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Pantages: backstage

6233 Hollywood Blvd.  Los Angeles 90028  | map |

Pages about the Pantages Theatre: Pantages overview | street views 1929 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | ticket lobby | entrance vestibule | main lobby | main lounges | main floor inner lobby | balcony lobby and lounge areas | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | backstage | booth | support areas |


Looking into the house in 1930. 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.

At the time of the photo they were 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 that covered 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 shallow slope of the balcony was noted in "A House Built For Wide Films," an article in the June 7, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News. Their comment: "The architectural trend of the future in preparation for the wide-screen-large-picture development is demonstrated in the new Pantages. ...This new wrinkle in theatre construction is evidenced by the low rear balcony, height of which permits full vision of the screen at any point. The downstairs rear seats also have full view of the Grandeur screen..." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article. 


Proscenium: 57' 4" wide x 26' 8" high

Stagehouse wall to wall: 129' 8"     Centerline to SL wall: 67' 9"     Centerline to SR wall: 61' 11"
The Fun Facts page on the Pantages website comments: "The stage, at 10,000 square feet could practically accommodate a baseball game." 

Asbestos to back wall: 38' -- plus an additional "bustle" centerstage. Scroll down for a plan view.

In "Hollywood's Newest Temple of its own art - the Pantages," an article and photo spread in the August 30, 1930 issue of Exhibitors Herald-World, it was claimed that the stage had a depth of 75'. It's unknown where they were measuring from. The June 7, 1930 article in Motion Picture News had their own set of numbers: "The stage itself is 145 feet wide, 70 feet deep and 50 feet high at the proscenium arch."

Floor surface: 3/4" MDF, 3/4" plywood, 3 1/2" hardwood

Side stages: "Two miniature stages on either side of the main stage are used in presentations, or for poster display in announcing coming attractions." - Exhibitors Herald-World - August 30, 1930  

Grid height: 67' 3". The grid was rebuilt in 2009. Among other issues, the problem was corrected of the original decking running parallel to the proscenium. The headbeams were replaced c.2018.

Clearance above grid: 8'

Loading: Stage left, steep ramp up to street plus a 5' x 5' elevator. There's also access to the stage via corridors USL and DSR.

Orchestra pit: It was on a hydraulic lift. The Fun Facts page on the Pantages website notes: "The hydraulic lift that raised and lowered the orchestra pit and musicians was so powerful, it could do the same with an average bungalow." From the pit edge to the back wall of the house is 99' 9". There are now several rows of seats in the front over part of the original pit area.

The pit was originally equipped with a bandcar. Storage for the platform was in the upstage "bustle." The August 30, 1930 article in Exhibitors Herald-World noted: "The automatic hydraulic elevator used to lift the orchestra pit to stage level, may be swung back on the stage when necessary." The article in the June 7, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News similarly noted: "The orchestra pit is operated by hydraulic lifts and can be slid onto the stage if desired. It will accommodate 30 musicians." Head to the bottom of the page for a description by Terry Helgesen of a production of "Bolero" that used the bandcar.

The lift is no longer functional. Former Pantages electrician Howard Nugent comments: "There are still parts of mechanical equipment for it in the basement but the lift and pistons were removed during the 1999-2000 renovation."


The lift control panel at the proscenium stage right. It's a 2020 photo by Howard Nugent. Head to the bottom of the page for 7 additional views of equipment remaining in the basement. The equipment was in a room stage right that's marked with an "X" on the basement plan. There are more photos at the bottom of the page.

House vac: It's no longer functional. The tank and some of the electrical are surviving in the same basement room as the pit lift machinery.

Pipe organ: Sorry, never got one. The chambers are there but the contract for the organ was cancelled during construction.

Stage lifts: None

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.

"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...." - Exhibitors Herald-World - August 30, 1930

"Sound Box on Mono-Rail - On the stage, hung from a mono-rail track, is the sound box. This device carries eight horns and is moved off stage to one side when presentations are on. Augmenting these are five extra horns, one at each side of the proscenium arch, and three above the arch. This system will enable the operator to throw the sound to any part of the house with equal clarity...Horns of the public address system have been placed in various parts of the auditorium, backstage and lobby. They can be hooked up singly or all together. For stage rehearsals the horns above the switchboard, scene shifters, orchestra and projection room as well as over the stage proper are all connected to the microphone held by the stage director. Enabling him to speak with each station in a normal tone of voice, or to all of them simultaneously..."- Motion Picture News - June 7, 1930

Projection: See the projection booth page for more information about the theatre's projection gear.

Followspots: Currently 3 Xenon Super Troupers with room for a 4th. Throw to apron approx. 135'.

Movie screen in 1930: Ready for wide film or Magnascope. It was about 30' x 60' with motorized masking.

