some nice aerial shots in the Jerry Lewis film "The Errand Boy" (Paramount, 1961). Looking west along Hollywood Blvd. it's the Pantages in the center. To the left of the Capitol Records building we see the Hollywood Playhouse. In the lower left of the image is part of the Music Box. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a Sunset Blvd. aerial view and visits to the Fox Westwood Village and the Chinese.
 


A look up the main lobby stairs in Taylor Hackford's "Against All Odds" (Columbia, 1984). That entrance into the auditorium from the landing is a recent modification. The Avalon gets a starring role as Jake's Palace, a nightclub owned by James Woods. The film also stars Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots of the theatre from the film.



We're at the Hollywood Playhouse for interior views of a club they're calling the Ritz for the title number near the end of "What's Love Got To Do With It" (Touchstone Pictures, 1993). The film about Tina Turner (Angela Bassett) and her abusive husband Ike (Laurence Fishburne) was directed by Brian Gibson. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Playhouse shots as well as views of the State Theatre, the Warner Grand in San Pedro, the Academy in Inglewood, and the Chinese. 


The Playhouse in the 20s:


A pre-opening entrance detail. Thanks to the Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photograph collection for the photo, their #T025-13. Many more photos of the theatre are in the collection including several as the Hollywood Palace: a 1972 view, #T-001-1 and a 1978 view, #T-024-2. Take a tour through nearly 250 theatre photos on the site. Thanks, Bruce!



A 1927 Mott Studios photo in the collection of the California State Library. In the display cases are posters for the theatre's opening attraction "Alias The Deacon" staring Berton Churchill, then the biggest star on Broadway. There's also a version of this photo in the Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs collection, #T-025-4. Also see an "Alias" photo in the California State Library collection, with a cutout of Churchill.

The Mott Studios photos of the Playhouse in the California State Library collection include many not shown here on this page. They're in four sets: 5 photos - set # 01384357 | 15 photos - set # 01384349 | patio - 3 photos - set # 01384348 | lobby stairs - 3 photos - set # 01384347 |

Eight of the Mott Studios photos appear beginning on page 35 of the April 1928 issue of Pacific Coast Architect. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the issue on Internet Archive. The publication mistakenly credits Morgan, Walls & Clements as designers of the building. 

The theatre's initial operator, Ed Rowland, generally brought in traveling shows, largely dramas. By 1928 Henry Duffy was booking his productions into the theate. Duffy also produced at the El Capitan and at the President Theatre (the former Morosco, later renamed the Globe) downtown on Broadway. Noted performers in the early years of the Playhouse included the Duncan Sisters, Charlotte Greenwood, and Billie Burke.



Coming attractions were listed in the Hollywood Playhouse's opening night program. 



 The staff and policy page of the opening program. It's from the collection of Joël Huxtable. 



An early facade view with "Pomander Walk" on the marquee. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library



The program cover for "If I Was Rich." The 1927 production featured Phil Tead and Charles Miller. This image appeared on a now-vanished website called Theatre Print.


The Playhouse in the 30s and early 40s: 

  
An early 30s view of the Playhouse as we look north on Vine. The tall structure is the Pacific States Life Building, now known as the Yucca Vine Tower, completed in 1928. It's also a design of Gogerty & Weyl. Also note the Mulholland Dam in the distance -- before being camouflaged by dirt and foliage. It was completed in 1926. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.  The Library also has another similar view. Note that the roof sign doesn't say Hollywood Playhouse anymore, only "Playhouse."  Soon those letters would be removed as well.


 
In the mid to late 30s the Playhouse was used for a number of WPA Federal Theatre Project shows. This program cover is from the 1933 production of "Androcles and the Lion." This was the first of many FTP productions at the theatre. It's from Joël Huxtable's collection.



 The "Androcles" cast onstage.



A nice 1934 exterior view from the California Historical Society. Leon Gordon is appearing in "White Cargo." It's in the USC Digital Library collection. The production of the play at the Playhouse was mentioned in a news item in the Reading Eagle. Mr. Gordon was also the author of the play. A later production of it ran over a year at the Beaux Arts Theatre in 1939 and 1940.  A version of the photo is also in the Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs collection as their item #T-025-11.



