More pages about the Pantages: 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 |
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Alexander Pantages had previously opened two downtown Los Angeles theatres for his vaudeville / film house circuit, the buildings that later became known as the Arcade Theatre (1910) and the Warner Bros. Downtown (1920). He had been thinking about building a theatre in Hollywood at least since 1922:
An announcement that appeared in the January 1929 issue of Architect and Engineer. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating it via Internet Archive. His Historic Theatre Photography site has a page on the Pantages that features many of his fine photos along with historical data.
It's unknown who Bartlett was and how much stock Pantages had in the company putting up the building. Kurt Wahlner notes that all the original plans had "Theatre for the Bartlett Syndicate" on them. Although they were in default on a deed of trust for the theatre, Bartlett was still around and collecting rent from the theatre operator, Fox West Coast, as late as 1937. In a discussion about Kinnison vs. Guaranty Liquidating (1941, on Caselaw Access) it's noted that Pac Mutual was the lead creditor, having loaned Bartlett $825,000 in December 1928 to erect the theatre. That original note was renegotiated in 1932 and in 1933 Bartlett agreed to collect rent as an agent for Pac Mutual. Earlier in the saga Guaranty had been a stockholder in Bartlett and was awarded a $26,000 judgement in Schroeter vs. Bartlett (1936, on Casetext) after Bartlett had made unwarranted "assessments" on its stock. At some point the Pantages family ended up as the owners and kept it in the family until 1949.
The building's cost ended up being $1.25 million. The foundations were built for the 12 story office building originally envisioned but plans were changed due to the deepening depression.
Pantages sold most of his circuit (under duress) to RKO and Warner Bros. later in 1929 but the Hollywood project wasn't part of the sale.
When the new Hollywood theatre opened it was as a Fox West Coast operation with Pantages' son Rodney as the manager. Another son, Lloyd, was also involved and later managed as well. Rodney died in 1986 with the L.A. Times covering his death. At the time of the opening, Alexander Pantages was in the county jail.
The June 1, 1930 issue of the L.A. Times called it the "Roxy of the West." Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article. Evidently the writer didn't go upstairs or we wouldn't have the comment that there is "practically no balcony."
Architect: Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca conceived this opulently kaleidoscopic showplace as the most spectacular theatre the Pantages circuit had ever done. Priteca had earlier done the 1920 Pantages downtown (later called the Warner Downtown) along with nearly every Pantages house built in the U.S. after 1912.
S.E. Sonnichsen was associate architect, William Simpson Construction Co. was the contractor. The decorator was Anthony Heinsbergen. Of all the Los Angeles theatres in the art deco style, the
Pantages is without question the grandest.
B. Marcus Priteca's section of the building. Thanks to Mike Hume for his great work cleaning up the original drawing. You can click on this 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.
At the same time the Pantages was going up Priteca was also at work on three smaller houses of about 1,500 seats each, also in the deco style, for Warner Bros. -- the Warner Beverly Hills, Warner San Pedro and Warner Huntington Park. He was back in L.A. in for the design of the Fine Arts Theatre in Beverly Hills, opening in 1937.
Seating: 2,812 originally -- now 2,703.
The pipe organ: What pipe organ? The chambers are there. Theatre historian Kurt Wahlner says it's on the plans for a round revolving organ lift on the house right side of the pit. The instrument was to be a gigantic Robert Morton installation but the deal was cancelled during construction and no organ was installed. But it did get an organ, electronic that is, in 1992. The Nederlander organization's "non-profit arm" was planning on organ concerts and film screenings to fill their many dark days.
This article appeared in the November 1992 issue of the Tom B'hend / Preston Kaufmann publication Greater L.A. Metro Newsreel. The issue with the article is in the Ronald W. Mahan collection. Thanks to Ron for scanning it.
Stage Equipment: The Pantages was one of the few Los Angeles theatres to have the orchestra pit on a lift. (Others with lifts included the Metropolitan, the Warner Hollywood, the Carthay Circle, the United Artists and the Earl Carroll.) See the backstage section for more information.
