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Pantages Theatre: an overview

6233 Hollywood Blvd.  Los Angeles 90028
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The Pantages, the grandest of L.A.'s art deco theatres. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Phone: 323-468-1770    Website: hollywoodpantages.com | Facts and Trivia

Opened: June 4, 1930 with "The Floradora Girl" starring Marion Davies. On the great stage was the Fanchon and Marco "Rose Garden Idea."

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). Pantages had sold most of his circuit (under duress) to RKO 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 first manager. Another son, Lloyd later managed as well. Rodney died in 1986 with the L.A. Times covering his death.

Howard Hughes acquired the theatre for his RKO empire in 1949.  The fancy neon filigree atop the vertical sign was replaced by an 'RKO." Hughes was forced to divest his theatre holdings by the feds in 1950 as part of the industry-wide consent decree and they were spun off into a separate company. After a merger with Stanley-Warner Corp. it became RKO Stanley-Warner Theatres. The Pantages was leased it to Pacific Theatres in 1965, with a purchase consummated in 1967.

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 |



The Pantages hides its opulence well. Looking at the storefronts here, you'd never guess that one of the most dazzling of all the Los Angeles theatres awaits you inside. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Architect: Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca conceived this opulently kaleidoscopic showplace as the most spectacular theatre in the Pantages circuit. S.E. Sonnichsen was associate architect, William Simpson Construction Co. was the contractor. Priteca had earlier done the 1920 Pantages downtown (later called the Warner and Warrens, now a jewelry mart) along with lots of work for the circuit in other cities. 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, of course, click on this to enlarge -- or head to the Pantages Theatre section of Mike's site for his pdf the original full size version.

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.

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. 

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.



The Pantages Theatre stagehouse. The theatre had the largest stage that was ever built for the Pantages chain. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Academy Awards at the Pantages: The Pantages Theatre was the site of live telecasts of the Academy Awards from 1950 through 1959.

70MM roadshows at the Pantages: The theatre hosted many reserved seat engagements including "Spartacus" in 1960 and "Cleopatra" in 1963. 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.

"Indoor Luxury From Sidewalk To Screen," a May 9, 1960 Boxoffice article, discussed the first phases of a 1960 renovation program. The later aspects were detailed in a January 20, 1961 article titled "RKO Pantages in Los Angeles Faces New Era After $100,00 Remodeling."  In a 1962 Motion Picture Herald ad for Norelco AAII 35/70mm projectors we see the proscenium draping for "Spartacus" at the Pantages. 


The Norelco ad 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 [article page 1 | article page 2] for the Warner page of his In Cinerama website.

The Pantages Theatre goes legit: The theatre closed in January 1977 for a renovation by Pacific Theatres and the Nederlander Organization in preparation for operation as a legititimate theatre. The first attraction was "Bubbling Brown Sugar."

Status: The Pantages Theatre was refurbished again in 2000 (to the tune of $10 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 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. 



A facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

The Pantages in the Movies:  


Chester Conklin is out on a beam atop the newly completed Guaranty Bldg. at Hollywood Blvd. and Ivar in "Cleaning Up" (Paramount, 1930). We see the vertical of the Pantages on the left and the Music Box Theatre further down the street. Thanks to Bill Gabel for posting the shot on Photos of Los Angeles. The image also appears on page 35 of the Arcadia Publishing book "Location Filming in Los Angeles."


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. There's another lobby shot from the film on page 35 of "Location Filming in Los Angeles."



Ms. Sullavan has a neon arrow to direct patrons right or left as they enter the inner lobby at the rear of the main floor in "The Good Fairy."



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.



A look at the changeable neon letters on the Pantages marquee in "Go West Young Man."



Entering the Pantages lobby in "Go West Young Man."



The view up the stairs to the balcony promenade in Gregory Ratoff's "Footlight Serenade" (20th Century Fox, 1942) with John Payne, Betty Grable and Victor Mature. 



Descending to the house left mezzanine lounge area in "Footlight Serenade." That's the main lobby in view off to the left. Thanks to Christopher McPherson for posting the "Footlight Serenade" photos on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.


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 Theatres In Movies post about "The Errand Boy" for a Sunset Blvd. aerial view and visits to the Fox Westwood Village and the Chinese.

In "At Long Last Love" (1975) Peter Bogdanovich gives us a nice scene in the lobby of the Pantages.



In the Neil Diamond version of "The Jazz Singer" (EMI, Associated Film Distribution, 1980) there's a concert scene at the Pantages, available on YouTube. Thanks to the Pantages blog for the link -- it was included in their "Hollywood Pantages IMDB" article about films at the theatre.



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.



In Mick Jackson's "The Bodyguard" (Warner Bros., 1992) Kevin Costner is backstage looking for troublemakers at the Academy Awards. There's a clip on YouTube.