The Playhouse had a fling with burlesque in 1936. Larry Harnisch's The Daily Mirror blog post on burlesque star Carrie Finnnell downtown at the Follies also featured this ad for Billy Minsky's show at the Hollywood Playhouse -- and the story of his troubles with the vice squad.



A poster in the Library of Congress collection for 1937's "Revue of Revues" by the Federal Theatre Project at the Hollywood Playhouse. George Mason University has a different "Revue of Reviews" poster in their collection. 



A c.1937 view from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The show is the Federal Theatre production of "Ready, Aim, Fire!" A version of the photo is also in the Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs collection, #T-025-14. The Library also has another Herman Schultheis photo taken during the run of the same show. The Library of Congress has a poster for the show.



A Library of Congress collection poster for "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" in 1938. 



A FTP poster for "The Warrior's Husband" in the Library of Congress collection. 



A 1938 poster for "Two A Day" from the Library of Congress collection.  Also in the collection: "Judgment Day" - 1938 | "Caesar and Cleopatra" - 1938 ... and lots more



A 1939 L.A. Times ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this one for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

Also see the Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection items at George Mason University. You can search their site by city, show title or theatre name. They have nine Hollywood Playhouse items.
Wikipedia has a poster for the Federal Theatre event "Concert of Modern Dance Now" with Myra Kinch & Group.



 A c.1938 look down on the Playhouse from Life. The banner is touting stage shows at popular prices. The title of the show on the marquee seems to be something called "Black Empire." Check out the new "Vodvil Playhouse" sign on the roof above the entrance.



Another c.1938 aerial photo from Life. The Hollywood Playhouse is down in the lower left cornerThanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Tourmaline for finding the two Life aerial shots. They appear, along with several recent views of the building, on Noirish Los Angeles post #35795.



A 1942 view looking north on Vine St. The Hollywood Playhouse, over on the left is running a show called "Meet The People."  Thanks to Bill Gabel for the post on the Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles.
 


A 1942 telephoto look south on Vine by Dick Whittington. You don't get much of the theatre (here still called the Playhouse) but if you look at the right side there's the marquee and a bit of decorative plasterwork visible. The photo is in the USC Digital Library collection. On the marquee: "Meet the People - Hit Musical Revue."

As the El Capitan: In 1942 the theatre was purchased from Guaranty Bank by C.E. Toberman and Sid Grauman after the bank had foreclosed. Toberman moved the name El Capitan to this building as his original El Capitan (on Hollywood Blvd.) was then being called the Paramount. Their first tenant was Ken Murray, whose "Blackouts" had a long profitable run of seven years and 3,844 performances.

The July 11, 1942 issue of the magazine Billboard reviewed the show: "Another West Coast two-a-day vauder, Blackouts of 1942, presented by Ken Murray and Billy Gilbert, opened this week at the 1,100-seat El Capitan, formerly the Hollywood Playhouse, on North Vine. Attendance has been good, with the first several nights sell-outs at $1.65 tops. Show runs two hours 15 minutes. Murray and Gilbert have gathered a likely array of talent and show holds interest, but its exceptionally good spots are few and far between. Comedy is good, however, and that's what West Coast people seem to want these days."  Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding the article.



A program for Ken Murray's "Blackouts of 1942" from the collection of Marlaine Hysell.  The rear of the program, and other items, appear on the Ken Murray's "Blackouts" page.



Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr for this ad for the 1944 edition of "Blackouts" from Playgoer magazine. It's in his terrific Paper Ephemera collection.



A 1945 L.A. Times nightlife ad from Kliph Nesteroff on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. In the middle, we get the El Capitan touting "Ken Murray's Blackouts of '45.



Ken McIntyre found this 1947 view looking west from Yucca and Argyle. Admittedly it's a better photo of the City Food Mart than of the Hollywood Playhouse beyond it. Note the El Capitan name that they've painted that name across the top of the stagehouse. It was a post on Photos of Los Angeles.



