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Ricardo Montalban Theatre

1615 Vine St. Los Angeles, CA 90028
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The facade of the Montalban Theatre -- uncovered and somewhat back to its 1927 appearance after decades hiding behind the 1950s Huntington Hartford modernization. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007



A 1927 view as the theatre gets ready to open. That Wilkes name on the vertical didn't stay long. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. The  Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection has a slightly wider version of it.

Phone: 323-871-2420  Website: www.themontalban.com | on Facebook | Rooftop Cinema |

Opened: January 19, 1927 as a legit operation, Wilkes Vine St. Theatre. Soon Wilkes was out of the picture and it was just called the Vine Street. While it has been used for live theatre for most of its long life, it has also been a radio production studio and film house.

Historian Mary Mallory notes: "The theatre is built on the site of the Robert Northam estate, later the Jacob Stern estate. The house was completed in 1901, and its barn on the other side of the street is now the Hollywood Heritage Museum across from the Hollywood Bowl."

Architects: Myron Hunt and H.C. Chambers 

Seating: 1,200 originally -- now down to 970.

In March, 1931 the Vine St. Theatre became a cinema, the Mirror, under the direction of the Hughes-Franklin circuit. It ran double features with 3 changes a week. They did a remodel and flashily elaborate marquee was installed.

The circuit was run by Howard Hughes and Harold B. Franklin, a former president of Fox West Coast Theatres. Among other theatres, they also operated the Studio (later the Holly Theatre) in Hollywood. The Pittsburgh Press ran a story about the formation of the circuit by the "young Texan" on December 29, 1930.

By mid 1931 it became apparent that the movie business was terrible and getting seriously worse. They started liquidating their holdings. Hughes, of course, later ran RKO, among other adventures. The Hughes-Franklin circuit was supposed to run the Leimert Theatre but the company had fallen apart by the time that one opened in April 1932.

Franklin left the company near the end of 1931. The Motion Picture Producers archive notes that Franklin went on to positions with Keith Albee Orpheum and RKO. A collection of Franklin's papers is in the AMPAS Archives.

The theatre is still listed as the Mirror in the 1933 city directory. By the mid-30s the Mirror had become the Studio Theatre and as late as the summer of 1936 was still running films. Later in 1936 CBS took over and started calling it the CBS Radio Playhouse in addition to continuing with the Studio name on the signage. From 1936 to 1939 the theatre was the home of the Al Jolson show. The fun marquee soon came off (and, with it, the Studio name) and was replaced by a small canopy with a moderne feel.

Huntington Hartford bought the building from CBS in 1953 and gave the place a "modernizing." It re-opened it as a legit venue in 1954 named after himself -- the Huntington Hartford Theatre.

The Hartford had another spell as a film theatre in 1962 for the west coast premiere engagement of Sidney Lumet's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," with Jason Robards, Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson.


Filmgoers even got a program for "Long Day's Journey Into Night," which opened December 18, 1962. It's from the collection of Daphne Lowe/Pippa Anderson. There's a page about the film on the archive eoneill.com.

In 1964 the theatre was sold to James Doolittle who at the time also operated the Greek Theatre. Later it was acquired by UCLA and renamed the James A. Doolittle Theatre. The Ricardo Montalban Foundation bought the building in 1999.

The Montalban in the Movies:



In "Lady Killer" with James Cagney (Warner Bros., 1933) we get a shot up Vine St. toward the theatre with Hollywood Blvd. just beyond. See John Bengtson's terrific Silent Locations article on "How James Cagney Filmed Lady Killer."  John has the theatre boxed in red in his screenshot above. Also see a comparison to a closer view on his page. Thanks, John!

In "Burlesque" (Sony Pictures, 2010) we get lots of exterior shots of the north side of the theatre as an entrance for a mythical club.  The film stars Cher, Christina Aguilerra, Eric Dane and Alan Cumming.

Status: The theatre reopened in 2004 as the Ricardo Montalban with a resident troupe featuring works for young people, frequently in Spanish. A variety of film festivals, rentals and other legit programming now round out the schedule. The last several years have also featured rooftop film screenings in the spring and summer. The facade has been restored to a simulation of its 1927 appearance.



This is the only image to surface so far showing anything of the theatre's original interior decor. It's from an ad for Calacoustic sound absorbing plaster in the March 1927 issue of Architect and Engineer. The issue is available on Internet Archive.



