More Carthay Circle pages: interior views | projection and sound |
Opened: The Carthay Circle Theatre, "The Showplace of the Golden West," was opened May 18, 1926 with
the premiere of C.B. DeMille's "The Volga Boatman." The initial format was
showings twice a day with all seats reserved. The photo is a construction view taken for Life appearing in the Google/Life Images
collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Tourmaline for
spotting the shot and including it with other Life images on Noirish post #35682.
Initially the theatre was an independent operation run by Fred Miller, who had a 15 year lease. Miller at various times had run downtown theatres including the Alhambra, Miller's and the California as well as the Figueroa south of downtown and the Elmiro in Santa Monica. The original address of the Carthay was on Eulalia Boulevard. It was renamed San Vicente in 1929.
The theme of the theatre was the early history of California, expressed in it's decorative style as well as in murals commissioned for the building and its collection of paintings and artifacts. The painting on the asbestos and in the organ grille areas was by Frank Tenney Johnson. Other paintings were by Alson Clark. The sculpture in the Tower Room was by Henry Lion. It may have just come from the brain of a press agent but this item located by David Saffer appeared in a paper in Illinois in March 1926:
A rendering of the new theatre appeared in the Better Theatres section of the April 17, 1926 Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding it on Internet Archive. The caption on a page headed "Construction Closeups" read: "New Carthay Circle - Artist's conception of the beautiful new Carthay Circle in exclusive Wiltshire [sic] district of Los Angeles. This Spanish Theatre is being erected by Far West Theatres, of which Fred Miller is head. The Carthay Circle will seat 1,800."
A plan of the main floor of the Carthay Circle showing the arrangement on the site and the circular layout that inspired the name. It's from Volume 2 of "American Theatres of Today" by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts. The plan also appears as part of a November 1928 article in Architect and Engineer, available on Internet Archive. Looking at the plan you'd think the dimmerboard was offstage left. The way it got built, both the board and the wire-guide rigging were off right.
A section of the Carthay Circle from "American Theatres of Today." The work was published in two volumes in 1927 and 1930 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co., New York. It was reprinted in one volume in 1977 and 1985 by the Vestal Press, New York. Theatre Historical Society also did a reprint in 2009. It can be found on Amazon. The book has many great photos and plans of other Los Angeles Theatres as well.
A c.1926 Wurlitzer ad from the collection of Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufman that was reproduced in an article about the theatre appearing in the October 1983 issue of the magazine The Console. The issue is in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for sharing the image.
Rigging: Wire guide, offstage right.
Lifts: Neighborhood historian Kent Adamson reports that "according to the notes at the Academy Library Fairbanks Special Collections, it had a double hydraulic elevator. The entire orchestra pit could rise from the basement, including the Wurlitzer organ, or the organ could rise separately after the orchestra pit, (and rise higher)." It's not known if this was actually a hydraulic system or the more typically used screw jack type of lift. Or even if there were lifts. The section drawing in American Theatres of today shows no pit lift. Another curiosity, if the organ console were on a lift: in some early photos it's centered, in others it's house left.
The organ most likely didn't have a separate lift. In the October 1983 issue of Console Terry Helgesen noted: "Carli Elinor...was selected to conduct the huge concert orchestra, augmented by the 3/11, Style 235 Wurlitzer organ, all placed on the elevating orchestra platform."
A May 18, 1926 ad. It was located by Comfortably Cool for a post on Cinema Treasures.
The theatre's debut was described in a May 29, 1926 Exhibitors Herald article:
"Carthay Opening Hollywood's Most Brilliant -- Proves Big Social Event. Hollywood, May 25 -- The big social event in film circles last week was the opening of Fed Miller's Carthay Circle theatre on the Western edge of the city. It was one of the most brilliant premieres ever held in Hollywood, a city accustomed to many of these events. The opening was a credit to Fred Miller and his staff, and a tribute to Miller's popularity. The new theatre is located off the beaten path, midway between Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, but this fact did not lessen the attendance and thousands of fans lined the square before the theatre to watch those who entered.
"Mr. Miller arranged a fitting program for the opening of the new house, and used as his opening attraction Cecil B. DeMille's production, 'The Volga Boatman,' which was acclaimed by all who attended the premiere to be the finest thing he has done since 'The Ten Commandments.' A beautiful prologue preceeded the picture, created and staged by Jack Laughlin. Following the picture, Lew Cody, acting as master of ceremonies, introduced Mr. DeMille, Lenore J. Coffee, who wrote tha adaptation and continuity, and the various members of the cast..."
Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article on Internet Archive. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for historical data and many fine photos of the theatres he's explored.
The fact that the theatre soon became widely known acted as free promotion for McCarthy's newly developed Carthay residential district. This ad extolling the virtues of the neighborhood appeared on Noirish Los Angeles post #719 from contributor Ethereal Reality. He also included a nice selection of photos of the theatre. Also see his Noirish post #5770. And for more photos see post #2584 by Sopas EJ.
The July 10, 1926 Exhibitors Herald had a big article titled "Aztec, Carthay Circle, Reflect Pioneer Spirit in Construction." They noted that the theatre was "magnificient in its locational isolation" but was being rewarded with substantial patronage as it fell into a class of theatre with "exceptional constructional features." The Aztec in the title is the one in San Antonio. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article on Internet Archive. | article continuation | photos |
An ad featuring the theatre in the Better Theatres section of the September 4, 1926 Exhibitors Herald that was located by Mike Hume.
"The Circle theatre has a three-combination pre-set board with dimmers operated either by hand or by a 15 h-p motor, the latter giving a more even blending. A dual control makes it possible for the stage manager to operate the lights as well as the man in the projection room but set-ups must be made in the latter place. With characteristic Los Angeles 'unobtrusiveness,' at least eight theatres claim to be the 'finest in America.' Notwithstanding and exteriorly at least, the Circle looks the part. Located in an exclusive residential district, its imposing pure whiteness is an architectural and illuminating triumph. Claude D. Seaman [of L.A. based Cole Lighting], working in conjunction with Dwight Gibbs, the architect, from the inception of the idea, has achieved results which show the advantages of such co-operation.
The Carthay Circle was profiled in a four page article in the November 1928 issue of Architect and Engineer that begins:
the day time, the white loveliness of the new Carthay Circle Theater,
Los Angeles, beckons for miles away and later in the blue of the night
when the thousands of city lights are sparkling, the bright and far
reaching illumination of the lofty tower forms a welcoming beacon of
light. Simple, massive, and dignified, the building stands out because
of its intrinsic beauty..."
The Carthay Circle rivaled the
Chinese in terms of the number and importance of the premieres it held.
Like the Chinese (and the Egyptian), the large open courtyard entrance
provided a space conducive to handling premiere crowds and making
Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr for this early program cover. It's in his superb Paper Ephemera collection.
The theatre only ran three films during its first year. The nineteen week run of "The Volga Boatman" was followed by a seven week run of "Bardelys the Magnificent" with John Gilbert and then "What Price Glory," running for more than six months.
A sign with triangular revolving panels advertising the theatre on Wilshire Blvd. in May 1927. The copy, in addition to advertising "7th Heaven," also touted the music of Carli Elinor and the prologues by Laughlin. The sign is featured on the Noirish Los Angeles post #22028 by Gaylord Wilshire where he also has views of the other panels advertising Lockheed Brakes and a trip to Catalina.
Advertisements for F.W. Murnau's "Sunrise," a November 1927 release with Janet Gaynor. Playing at the Criterion downtown: Warner's "The Jazz Singer." The photo is in the AMPAS Tom B'hend - Preston Kaufmann Collection.
Sound at the Carthay Circle: Evidently sound came to the theatre in the spring of 1928. "Street Angel," an April 1928 release, played the theatre in Movietone. See the Projection and Sound page for some early booth views.
The outside of the program for "Street Angel" with Janet Gaynor, a William Fox production at the theatre. It was an April 1928 release.
The inside of the "Street Angel" program. "...with the Most Amazing Scientific Discovery of the Age -- MOVIETONE." Many thanks to Lane Wallace for the program.
The Paper Ephemera collection of Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr includes this Carthay Circle program cover. On the back page is copy telling the patrons about the various paintings hung around the theatre. The paintings are "Depicting the Great Historical Events on California's Romantic and Colorful Road to Statehood." The program also tells us that the Carthay Circle maintains 50 branch ticket offices throughout Southern California.
Inside the program it turns out that our show is the sound feature "The Barker," a December 1928 release from First National with Milton Sills, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Dorothy Mackaill and Betty Compson. It's on Flickr. Thanks, Eric!
