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Ivar Theatre

1605 Ivar Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90028  | map |

"It's cold out there. Colder than a ticket taker's smile at the Ivar Theatre on Saturday night"  - Tom Waits, "Nighthawks at the Diner" - 1975. The photo is a Google Maps 2016 view. Head to their site for the current interactive version.

Opened: February 5, 1951 as a legit theatre with a production of "The Barretts of Wimpole Street." The Ivar was a project of restaurant owner Yegishe Harout. He had earlier opened Har-Omar, a restaurant at 1605 N. Ivar, and just added the theatre on the front.

An opening day news story. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this to add as a comment to a post about the theatre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

In the 60s the restaurant behind the theatre was called The Backstage. Joe Byron of the Los Angeles Film School mentions that they now refer to the space as the "brick box" and when it was a comedy club Lenny Bruce and George Carlin performed there. Ken Roe and Ken McIntyre note on Cinema Treasures that it later morphed into a club named The Sewers of Paris. By 1977 it was a gay bar called Gaslight. In 1996 it was renamed The Opium Den. It has also been used as a green room and reception area for the theatre.

Seating: 400 at one time, including a small balcony. The seating was redone in 2002 and it ended up with a capacity of 284.

Stage facilities: There was once an orchestra pit. The house still has hemp system fly capability. 

There have been occasional movies over the years at the Ivar but it's usually been a legit playhouse. "Joan of Lorraine" with Luise Rainier was the second production in 1951. "The Mad Woman of Chaillot" with Aline MacMahon was a later offering of the inaugural season.

Tennessee Williams' play "Garden District" ran in 1958. Lord Buckley appeared in 1959. In the early 60s the venue was operated by Zev Bufman and Stan Seiden. One of the offerings in 1960 was the revue "Vintage '60" with Barbara Heller, Fay DeWitt and Jack Albertson. Elsa Lanchester and Second City were among the attractions in 1961. Also in 1961 was the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee play "Only in America" in its first post-Broadway run.

"The Fantasticks" had it's first L.A. run at the theatre beginning in November 1961 with Bill Bixby as the boy and Jack Betts as El Gallo. "Under the Yum Yum Tree" with Bixby, Richard Erdman and Regina Gleason (and then a string of other male leads) had an engagement of nearly two years beginning in May 1962 and running until March 1964. The Grateful Dead performed at the Ivar in 1966. "Tiny Alice" also was part of the 1966 season.

The Arch Oboler 3-D film "The Bubble" with Michael Cole and Deborah Walley played its first run engagement at the Ivar. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the 1967 ad.

Elsa Lanchester was a performer at the theatre again in 1967. An audio interview "Elsa Lanchester Herself" is available on the Internet Archive from Pacifica Radio Archives. "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" had a long run in 1968. "Dames at Sea," a Chuck Barris production, played in 1970. "The Boys In the Band" also had a successful run at this time. In 1971 Patty Andrews appeared in "Victory Canteen."

A production of "Godspell" opened December 21, 1971 after a sold out six-week run at the Mark Taper Forum. The site Ad Sausage has an ad for the show at the Ivar. 1972 had a run of the X-rated play "The Dirtiest Show in Town" by Tom Eyens, an "all-nude play about sex, war and smog." In December 1972 the booking was a program of gospel music.

The theatre had been closed awhile in 1973 when it suffered a fire in the backstage areas and the attic. It was reported in a small item on page two of the February 4 L.A. Times. Howard Nugent, former master electrician at the Pantages, recounts: "I was a brand new stagehand. In July I had a call to help restore the hemp rigging and house restore after a fire had done a lot of damage. I worked there with a few other hands for 2-3 weeks refitting and then loading in a show called 'Oh Coward,' a Noel Coward revue. Just a small box of a theater but I got a huge amount of experience in that time. Very few hemp rigs left in Los Angeles even then. But invaluable lessons." "Oh, Coward" opened July 17.

In the fall of 1973 there was a run of "The Incommunicado Mikado," a version of the show updated for the Watergate era. Mr. Harout died in June 1974 and the Ivar changed hands several times following that.

Sometime before 1975 it became a burlesque theatre. In 1989 the Inner City Cultural Center purchased the building and did both their own shows as well as rentals. In 1996 the building went into foreclosure following the death of the ICCC founder, C. Bernard Jackson. After a 2002 renovation, it emerged as the home of the California Youth Theatre. That group moved to another venue in the middle of the decade. Following their exit there were several seasons of music and plays. At various times the venue has been advertised as the New Ivar Theatre.