The lobby bar in 1954.  The Herald Examiner photo by Lapp is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection as well as in a 14 photo set in the USC Digital Library collection.



Looking down from the balcony lobby after the 1954 renovations. The Herald Examiner photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection as well as in a set in the USC Digital Library collection.



A stage view from the balcony. On stage is the set for the first show as the Huntington Hartford: "What Every Woman Knows."  It's a Herald Examiner photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection as well as in a set taken for the opening that's in the USC Digital Library collection.



A look across the house. It's James Doolittle in an undated Delmar Watson photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



The guys on the board backstage in September 1954 for the reopening as the Huntington Hartford. It's a Herald Examiner photo by Lapp -- one in a set of 14 views in the USC Digital Library collection.



The main lobby in 2016. It's a photo from the Montalban Theatre appearing on Yelp.



A 2013 look toward the rear of the auditorium appearing on the Yelp page for the theatre. 



The balcony lobby. It's a 2013 photo on the Yelp page about the theatre. 



The balcony vista in a 2015 photo from Yelp.



Rebar and forms are rising during construction of the theatre in 1926. Thanks to the wonderful Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection for the photo.



The view down onto the balcony during construction, taken from the Plaza Hotel just north of the site. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.  Thanks to GS Jansen for spotting this and others in the LAPL collection that he featured on his Noirish Los Angeles post #5151.



A look at the facade in 1926 as the building nears completion. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



The theatre in 1927 the evening of the opening of the play "Philadelphia."  The Wilkes name is off the signage and the theatre here is just called the Vine St. Theatre.  It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A view south during the run of "Philadelphia. It's another photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



Another 1927 "Philadelphia" photo looking north toward Hollywood Blvd. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



 One last "Philadelphia" view from the Los Angeles Public Library.



This photo from "The Story of Hollywood: An Illustrated History" by Gregory Paul Williams is perhaps the only surviving view of the theatre with its fancy marquee as the Mirror Theatre. We're down to one vertical sign, soon redone when the theatre became the Studio several years later. Mr. Williams terrific book is available on Amazon. There's a preview to browse on Google Books.

Here we're advertising "All The Best Talkies." The features are "Ladies of the Jury" and Tod Browning's "Freaks," both February 1932 releases. Thanks to Bobby Cole for posting a nice version of the photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.



An early 30s view looking north on Vine St. with Claudette Colbert inspecting Christmas decorations. Behind her we see the stagehouse of what was then called the Mirror Theatre. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A lovely mid 30s shot looking north on Vine St. toward what had become the Studio Theatre. The front of the marquee is unreadable but the end panel says "March Of Time."  That newsreel series had its debut in February 1935.  The photo, from the California Historical Society, is in the USC Digital Library collection.  It also appears in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A 1936 photo in the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection with the Studio Theatre in use as the CBS Radio Playhouse.

More from the Bruce Torrence collection: construction - from above | looking south in '27 - "Philadelphia" | premiere in 1927 - "Philadelphia" | 1927 side view from south - "Philadelphia" | 1927 facade - "Philadelphia | 1938 exterior - "Texaco Town" | day view 1954 - as the Huntington Hartford | 1954 night view | 1972 exterior | 1976 exterior | another 76 exterior view | 1987 exterior - as the Doolittle | more theatre photos from the collection |



A closer look at the marquee when the theatre was called the Studio. Here the Al Jolson Show is on the marquee. Brought to you by Rinso. The show used the theatre beginning in 1936. On the end panel: "CBS Radio Playhouse."  That lovely marquee was soon to be history. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A mid-30s postcard of the theatre, here with new signage as the CBS Radio Playhouse. The fancy marquee installed when it was a film house has been removed -- all we get is a sedate little canopy.  The building next door, Al Levy's Tavern, would later get a remodel and be renamed Mike Lyman's. The card is in the California State Library collection, their item #001533779.



The very nice Noirish Los Angeles post # 5180 by a Mr. Ere featured this photo of the Montalban, here in its CBS days. It comes from page 91 of the 1970 book "Cavalcade of Broadcasting" by Curtis Mitchell, Follet Publishing Co., Chicago. That's the Plaza Hotel off to the right.  The show the banner is for is "Hollywood Hotel" with Campbell Soup as the sponsor.