A May 10, 1930 ad for "Happy Days." Thanks to Comfortably Cool for posting it on Cinema Treasures.
More films in the 30s:
"All Quiet on the Western Front" had its world premiere at the theatre on April 21, 1930. This ad from the collection of Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufman was reproduced in the October 1983 issue of The Console. Thanks to Ron Mahan for sharing the image.
"Lightnin" with Will Rogers was a November 1930 release. The ad was reproduced in the October 1983 issue of The Console. Thanks to Ron Mahan for sharing the image.
"Seed" played the theatre in April 1931. The ad was in the October 1983 issue of The Console. Thanks to Ron Mahan for sharing the image.
Disney favored the house and held many premieres there including "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the ad on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
Another L.A. Times "Snow White" ad. Again thanks to Ken McIntyre for the post on Photos of Los Angeles.
Fantasound stereo at the Carthay Circle in 1941: This theatre was one of the few in the country to exhibit Disney's "Fantasia" with the elaborate sound system that was intended by the studio. See the Carthay Circle Projection and Sound page for more about the process.
Legit at the Carthay Circle: The fully equipped stage at the theatre was occasionally used for legit shows. There was a full season in 1932 that included shows such as "Murdered Alive" (with Bela Lugosi) and "Sons 'O Guns." A production of "Lysistrata" resulted in a vice squad raid with the entire cast being taken to jail. Terry Helgesen once commented that the vice squad was laughed at because one of their warrants was for the arrest of the playwright, Aristophanes.
In the early 1950's, the Carthay Circle again had a run as a legit house. In 1951 Charles Skouras made the theatre available for a run of the Moral Re-Armament musical "Jotham Valley."
"America's Most Beautiful Legitimate Theatre." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this December 1952 ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. One producer using the theatre was Henry Duffy, who had run a major west coast string of legit theatres in the 1920's and 30's. Following "Affairs of State" was a Duffy production of "Life With Mother" starring Billie Burke and Carl Benton Reid. It opened January 25, 1953.
A 1955 L.A. Times ad for "King of Hearts." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
The stage event of 1955 was the death onstage of 47 year old Isabel Bonner during a hospital bed scene in "The Shrike." Carthay area historian Kenny Adamson reports that Ethel Waters appeared for a week in 1955 in her revue "An Evening With Ethel Waters." Such legit use wasn't possible after the TODD-AO conversion of 1956.
70mm TODD-AO at the Carthay Circle: This was the third Los Angeles theatre equipped for TODD-AO, with "Around the World in 80 Days" opening December 22, 1956. It ran for 127 weeks. See the Interior Views page for photos of the proscenium demolition work and the finished screen installation. Renovation work included draping much of the auditorium and installing a new main floor projection booth. Terry Helgesen, in the article about the theatre in the October 1983 issue of Console, noted that the remodel included chopping off the first five rows of the balcony and closing off the front balcony exits.
Many other 70mm roadshow runs followed including "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Can-Can" (1960), "The Alamo" (1960), "El Cid" (1961), "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965) and "Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968-69). The theatre also got the 70mm moveover run of "The Sound of Music" (from the Fox Wilshire) in 1966 and a run of the 70mm version of "Gone With the Wind" in 1967. The houses that had earlier been equipped for TODD-AO were the Egyptian and the downtown United Artists.
Matches, anyone? Thanks to Mark London on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page for posting this view of a matchbook advertising the two "World's Most Famous Show Places."
Closing: The last year of operation was 1969. "The Shoes of the Fisherman" with Anthony Quinn was the final film to play the theatre.
Status: It was demolished in 1969. National General Corporation put an office building complex on the site.
The Carthay Circle in the Movies:
Jean Harlow shot a film at the theatre but, at this point, it's unknown what film it was. This shot, taken from the unidentified film, appeared in the October 1983 issue of Console.
Theatre scenes for the Charley Chase short "Neighborhood House" (Hal Roach/MGM, 1936) were shot at the Carthay Circle. Originally previewed as an hour-long feature, it was cut down to a two reeler for release. Thanks to the site Another Nice Mess for the screenshot, appearing on their page about the film. As can be seen, the plot revolves around a Bank Night giveaway at the theatre, and everything that goes wrong.