A 1947 look north on Vine St. as the theatre celebrates the 5th year of Ken Murray's "Blackouts." Ken McIntyre found the shot for Photos of Los AngelesAnother photo taken that same week appears in the Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs collection, #BLO-008.



The cover of the program for "Blackouts of  1947" from the Cezar Del Valle Collection. Five more pages from the program appear on the Ken Murray's "Blackouts" page.  Thanks, Cezar! 



A 1948 look at the theatre during the run of "Blackouts of 1948." It's a Bob Plunkett photo on the postcard from Cezar Del Valle's collection. Cezar is a Brooklyn-based theatre historian with
a fondness for Los Angeles Theatres. Check out his adventures on the Theatre Talks blog. Thanks, Cezar!

The Plunkett card also appears in the Angel City Press book "Spectacular Illumination: Neon Los Angeles 1925-1965" by Tom Zimmerman with J. Eric Lynxwiler. Chris Nichols discussed the book and included this card and other Hollywood views with his August 2016 Los Angeles magazine article "These Photos Will Transport You to a Neon-Soaked 1930s Hollywood." A non-postcard version of the photo is in the Huntington Library collection.



A lovely shot for Life looking north on Vine. Note the roof sign for "Ken Murray's Blackouts" as well as the El Capitan lettering on the stagehouse. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for posting the shot, along with other Life Hollywood views, on his Noirish post #44282.

The Playhouse in the 50s: The "Blackouts" run ended in 1949 and Toberman and Grauman, despairing about finding another hit show, sold the theatre to the Catholic Church. NBC moved in to use the building as a TV studio. They were initially on a lease but bought the building in 1951. Nixon broadcast his "Checkers" speech from the Playhouse in September 1952 with his wife there as the sole spectator in the audience. 

The work the network did to remodel the theatre was discussed in "NBC Converts El Capitan for TV Theatre," a four page article in the May-June 1952 issue of RCA's magazine "AM-FM-Television Broadcast News." It's on page 22 of a pdf from the site AmericanRadioHistory.com. Thanks to Bob Foreman for finding the article. For a wonderful collection of historic tech material visit his site Vintage Theatre Catalogs. Mike Hume also has a pdf of the article as part of the Avalon page of his Historic Theatre Photography site.

 

A 1952 look at the theatre as an NBC studio.
Note that we've lost the 30s marquee but still have the "El Capitan" signage on the side. The photo appears in Gregory Paul Williams' great book "The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



A lovely look south on Vine in 1953 from the collection of Electrospark on Flickr. That's the theatre's stagehouse on the far right of the photo. It's also been seen as a post by Alison Martino on Vintage Los Angeles and on Photos of Los Angeles.



Looking east toward the rising Capitol Records building in 1955. That's the Hollywood Playhouse over there on the right. Thanks to Michael Lee price for his post of the photo on Vintage Los Angeles.



A view south on Vine St. in 1956 from Richard Wojcik on Vintage Los Angeles taken shortly after the opening of the Capitol Records building. The Playhouse is tucked in to the left of the Knickerbocker. Thanks, Richard!



A 1956 aerial view with the Pantages at the lower left and the Playhouse above it. Photo: Howard Kelley, Los Angeles Public Library



Another 1956 view, this time from from the north. It's a Howard Kelley photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Another version, zoomed in a bit, is on Vintage Los Angeles.

The Playhouse in the 60s: The theatre went back to the El Capitan name and had occasional legit bookings. "Peter Pan" had a run in 1962. In 1963 ABC acquired the building and after a $400,000 remodel renamed it the Jerry Lewis Theatre. After the short run of that show ABC rebranded it as the Hollywood Palace in 1964.



A c.1960 night view looking south on Vine St. added by Ken McIntyre to
the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The outline of the Playhouse can be discerned at the right. 
 
 
 
A 1964 signage detail. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 
 


A 1966 photo from the UCLA / L.A. Times Photograph Collection posted on Vintage Los Angeles by Doug Boethin. No idea what that celebration is all about.