The view appears, with an anecdote by contributor The Sea Hawk, on Flickr. It's also been on the Facebook pages Photos of Los Angeles and Vintage Los Angeles with many comments.



A 1937 shot from across the street. The popular spot to the right of the theatre at the time of the photo was called Mike Lyman's Play Room. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A lovely 1938 view of the Montalban during its CBS Radio Playhouse years. The photo was on a now-vanished UCLA web page called "Remapping Hollywould" [sic].



We're looking east along Selma St. toward Vine St. in this photo located on eBay by Mr. Ethereal Reality. That's the backstage wall of the Montalban saying CBS. It's on Noirish Los Angeles post #24722.



Thanks to Hector Acuna for this lovely 40s look north on Vine. The theatre is down there in the distance with a "CBS" sign hanging off the corner of the building.  Hector had the photo as a post on the non-public Facebook group Mid Century Modern Los Angeles.



A 1948 Frasher Foto Card looking north on Vine St. toward the CBS Studio Theatre and Hollywood Blvd. The Burton Frasher photo is in the collection of the Pomona Library and appears on UCLA's Calisphere. There's also zoom version.



We get to see a bit of the theatre in this great 1948 photo looking north on Vine St. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this one on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



A 1949 aerial view looking north on Vine toward Hollywood Blvd. The theatre, with signage for KNX (the CBS affiliate) painted on the stagehouse, is just this side of the Plaza Hotel.  It's another find by Ken McIntyre for Photos of Los Angeles.



It's 1953 and we're looking north on Vine St. in this great image from ElectroSpark on Flickr. The theatre, still with CBS signage, is just beyond the Santa Fe sign. Beyond the theatre is the Plaza Hotel.



A lovely 50s shot by Mark Morris looking north on Vine. Note the construction fence -- the theatre is getting turned into the Huntington Hartford. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



Early in the evening of the 1954 opening night as the Huntington Hartford.  The play, with Helen Hayes, was "What Every Woman Knows." The photo was posted by Robert Switzer on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



 A bit later opening night in 1954. The photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library



A great 50s noirish look north on Vine St. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on Photos of Los Angeles.



A fine 50s view located on eBay by Mr. Ethereal Reality and posted by him on Noirish Los Angeles post #27183. Dorothy Gish is appearing at the Hartford in "The Man."



A 1960 photo of the Huntington Hartford marquee as we look north toward Hollywood Blvd. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for the find. His 2011 post on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles was a farewell to the burger stand, closing after 60 years.



The theatre in July 1973 with Carol Burnett and rock Hudson appearing in "I Do, I Do." Thanks to Richard Wojcik for the photo on Vintage Los Angeles.



A 1976 "Equus" photo from the Richard Wojcik collection on Vintage Los Angeles. Thanks, Richard!



A 1979 photo from the Richard Wojcik collection. The theatre is running "First Monday in October" with Henry Fonda and Eva Marie Saint.  It was a post on Vintage Los Angeles.



A 1984 view north on Vine discovered by Ken McIntyre for the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. Angelyne is on the billboard south of the theatre, which was then still called the Huntington Hartford.



An undated look at the Montalban's stagehouse from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
 
More Montalban photos in the Los Angeles Public Library's collection:  early construction site view  | looking north - as the KNX CBS Radio Playhouse | looking south c.1937 - KNX -"Hollywood Hotel" - Herman Schultheis | CBS Radio Playhouse - "Texaco Town" | from across the street - CBS Radio Playhouse | facade drawing - 1954 renovation | crowd for opening - 1954 | another night view - "What Every Woman Knows" 1954 | 1982 exterior - Paul Chinn | Noel Coward backstage - 1958 |



The stylish film theatre on the roof -- with wireless headsets for the patrons. It's from the Rooftop Cinema website. The photo, with a credit to the Montalban, also appeared with a March 2016 Hollywood Reporter story "Rooftop Film Club to Return to Hollywood's Montalban Theatre."



The Montalban from above, a photo from the Rooftop Cinema website.

More information: See the page on Cinema Treasures for a nice history of the building, fine research by Ken Roe and links to additional photos. GS Jansen did a great post on Noirish Los Angeles featuring many photos. See the Yelp page on the Montalban for some other interesting photos. There's a 1929 program for "The Youngest" with Franklin Pangborn on Vintage los Angeles.

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