The Carthay Circle's fame as a Hollywood movie palace for premieres is shown in Busby Berkeley's "Hollywood Hotel" (Warner Bros., 1937) with Dick Powell.
In "Hollywood Hotel" we're supposedly going to a premiere of the fictional film "Glamour Girl" but in this shot it's revealed on the marquee that the footage they're using is from the premiere of "The Life of Emile Zola" (also 1937).
The Carthay Circle appears in the 1940 Our Gang comedy "The Big Premiere."
Our only views of the theatre's backstage come from the noir drama "99 River Street" (Columbia, 1953). Here John Payne and Evelyn Keyes have just come in the stage door. The film, directed by Phil Karlson, is set in New York and Jersey City. Payne is a has-been boxer who unknowingly participates in a scene that he thinks is a murder in a theatre. It's actually just an audition for Keyes and he isn't amused. Payne is also involved in another murder plot involving his wife. That one was for real. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for seven more shots from the film's sequence at the theatre.
Doris Day taking a seat in the balcony in "Caprice" (Fox, 1967). Note the re-done side wall paneling and the beige drapes. Much of the theatre's ornate Spanish style decor was "modernized" during 1950s
In "Caprice" Doris gets into a fight with Irene Tsu and Michael J. Pollard in the balcony. Ms. Day falls over the edge and lands on a main floor patron below. In the extreme lower right corner of the image you get a bit of the curve of the beige curtain that enveloped the whole front of the auditorium -- all the way around to the front of the balcony. It was installed as part of the renovations for the 1956 TODD-AO run of "Around the World in 80 Days." Also note the new "modernized" treatment of the balcony soffit. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for several more shots.
The exterior of the Carthay Circle appears in the Carl Reiner film "The Comic" (Columbia, 1969) with Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Michelle Lee. Here we're at the theatre in the 20s for a premiere of a film starring the character played by Van Dyke. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Silent Movie Theatre and Montalban Theatre from the film.
More exterior views:
A 1926 California Historical Society photo in the USC Digital Library collection. On the marquee is the theatre's opening attraction "The Volga Boatman."
Another shot later in the run of "The Volga Boatman." They've added a bit of signage below the marquee saying "Reserved Seats on Sale." It's a Padilla Co. photo appearing with "Theatrical Theatres," an article in the January 1929 issue of Pacific Coast Architect. They also discuss the United Artists and the Dufwin in Oakland. Thanks to Mike Hume/Historic Theatre Photography for finding the article on Internet Archive.
A 1926 view showing the canopy leading to the entrance. It's from the Dick Whittington Studio and taken when the theatre was running "What Price Glory." The photo is in the USC Digital Library collection where they also have another version.
A fine photo of the exterior taken by Mott Studios in 1927 during the run of Frank Borzage's "7th Heaven." The film, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, premiered at the Carthay Circle on May 6th. The photo, along with five other exterior views, is in the California State Library collection as their set #001384379. Ten interior photos in the collection are cataloged as set #001384380.
The artist's model for the statue seen in the lower right corner of the previous photo. It's in the collection of Rick Spector. He notes that the statue is of Diane, Janet Gaynor's character in "7th Heaven." Rick thinks that it was there opposite the entrance doors for the full run of the film in May 1927. "Diane," the theme song from the film, is on YouTube. Thanks, Rick!
Through the arcade of a nearby building. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library - 1927
A c.1929 view from Ken McIntyre on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. The signage doesn't yet say "Fox." The photo also appears in BifRayRock's Noirish Los Angeles post #26417.
An undated view from the California Historical Society in the USC Digital Library collection showing the relationship of the theatre to the street and the smaller retail businesses in front.
A night shot of the miner by Padilla Co. from the January 1929 issue of Pacific Coast Architect. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting it.
A c.1930 photo taken from the roof looking northwest toward Hollywood. Wilshire Blvd. is two blocks away from us. The photo from the California Historical Society is in the USC Digital Library collection.
A 1930 view looking south from McCarthy Vista toward the Pioneer statue, a piece by Henry Lion honoring the 1849 California pioneers. The theatre is beyond, across San Vicente Blvd. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.
Thanks to the wonderful Bruce Torrence Historic Hollywood Photographs collection for this 1931 photo. Browse their site for 19 more Carthay Circle photos. And there are more filed under their category of premieres. Or, if you have an afternoon to spare, take a peek at the over 250 theatre photos in the collection.