The August 30, 1930 article in Exhibitors Herald-World noted that the screen "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 June 7, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News had slightly different numbers: "Three Way Screen - The screen which has a special masking device which can be used for standard, Magnascope and wide film as it is 56 feet wide and 27 feet high."

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, noted that the board, 8 feet longer than that of the famous Roxy, was designed by Cass Hayes, consulting engineer for the Pantages circuit. Scroll down the page for several photos.

"Backstage is located the $45,000 switchboard which was designed by Pantages engineers and which can be operated by remote control. One man is all that is needed to operate this board which is 27 feet in length and seven feet high. - Motion Picture News - June 7, 1930.

For more about Frank Adam boards 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. 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.

Stage lighting in 1930: "No Borders Used...In the lighting of the stage no border lights are used. Instead five bridges each carrying 20 lamps will supply the light. Spot lights are also used. Lights on the stage will use 140,000 watts while those in front of the balcony will take 16,000 watts as will those over the orchestra. With the remote control system the lighting arrangement can be pre-set and operated away from the switchboard." - Motion Picture News - June 7, 1930

Current house light control: downstage right

Road power disconnects: downstage right

F.O.H. Lighting Positions: Balcony rail:  120' long pipe -- 36 circuits terminate SR - Socapex | Box boom #1: 8 circuits per side terminate SR -- throw to apron approx. 54' | Box boom #2:  8 circuits per side terminate SR -- throw to apron approx. 75' | Truss:  60' long 24" box truss with focus track approx. 33' DS of prosc. - 36 circuits to SR - Socapex

Steam Curtain: Of course the Pantages had one, originally at the footlights. But it's gone. As are the footlights.

Rigging in 1930: 75 sets, operated at stage level stage right. The number of sets was noted in an August 30, 1930 Exhibitors Herald-World article.

House blacks: 4 sets legs, 4 borders

Current Rigging:

Number of linesets: 74, on 6" centers

Arbor capacity: 1,300 lbs.

Lift lines per set: 5

Asbestos to 1st lineset: 6"

Asbestos to last lineset: 35'6"

High trim: 61'

Batten length: varies from 55' to 70'

Lockrail location: stage right, at stage level

Dressing rooms: 4 are up left at stage level but most of the dressing room space is in the basement. "Dressing rooms are capable of accommodating several hundred people."  - Exhibitors Herald-World - August 30, 1930 
 


B. Marcus Priteca's section of the building. Thanks to Mike Hume for his great work cleaning up the original drawing and for supplying much of the tech data appearing here. You can click on this drawing to enlarge or for even more detail head to a PDF via Mike's Historic Theatre Photography site. His Pantages Theatre page also has PDFs of other early articles and drawings.



A main floor plan from the theatre's tech packet. Thanks to Mike Hume rounding up this one and the others below. 



A stage plan from the theatre's tech packet.



The basement level plan from the theatre's tech packet. Note the outline of the current pit as well as the line of the original. The stage right room with the big "X" is the one housing the remnants of equipment for the orchestra pit lift and house vac systems.

The Electric Room in the lower right used to have the contactor board associated with the stage dimmerboard. Howard Nugent notes that he set it up as shop space when he became the theatre's electrician in 2000. Also in the room are transformers and switchgear for stage lighting, auditorium lighting and backstage facility power. Howard notes that there's lots of 480 coming in and lots of 120/208 Y going out. It's fed from the DWP substation that's now in the building's west storefront. 



The Frank Adam/Major pre-selective dimmer board, offstage right. It's been removed to provide much needed space downstage. That's the stage lighting section on the left and the auditorium section on the right. It's a 1930 Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.

The stage circuits could be selected via five-scene preset capability. In addition to five little switches selecting a particular dimmer to be activated when one or more of the presets were selected, there was a three position switch to select master-off-independently on for that dimmer. The auditorium lighting was set up with three color circuits (and no pre-set switching). The fourth row row of controls in the auditorium section just was for some miscellaneous circuits. At the time of the photo they were still testing dimmers and circuits. There are lots of chalk marks on the board saying "OK" or "dimmer out."



Another photo of the 27' long, $45,000 dimmerboard. This one appeared in the June 7, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News with the article "A House Built For Wide Films." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article on Internet Archive. They noted that "One man is required to operate the huge switchboard of the Pantages."

The gentleman is Cass Hayes, the designer of the board and the consulting engineer for the Pantages circuit. He has his hand on one of the stage color masters. Farther to the right we're in the auditorium section of the board. That grand master wheel behind Cass was for the auditorium dimmers. The stage master wheel is at the left with the 5 switches for the 5 presets directly above it. The stage side of the board had cross-interlocking shafts so some of the color masters could be interlocked to go up while others could be set to go down when the grand master wheel was operated.