Thanks to Richard Wojcik for this 1967 look north on Vine posted on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Note the billboard about the 83 cent lunch at the Ontra Cafeteria.

 

A summer 1967 shot from the website Shorpy.



A 1968 view looking north on Vine discovered by Ken McIntyre for Photos of Los Angeles. The Playhouse is over there on the left hiding behind a billboard. 



A fine look at the facade in 1968. It's from the Richard Wojcik collection on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles
 
 

A 1968 signage detail. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the photo to add as a comment to a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.  



Another Hollywood Palace shot. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing this photo from his collection. 
 
The theatre in the 1970s: The Merv Griffin Show used the theatre for several years in the early 70s. It had been a CBS show and then was syndicated by Metromedia when CBS cancelled him in 1972. 



A colorful 1971 look down Vine St. toward Hollywood Blvd. Thanks to GS Jansen for posting it on the Facebook group Mid Century Modern. The theatre (as the Hollywood Palace) is on the right. It's also been on Vintage Los Angeles where Gary Schneider gave it the 1971 date.



The Hollywood Palace in its Merv Griffin Show days. Thanks to Johns Burwell for posting the photo on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. 



Merv at the theatre in 1973. Thanks to Rick Balin for his photo on Vintage Los Angeles.

The Playhouse as a music club: After the Merv Griffin show moved elsewhere, the theatre went dark. In 1987 ABC sold the building to Dennis Lidke who did a remodel and opened it as a club called The Palace. A different management team took over sometime in the 1990s. In 2002 the building was purchased by John Lyon and Steve Adelman of Hollywood Entertainment Partners. They rebranded it as the Avalon, replicating the success they had with clubs of that name in other cities.



A c.2005 facade detail of the theatre during its blue period taken by the German photographer Martin. It once appeared on You-Are-Here.com, his great, but now vanished, website.



The beige era. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007



A 2007 entrance view appearing with the Wikipedia article about the theatre.



A 2009 photo by Winston Smith of several faces on the facade. It appears with "We Had Faces," his terrific post on The Boulevard Blog. See the post for many more details of ornament from other Hollywood buildings.



 Another 2009 Playhouse facade detail by Winston Smith.



The theatre's entrance in 2010. Photo: Bill Counter



A peek in toward the front doors. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



A facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The Playhouse in 2011 as we look south on Vine St. toward Hollywood Blvd. Photo: Google Maps



The white and black paint scheme was introduced in 2014. Photo: Google Maps - 2019



The facade in 2020. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography 



The ornament above the bay window. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2020



 A door detail. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2020. Thanks, Mike!


The rooftop patio: 


Looking north on the patio. The auditorium is off to the left. Photo: Mott Studios, California State Library - 1927

The Mott Studios photos of the Playhouse in the California State Library collection are in four sets: 5 photos - set # 01384357 | 15 photos - set # 01384349 | patio - 3 photos - set # 01384348 | lobby stairs - 3 photos - set # 01384347 |



A great c.2015 patio shot from the Avalon's Venue Rental page.



A c.2015 view of the rooftop patio from the Hollywood section on the site About.com where it was credited to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. 



A c.2015 Vero Image photo from the Avalon's Bardot page. We're looking north with the auditorium off to the left.



A view south. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2019

More information: See Mike Hume's fine page about the theatre on his Historic Theatre Photography site. There's an article about the Avalon with many photos on the site Trip Savvy. There are over 500 recent pictures of the theatre as the Avalon on Yelp. There's also a separate listing for the Bardot Restaurant with (at last look) nearly a hundred photos.  

The other Hollywood Playhouse: There was also a small legit venue on Las Palmas called the Playhouse. It's also been through a lot of different names. See the other Hollywood Playhouse page for details on that one.

The other El Capitan: This venue on Vine St. just borrowed the name temporarily. The Hollywood Blvd. El Capitan opened with that name in 1926 and got it back in 1991 after five decades as the Paramount.

The Hollywood Playhouse / Avalon pages: back to top - history + exterior views | interior views |

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