It's the Fox Pantages. This August 24, 1932 L.A. Times article noted that the Pantages clan was out and Fox West Coast would assume sole management of the theatre. Pantages, however, still retained an ownership interest in the building. They goofed a bit on that 1929 opening date and also that the theatre would "remain open" when it was actually closed at the time. Thanks to David Saffer for locating the article.
An October 11, 1932 L.A. Times story mentioned that the
re-opening film on October 20 would be MGM's "Red Dust" with Jean Harlow and Clark
Gable plus a Fanchon & Marco produced tab version
of the Ziegfeld hit "Whoopee." The United Artists downtown had also been closed and would reopen with
the same feature along with the Fanchon & Marco
An October 15 story revealed that both houses would be "under the personal direction of Sid Grauman," then also working for Fox at the Chinese. More details dribbled out in an October 17 story. The reopening ads, a combined spread for both the United Artists and the Pantages, said "Direction Sid Grauman" in large lettering at the top -- and made no mention of Fox West Coast being the actual operator.
"A Perfect Combination" says the marquee. It's a drawing from an Italian Kitchen menu cover. They had the corner space for a few years beginning around 1943. Initially it was leased for a cafe but that deal fizzled. It was an appliance store in the early 30s and by 1936 had become a cafeteria. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for locating the menu when it was for sale
online. Visit his wonderful site about a little theatre up the street from
the Pantages: www.graumanschinese.org
The Pantages actually became an RKO theatre when Howard
Hughes acquired it for his RKO empire in 1949, at a time when most
studios were actually shedding their theatre circuits as a result of the
Consent Decree actions by the Feds.
A July 6, 1949 Variety article about the change of ownership. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding it on Internet Archive. The fancy neon filigree atop
the vertical sign was replaced by an "RKO."
The disastrous tenure of Hughes at RKO had begun when he bought enough stock to control the company in May 1948. A July 13, 1949 Variety article noted that the staff at the studio was breathing easier when Hughes became head of production, thinking that would put the near-dormant lot back into full swing. A July 27 Variety article noted that Malcolm Kingsberg, head of RKO Theatres, had finalized the theatre sale with Roger [sic] Pantages. It was noted that Pantages was bowing out of the theatre business but would continue to maintain an office in the building.
The only other RKO theatre in Los Angeles at the time was the RKO Hillstreet. Although the RKO board approved a plan to spin their theatres off as a separate company in March 1949, this didn't happen until 1953 when they were sold to Albert A. List. Hughes lasted until 1955 at RKO when he sold his stock to General Teleradio, a subsidiary of General Tire and Rubber. Early in Hughes' tenure the theatre division was the only part of the company making money. By the time he got out, that division had been gone for two years. After a 1967 merger of RKO Theatres, Inc. with the Stanley-Warner Corp. (the by-then-separate company operating the former Warner Bros. theatres) it became RKO Stanley-Warner Theatres.
Academy Awards at the Pantages: The theatre was the site of the Academy Awards from 1950 through 1960. The 1953 show was the first live telecast, a production originating in both Hollywood and New York City. See "Oscars History @ Pantages," a post about the 1953 show on the Broadway in Hollywood blog. The Los Angeles Almanac has a page with a year-by-year list of the Academy Award ceremony locations.
The 1959 renovation: The theatre closed in November for a renovation supervised by the Heinsbergen Co. Work included installation of 70mm equipment, lots of draping in the auditorium and a "modernization" of the ticket lobby. "Indoor Luxury From Sidewalk To Screen," a May 9, 1960 Boxoffice article, discussed the first phases of the renovation program. article page 1 | article page 2 | It's also reproduced at the bottom of the page.
later aspects of the project were detailed in a January 30, 1961 Boxoffice article titled "RKO Pantages in Los Angeles Faces New Era After $100,00 Remodeling." The theatre reopened Christmas Day with "Operation Petticoat." article section 1 | section 2 | section 3 | It's also reproduced at the bottom of the page.