A small piece of a 1933 Pettits Studio panorama taken at the corner of La Cienega and Pico. In this detail we're looking northeast across La Cienega to the Pico Fairway driving range and the theatre beyond.
The full photo can be seen on the Huntington Digital Library website -- it's in their Verner collection of Panoramic Negatives. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock who found the image in the HDL collection and included it in his Noirish post #26417.
The west coast premiere of "Lloyd's of London," a November 1936 release with Tyrone Power and Madeline Carroll. The photo from the Terry Helgesen collection was reproduced in an article about the theatre appearing in the October 1983 issue of the magazine The Console. The issue is in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for sharing the image.
The 1937 premiere of "The Life of Emile Zola." It's a Los Angeles Times photo on Calisphere from from the UCLA Library's Times Photographic Archives.
A 1937 postcard using a Bob Plunkett photo from the Elizabeth Fuller Old Los Angeles Postcards collection on Flickr. The theatre is running "The Life of Emile Zola." There's also a slightly different version of the card in the California State Library collection as their item #001378595.
Preparations for the December 28, 1939 west coast premiere of "Gone With the Wind." Thanks to Dave Swantek for the photo by Virgil Morris, a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
The bleachers for "Gone With the Wind." The arrow is pointing to the early arrivals who had claimed their seats by 11:30 am. Photo: Dave Swantek - Photos of Los Angeles
A 1940 exterior shot by Dick Whittington Studio in the USC Digital Library collection. Also in the USC collection: 1937 premiere - "Wee Willie Winkie" | another "Winkie" view - they have lots | aerial view - c.1926 |
A November 11, 1940 Corbis photo of the lights for the premiere of Chaplin's "The Great Dictator." It's also been seen, uncredited, on the blog of Martin Turnbull.
A daytime shot during the 1940 run of the "The Great Dictator." Thanks to Teresa A. Anderson for sharing the photo from a family scrapbook on the California History Facebook page. And thanks to Kevin Walsh for spotting the post.
A 1940 Dick Whittington shot looking across the new May Co. building at Wilshire and Fairfax with the Carthay Circle Theatre appearing in the upper center. Thanks to Nile Hight for the post of the photo on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.
The 1943 premiere of "The Song of Bernadette." It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library.
The entrance neon and red carpet. Thank to Nile Hight for the photo on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page.
The 1949 premiere for "The Heiress." The photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
The theatre during a period when it was getting used as a legit house by promoter Henry Duffy. "Life With Mother," starring Billie Burke and Carl Benton Reid, opened January 25, 1953. Thanks to Alison Martino for finding the photo for a post on her Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
A detail from another photo from the run of "Life With Mother." Thanks to Mark London for finding the photo on eBay. He had it as a post on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page.
A 1955 view with another legit offering, "The Shrike," onstage. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. In 1956 the stage would be made unusable after the TODD-AO renovations for "Around the World in 80 Days."
More exterior views in the LAPL collection: searchlights - grand opening? | 1929 reflection in pool - Padilla Co. photo | outside the entrance - Herman Schultheis | another floodlit view | night view - reflecting pool and statue | pond and statue by day | canopy to entrance - Herman Schultheis | 1937 exterior | 1938 tower floodlit | 1940 premiere | fans in 1944 - "Wilson" | "Wilson" premiere night | view from parking lot | entrance 1949 - with Marine band ....and many more if you look through the Library's photo collection.
A lovely 50s photo from the Richard Wojcik collection appearing on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Thanks, Richard!
The roadshow engagement of "Porgy and Bess" in 1959. It's a photo by the African-American photographer Harry Adams, known as "One Shot Harry." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. There's a watermarked copy on the website of the Cal State Northridge Oviatt Library.
An ominous 1964 view added to the Carthay Circle History Facebook page by Kenny Adamson. Some of the shops near the theatre had already been demolished and work was underway on one of the new buildings. The theatre is running "Mary Poppins." It would continue to operate until 1969, the year of its demolition.
More information: Check out the Cinema Treasures page for many fond recollections.
There's a Carthay Circle History group on Facebook. Check out their photo album. Of interest on their page: 1925 - dedication? | 30s lantern slide | color video clip - theatre exterior |
The Carthay Circle pages: back to top - history + exterior views | interior views | projection and sound |
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