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 1930 Mott Studios photo is in the collection of the California State Library.



The great stage with some Fanchon & Marco "Idea" scenery in place and the Western Electric speaker system in position in 1930. 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 1930 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.



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 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.



The "straight-across" configuration of the front of the stage in 1930. It's a detail from a Mott Studios photo in the California State Library set # 001454712. The full photo shows the draperies framing the screen for a conventional 1.37 ratio picture. 



Note the interesting rebuilt profile of the front of the stage in 1940. It's a photo by Otto Rothschild of the L.A. Philharmonic, led by Albert Coates, onstage at the Pantages for a "young peoples" concert. Here the pit lift is down several feet from stage height at "overture" position.  It's a photo in the Herald-Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.



A photo of the stage renovation underway in 2000 for "The Lion King" that once appeared on the Pantages website's Fun Facts page. They noted: "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 stage got filled with seats during the 2017 project of recarpeting the main floor. Thanks to the Pantages for the photo. It appeared with "Tearing it Up!," their blog post about the process.



More seats onstage. See the Pantages blog post "Tearing it Up!" for more views of the project.



A pit view. Thanks to John Hough and Mark Mulhall for this photo taken during the summer 2017 tour of the theatre as part of the Theatre Historical Society Conclave. Visit John and Mark's ever-growing site OrnateTheatres.com for terrific collections of photos they've taken of many Los Angeles area theatres as well as others around the country.



A peek onto the stage taken during the 2016 open house for season subscribers. Thanks to Mike Hume for the photo, appearing as part of a set on the LAHTF Facebook page. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for tech info and hundreds of great photos of the theatres he's explored in Los Angeles and elsewhere.



Another look off left. It's a 2016 view by Mike Hume that appeared on the Facebook page Archiving Technical Theatre History



 A view to the rigging stage right. Thanks to Albert Domasin for his 2010 photo on Flickr.



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."



Another view to the grid. Thanks to Doug Palmer for his 2018 photo, one included in a set posted on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The prompt area downstage right. In the lower left corner of the image we get a bit of the control box for the orchestra pit lift. Photo: Doug Palmer -  LAHTF Facebook page - 2018



A view to stage left. Photo: Doug Palmer -  LAHTF Facebook page - 2018. The event was an open house for season subscribers.



Up the ramp to the loading door stage left. Thanks to Albert Domasin for his 2010 photo on Flickr.



Looking in to the upstage storage area. Photo: Doug Palmer - LAHTF Facebook page - 2018. Thanks, Doug! 



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 |



In the trap room. The beam has been signed by all of the actresses that have played Elphaba in "Wicked" at the theatre. Thanks to Mike Hume for his photo.


Equipment remaining from the hydraulic orchestra pit lift:


The control panel at the proscenium stage right. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020 



A control panel detail. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020. Howard calls our attention to "Llewellyn." Evidently Llewellyn Iron Works was the manufacturer of the system.



With the lift no longer in use and major components removed, the basement room stage right with the reservoir, electrical panels, pump and motor is now used for storage. Here we're looking across at the tank that held water, used as the hydraulic fluid for the system. The tank and some of the electrical for the house vac system is also in the room. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020

 

The label on the tank from the National Tank and Manufacturing Co. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020



The label on the pump from Pacific Pump Works, Los Angeles. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020



The electrical distribution panel feeding the equipment was made by another Los Angeles firm, A.G. Manufacturing. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020



A label on the contactor board for the system. It was rated for a 35 HP motor, 440 volts. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020



The label on the pump motor, a product of U.S. Electric & Manufacturing, Los Angeles. Photo: Howard Nugent - 2020. Many thanks, Howard!

 

A 1925 ad for Llewellyn in Motion Picture News. Thanks to Bob Foreman for spotting it. Visit his Vintage Theatre Catalogs site for a vast compendium of information on early theatre tech.
 


An ad for Llewellyn in the 1929 L.A. city directory. For a fine history of the company see Sam Gnerre's 2019 article for the Daily Breeze. There's an article about company founder Reese Llewellyn on Wikipedia. And see a piece about the company on the blog Berkeley Square.


A production of "Bolero" at the Pantages, reviewed by Terry Helgesen:

"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 principal 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."

The comments appeared in the Theatre Historical Society Annual devoted to the Pantages. Thanks to theatre historian Kurt Wahlner for sending along the 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.

Pages about the Pantages Theatre:
| Pantages overview | street views 1929 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | ticket lobby | entrance vestibule | main lobby | main lounges | main floor inner lobby | balcony lobby and lounge areas | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | back to top - backstage | booth | support areas |

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