A view of the auditorium that we get in "The Bodyguard." See the Theatres In Movies post on the film for some views at the Mayan and the Shrine Auditorium.



In "Ed Wood" with Johnny Depp and Martin Landau (Touchstone, 1994) our stars are going to a premiere of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" at the Pantages.



Pulling up for the Pantages premiere on a rainy night in "Ed Wood." Note that that the Skouras-style boxoffice we see here is a prop for the movie. The theatre did once have an island boxoffice but it was long gone by 1994.



Another exterior shot from "Ed Wood" gives us quite a nice view of the entrance in its "modernized" period prior to the restoration. The ceiling of the ticket lobby and the classic display cases are all covered. The interior used for the film is the Orpheum.

"Batman Forever" (Warner Bros., 1995) used the theatre's lobby for that of the Ritz Gotham Hotel. There's a clip on YouTube. "Black Sheep" with Chris Farley and David Spade (Paramount, 1996) has shots backstage at the theatre.  A clip is on YouTube. The Pantages makes an appearance in "Money Talks" with Chris Tucker and Charlie Sheen (New Line Cinema, 1997).


Kevin Spacey has just come out of the Frolic Room next to the theatre in "L.A. Confidential (Warner Bros., 1997). Note the still "modernized" treatment of the ticket lobby area. The scene is in a clip on YouTube. Thanks to "Pantages Theatre IMDB," the 2015 article on the Pantages blog, for the link to the YouTube clip.



We get a classic marquee shot a moment later in "L.A. Confidential."



In Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator" (Miramax/Warner Bros., 2004) we get scenes outside the Pantages with Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Katherine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett) coming to the premiere of "Little Women" in 1933.



We also get several views of the lobby in "The Aviator." In addition, there's lots of compulsive hand washing in the men's room. See the Theatres in Movies post about the film for another lobby view as well as shots of Grauman's Chinese for the re-created premiere of "Hell's Angels."

The Pantages also appears in "Paparazzi  (20th Century Fox, 2004) and "The Black Dahlia" (Universal, 2006).



A re-creation of the 1954 look at the "A Star Is Born" premiere for Anton Corbijn's film "Life" (Cinedigm, 2015). It's about Life magazine photographer Dennis Stock, played by Robert Pattinson. Thanks to the website Films in Films for the screenshot. See the Theatres in Movies post about "Life" for more views of the shoot at the Pantages.
 


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. In "Keanu" we also see the Palace Theatre, the Los Angeles Theatre and the Cinerama Dome. See the Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.

The Pantages blog has a lovely "Pantages Theatre IMDb" post from September 2015 that highlights films that have used the theatre. IMDb also has a page about films using the Pantages.

The Pantages on Video: 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." 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.



A night view of the facade. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010  
 


A looking east past the Frolic Room. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



Another look at the famous Frolic Room neon. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The Pantages office building lobby. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

 

 The Pantages office building lobby ceiling.  Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

The California State Library collection has several 1930 Mott Studios office building photos. See photos 2, 4 and 5 in their set #001387215 for shots of the office building entrance and two lobby views. Other takes of the lobby views also appear in their set #001453624.

More information: See the Pantages Theatre page on Cinema Treasures. The Cinema Tour page devoted to the Pantages has a few exterior photos. Wikipedia has an article on the Pantages as well as one on architect B. Marcus Priteca. See the From Script To DVD Pantages Theatre page for photos of the building. The site also has a nice Photo Gallery of Los Angeles Theatres that were equipped for 70mm.

An August 30, 1930 article in Exhibitors Herald-World discussed the wonders of the new theatre. Four additional photos of the theatre appeared in an October 25, 1930 "Recent Creations in Theatre Design" article. Also in the October 25 issue is an article by F. H. Richardson: "Projection at the Pantages."

Sandi Hemmerlein's 2017 Avoiding regret photo essay "The Last of Pantages' Vaudeville Palaces" has many nice interior photos. The Historic Theatre Photography section of Mike Hume's website has a fine section on the Pantages that features many of his photos. Albert Domasin has a nice 53 item photo set on Flickr from 2010. Also see the wonderful 57 item Pantages Theatre 2010 photo set on Flickr by Steve Shriver.

Floyd Bariscale's Big Orange Landmarks is a blog investigating all the City of Los Angeles cultural landmarks. See the Pantages Theatre entry for a nicely done story of the theatre along with photos both old and new. Also see his Pantages Theatre set on Flickr for a number of exterior views.

The building was originally supposed to be a 10 story office building and various plans have been hatched over the years to "complete" the structure. Curbed L.A. had a 2007 story about one proposal.

Pages about the Pantages: 
| back to top - 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 |

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