The Ivar in the Movies: Somehow the story got started that Elvis Presley performs on the Ivar stage for one of the numbers in "Loving You" (Paramount, 1957). Not true. There are bits and pieces of three different theatre spaces in the film and none look anything like the Ivar. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of what we see.

Jodie Foster and her teenage friends live in the Valley, yet somehow they end up walking by the Ivar on their way to school in Adrian Lyne's "Foxes" (United Artists, 1980). The film about drugs, sex and growing up in L.A. also features Cherie Currie, Marilyn Kagan, Kandice Stroh, Scott Baio, Sally Kellerman, Randy Quaid and Lois Smith. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a view down Hollywood Blvd. toward the Music Box/Pix from later in the film.

At the beginning of "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie" (Universal, 1980) the boys are carrying a garbage can of gasoline they've siphoned from a tow truck.  As they reach their car on Ivar St. we get this shot of the south side of the theatre. The film was directed by Tommy Chong. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting the theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Egyptian, El Capitan and Pussycat theatres. 

Status: Currently the tenant is the Los Angeles Film School, 323-860-0979 or 877-9LA-FILM. They purchased the building in 2007.

More exterior views: 

c.1955 - The theatre from above in its green period. On the right that's the Los Angeles Public Library's Hollywood branch, a building that burned in 1982. The tall building in the background is the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Blvd. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting the photo on eBay. Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality also shared it on his Noirish post #53668.

c.1955 - A detail from the previous photo. 

1960s - A look at the Ivar as a legit house running "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off." Thanks to Julio Martinez for including the photo in "The Ivar Theatre and the Decline of LA's Mid-sized Theatres," his May 2018 article that offers a fine history of the Ivar. It's from the L.A. Stage Alliance on their online magazine @This Stage.

c.1971 - Thanks to the wonderful Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs Collection for this view looking north from Selma Ave. It's their #T-030-3. The show at the theatre is "Godspell." It opened December 21, 1971 after a sold out run at the Taper Forum. Also on the Hollywood Photographs website: 1975 view - #T-030-5 | 1978 view - with a copter on the roof - #T-030-6 |

 1977 - A look at the Ivar's facade from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 

1978 - The Ivar with a helicopter on the roof. Thanks to Ross MacLean for the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Ross, who worked at the Ivar two years, notes: "The helicopter on the roof is thanks to the efforts of one of the owners, Lee Witten, a chopper pilot. He thought it would 'attract attention.' As if the big pink painting of Carol Conners wouldn't."

c.1978 - A photo from Ross MacLean. It makes an appearance on the Tom Waits Fan site's page about the Ivar Theatre.

1980 - The Ivar as seen from Vine St. during its burlesque days. It's a photo by Matt Sweeney. Thanks to John Matkowsky of drkrm for identifying the photographer. And also to Sean Ault for locating the photo and sending it along.

1981 - A facade view from the Los Angeles Public Library.

c.1983 - Thanks to American Classic Images for this photo. 

1985 - A Gary Leonard photo taken in August during construction of the Hollywood Branch Library, a Frank Gehry design. Thanks to Eitan Alexander for spotting the photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1987 - A photo posted on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. It was a find by Doug Boethin.

late 1980s - A view appearing on the Facebook page You know you grew up in Hollywood because....  Thanks to Michele Koji for the post.

late 1980s - It's a photo appearing on the page of the site devoted to the Ivar Theatre, where Waits recorded his 1975 album "Nighthawks at the Diner." The photo is credited as being from Art Fine at Sorry that there's not a larger size available. For more on Mr. Waits also see the site Tom Waits Library.

2002 - A view of the Ivar's signage. The neon installation was designed by Kunio Ohashi. The uncredited photo appears on a website promoting a 2004 reading of the play "Little By Little" by Nathan Sanders and featuring Piper Laurie.

2002 - Another view of the post-renovation facade designed by Kunio Ohashi. The photo appeared on his now-vanished website.

2005 - A photo from Ken McIntyre. It appeared as a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

2007 - Another facade view. Photo: Bill Counter 

2016 - Looking north toward Hollywood Blvd.  The image is from Google Maps. Head there for the current interactive version.