70MM roadshows at the Pantages: The theatre hosted many reserved seat engagements including "Spartacus" in 1960, "Cleopatra" in 1963, "Finian's Rainbow" in 1968 and "Sweet Charity" in 1969. For "Spartacus" the capacity was reduced to about 1,500 by draping off the upper balcony section and rear side areas of the main floor.
In this ad for Norelco AAII 35/70mm projectors we
see the proscenium draping for "Spartacus." It appeared adjacent to a March 14, 1962 Motion Picture Herald article about the modern makeover of the Warner up the street, where the proscenium looked very similar to the view above after its own drape treatment. Cinerama historian Roland Lataille found the article for the Warner page of his In Cinerama website. | article page 1 | article page 2 |
RKO-SW bows out: The Pantages was leased to Pacific Theatres in 1965, with a purchase consummated in 1967. In 1968 Pacific also acquired other RKO-SW operations including the Topanga Theatre, the Wiltern, the Warner Hollywood, Warner Beverly Hills, Warner Huntington Park and Warner San Pedro. The Warner Downtown that Stanley Warner had been operating ended up with Metropolitan Theatres and was rebranded as the Warrens.
The Pantages goes legit: The theatre closed in January 1977 with "The Enforcer" with Clint Eastwood as the last film. After a purchase by the Nederlander Organization, there was a renovation in preparation for operation as a legitimate theatre. The first attraction was "Bubbling Brown Sugar."
Status: The Pantages Theatre was refurbished again in 2000 (to the tune of $10.8 million) by the Nederlander Organization and is wonderfully dazzling. The theatre consultant for the restoration was Roger Morgan with much of the restoration of the decorative surfaces done by Evergreene Architectural Arts, both based in New York. Quinn Evans Architects supervised the project. The reopening attraction was "The Lion King." Ongoing work since that time has included recarpeting, rebuilding the grid, and other projects.
The theatre typically plays long-running Broadway musicals with occasional concerts on dark nights. In 2013 a pitch was going around town about the possibility of selling naming rights to the theatre but nothing transpired. Kevin Roderick on LA Observed had the story.
The Pantages in the Movies:
Chester Conklin is out on a beam atop the newly completed Guaranty Bldg. at Hollywood Blvd. and Ivar in "Sky Scrappers" (Christie / Paramount, December 1930). We see the vertical of the Pantages on the left and the Music Box Theatre farther down the street. Thanks to Jeff Hamblin for identifying the film the shot came from. It was directed by Arvid E. Gillstrom and also features Eddie Baker, Doris Hill and Blanche Payson.
The image appears on page 35 of the Arcadia Publishing book "Location Filming in Los Angeles" by Karie Bible, Marc Wanamaker and Harry Medved. They have it identified as an earlier Conklin film, "Cleaning Up." The page with the photo is included in the book's preview on Google Books. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more stills Jeff located that were shot on the Guaranty Building as well as a view of the Melrose Theatre.
Margaret Sullavan gets a job as an usherette in a large movie palace in Budapest in "The Good Fairy (Universal, 1935). The lobby of the Pantages is what we see as the theatre's lobby. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more shots at the Pantages and several not done at the theatre when we go in the auditorium.
We get a look at the boxoffice in Henry Hathaway's "Go West Young Man" (Paramount, 1936) with Mae West and Randolph Scott. This island boxoffice was later removed in favor of ticket windows off to the side. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots at the Pantages as well as some generic theatre shots done elsewhere.
We get this shot of the Pantages disguised as the Casino Theatre in Robert Siodmak's "Phantom Lady" (Universal, 1944). Alan Curtis is going to a show in New York with a lady he just met in a bar. It's a studio set when we go inside. Curtis' wife is murdered that evening and he doesn't know the identity of the lady that might provide his alibi. Elisha Cook, Jr., the drummer at the show, knows something. After Curtis is convicted Ella Raines, his former secretary, tries to clear him.
George Raft goes to the Pantages to check out an alibi for murder suspect Lynn Bari in Edwin L. Marin's "Nocturne" (RKO, 1946). They have times up for RKO's "Woman on the Beach" but we see different titles on the marquee in the shot just before this. Thanks to Jack Tillmany for spotting the theatre in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Pantages shots as well as views of the vertical signs of the Egyptian and Hollywood theatres behind the opening credits.