2018 - That's a bit of the Library at the right. Photo: Bill Counter 

2018 - The building from the south showing the bump up for the stagehouse. Photo: Bill Counter

c.2018 - A lovely view of the Ivar at night from the website of the Los Angeles Film School.

Interior views:

A photo of serious historic interest. A 1982 view by Bill Dane of high culture during a Camera Night at the Ivar.  The gentleman with the camera on the right is Garry Winogrand. Mr. Dane's 1982 photo appears on the Tumblr blog "Soul Eyes" and on the drkrm page about the Ivar.

The organization drkrm curated a 2012 group show "Camera Night at the Ivar." Patricio Maya comments about the Ivar in an essay on the page:

"The Ivar Theatre in Hollywood has inspired lyrics in the songs of Tom Waits. Photographer Garry Winogrand's images of Ivar strippers have been displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Ivar started life as a legitimate performance theater when it first opened in 1951. It later became a rock club; The Grateful Dead played there in 1966. Performers through the years have included Lord Buckley, Lenny Bruce and many others. Elvis made a movie there. The theatre changed hands frequently and by the late 60’s it became a full-nudity strip joint - one of the last standing 'Burlesk' houses in the United States.

"The Ivar was lewd and notorious in its day. It was described by its patrons as 'a chamber of desperation, a mausoleum for souls -- on and off the runway.' Ross MacLean, one time stage manager and spotlight operator for two years, says 'It's difficult to convey how bizarrely un-sexy and un-romantic the place was. A lot of the girls just danced around in street clothes, and took them off with about as much charm as someone undressing in a locker room.'

"Sunday and Tuesday evenings were camera nights, where for the cover charge the customers could take as many pictures as they liked. If a customer put a dollar on the catwalk, the performer would give him an up-close and very personal view of her body.

"At the time the club drew many now-notable photographers including Winogrand (who according to historian John Szarkowski, shot 150 rolls of film there), Bill Dane, David Fahey, Paul McDonough and Anthony Friedkin to name a few. drkrm is drawn to curating this exhibit for many reasons. It was a time when these photographers were somewhat known but not on the level they are now and some were all part of a greater circle in New York City that also included Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and Tod Papageorge. Some of them were good friends and used to shoot together, even following each other out to California.

"On another level, what's intriguing is allowing photographs to be taken inside the club, it gives us an incredible look at an audience of voyeurs, normally protected by the cover of darkness. In that split second of the camera's flash, we can see the men in the audience, their facial expressions, how they're sitting, where they're looking or not looking. The late LA artist Mike Kelly described the behavior of the Ivar's male audience members, 'as if drugged in a dentist’s chair, the men sit frozen and immobile. There is no show of emotion, no hooping, hollering or wild applause. Seances are livelier.' This exhibit is as much about the relationship between the women on stage and the men in the audience as is it is about the actual image and the photographers who took them."

A 1980 photo by Ryan Herz from the drkrm show.

An undated photo at the Ivar by Paul McDonough appearing on the drkrm page devoted to the 2012 show "Camera Night at the Ivar."

A gloomy look at the auditorium in 2001. It's a photo on the Tom Waits Fan site's page about the Ivar Theatre where they credit it to N.N. / Tom Waits Library.

Thanks to Ken Roe for this 2005 shot of the Ivar Theatre auditorium on Flickr. When you have a day to spare you might browse his Movie Theatres - USA album for over 700 photos of theatres around the country.

The pinrail at the Ivar. Thanks to Ronald W. Mahan for sharing his photo. 

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page for some nice stories.

Check out the drkrm page from their 2012 group show "Camera Night at the Ivar." Joseph Janesic also suggests a Camera Night at the Ivar Pinterest page with many interior photos from the burlesque days. 

 More information about the 2002 facade renovation is on the website of CRA/LA.

"The Ivar Theatre and the Decline of LA's Mid-sized Theatres," a May 2018 article by Julio Martinez offers a fine history of the Ivar. It's from the L.A. Stage Alliance on their online magazine @This Stage.

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  1. That's pretty cool. I remember seeing the building in the movie Foxes, great movie. I love this stuff from the 80s, the neon lights, the swanky building, it's great.

  2. My grandfather (Robert Towers) played Snoopy in their production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in the sixties. I can try to find some production photos if you want! Charles Schultz used to visit the theatre and was good friend of my grandpa's.

    1. Sure! I'd love to see them. Especially any that show any part of the auditorium or backstage. Thanks.