We get some nice footage looking west toward the theatre
throughout the opening credit sequence of "Exposed" (Republic, 1947).
George Blair directed this crime drama starring Adele Mara as a
beautiful female detective. The film also features Mark Roberts, Lorna
Gray, Robert Armstrong, William Haade and Bob Steele. It was written by
Royal K. Cole and Charles Moran. The cinematography was by William
Bradford. Thanks to Paul Ayers for spotting the theatre in the film and getting the screenshot for a Facebook post. He notes that the full film can be viewed on YouTube.
This is the first shot in Jacques Tourneur's "Nightfall" (Columbia, 1957) -- appearing even before the credits. The Pantages was running "Serenade," a March 1956
release with Mario Lanza and Joan Fontaine. Aldo Ray has just
taken a bus to Hollywood because he's trying to elude Brian Keith and
Rudy Bond, two bank robbers who have killed a friend of his during a
Wyoming camping trip. In L.A. Ray hooks up with Anne Bancroft. James
Gregory plays an insurance investigator who helps unravel the mess. The
screenplay was by Sterling Silliphant based on a novel by David Goodis,
the cinematography was by Burnett Guffey.
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/Avalon. 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.
Burt Reynolds is heading to the men's room for a little fight in Peter Bogdanovich's "At Long Last Love" (20th Century Fox, 1975). Note the decor at the rear of the reduced-capacity main floor at the time: drapes, statuary, plants. Cybil Shepard and Madeline Kahn play the leading ladies. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four more Pantages shots as well as several at the Orpheum from a scene earlier in the film. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for the screenshot.
In the Neil Diamond version of "The Jazz Singer" (EMI, Associated Film Distribution, 1980) we get two concert sequences at the Pantages. The film, directed by Richard Fleischer, also stars Lawrence Olivier, Catlin Adams and Lucie Arnaz. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four more shots at the Pantages.
We don't see much of the theatre, but Jonathan Demme's "Stop Making Sense" (Cinecom/Palm Pictures, 1984) with David Byrne and the Talking Heads was filmed over a period of three days at the Pantages. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a production still showing the proscenium as well as comments about the shoot from the very famous Kurt Wahlner, who was there.
It's dusk and we get a fine look down at the theatre during the opening credits of Garry Marshall's "Pretty
Woman" (Touchstone, 1990). The film features Richard Gere,
Julia Roberts, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Hector Elizondo and
Ralph Bellamy. The cinematography was by Charles Minsky. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Vogue, Egyptian and Chinese theatres from the film.
Joel Schumacher's "Batman Forever" (Warner Bros., 1995) used the theatre's lobby for that of the Ritz Gotham Hotel. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the lobby party scene as well as views of two scenes shot in the Los Angeles Theatre.
We get this great view of the lobby in "Black Sheep" (Paramount, 1996). Chris Farley, the out-of-control brother, is with Tim Matheson, playing a candidate for Washington State governor. David Spade is also featured in the comedy directed by Penelope Spheeris. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another lobby shot and two backstage views where Farley pretends to be a security guard.
The lobby is set up as a high-end auto auction house in Bret Rattner's "Money Talks" with Chris Tucker and Charlie Sheen (New Line Cinema, 1997). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the scenes at the Pantages.
We get a view of the Pantages when evil music mogul Isaiah Washington pops up out of the Metro in Ron Shelton's "Hollywood Homicide" (Sony, 2003). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies
post for several Chinese views as well as a shot of Harrison Ford on a
bike in front of the Hollywood Theatre, a look at the towers of the Warner and an
aerial shot of the Music Box/Fonda. Josh Hartnett and Lena Olin
In Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" (Miramax/Warner Bros., 2004) we get shots at the Pantages with Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) coming to the premiere of "Little Women" in 1933. There's lots of compulsive hand washing in the men's room. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Pantages shots as well as views of Grauman's Chinese for the gloriously re-created premiere of "Hell's Angels."
The Pantages is used for a premiere at the end of "Paparazzi" (20th Century Fox, 2004). A young star tries to get even over an incident with four overly zealous photographers. Paul Abascal directed the film featuring Cole Hauser, Robin Tunney and Dennis Farina. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several lobby shots as well as a view of the Million Dollar from earlier in the film.
The Pantages is one of seventeen theatres we see in Alex
Holdridge's "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (IFC First Take, 2008). Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds meet via a Craigslist ad and are wandering the city on New Year's Eve. Also featured are Brian McGuire, Kathleen
Luong, Robert Murphy, Twink Caplan, Bret Roberts and Stephanie Feury. The
cinematography was by Robert Murphy. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for thirty-two more shots of the theatres seen in the film.
Emma Stone runs back to catch the rest of a John Mayer concert after breaking up with Justin Timberlake at the beginning of Will Gluck's film "Friends With Benefits" (Sony/Screen Gems, 2011). Thanks to Lindsay Blake for noting the appearance of the theatre in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Pantages views as well as aerial shots showing the El Capitan, Chinese and Dolby theatres.
We get a shot of the Easter Bunny and the Pantages in Tim Hill's "Hop" (Universal, 2011). He's come to Hollywood because he wants a career as a drummer. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the La Reina and the Orpheum from the film.
The Pantages is one of a half dozen theatres to get a marquee shot included in the title sequence of "Entourage" (Warner Bros., 2015). The film, directed by Doug Ellin, stars Kevin Dillon, Jeremy Piven, Adrian Grenier and Kevin Connolly plus many others doing cameos. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more screenshots.
In "Keanu" (Warner/Fine Line, 2016) we take a drive to the Hollywood Hills for a drug delivery after our two stars, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, get involved with a gang to try to get back a stolen cat. On the far left is the dark marquee of the Vine Theatre with the Pantages in the distance. We also see the Palace Theatre, the Los Angeles Theatre, and the Cinerama Dome. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.
The Pantages is dressed up as if it were running the film "3 in the Attic," in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (Sony, 2019). The film stars Leo DiCaprio and his friend Brad Pitt as an actor and stuntman trying to find work in the business in 1969. The Manson murder case also figures into the plot as the guys live next door to Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies pages for more shots of the shoot at the Pantages as well as lots of action at the Cinerama Dome, Earl Carroll, Vogue, Pussycat/Ritz, Fox Westwood, Bruin, and Vine theatres.
We get a shot of the theatre in Danny Boyle's "Yesterday" (Universal, 2019). A musician played by Himesh Patel leaves England and comes to the U.S. to become a big star re-doing Beatles hits in a world where everyone else has forgotten the Fab Four. The film also stars Lily James, Sophia Di Martino and Kate McKinnon.
The Pantages on Video:
The Pantages, the Chinese, the World, the X Theatre and a drive-in appear in "Misunderstanding," the 1980 Genesis music video. It's on YouTube. Thanks to Marc Edward Hueck for spotting the theatres and getting screenshots for a post on the LAHTF Facebook page.
Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" (1995) has him singing to an empty house on the bare stage of the Pantages. It's on YouTube.
See Don Solosan's wonderful 3 minute 2010 tour of the Pantages: "Insider's Peek #7: Pantages" on the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation's YouTube channel. There's also the 12 minute 2010 "Pantages Interview"
video with Hillsman Wright and Pantages general manager Martin Wiviott.
They discuss the adventures in managing and restoring the building.
And don't miss the 4 minute video the theatre has on YouTube from 2010: "A Look Behind the Mask: The Load in Process For "Phantom" at the Pantages Theatre."
The building was originally supposed to be a 12 story office building and various plans have been hatched over the years to "complete" the structure. The L.A.Times ran a December 6, 2007 story by Roger Vincent titled "Decades later, 12-story plan for Pantages revived." Curbed L.A. also had a story about the proposal.
The Pantages office building lobby ceiling. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007
From the June 7, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News:
Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article. It's also available on Internet Archive where you can expand it for easier reading.
Pages about the Pantages:
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