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Cinematheque 16 / Sun Art / Orpheum Theatre

8816 1/2 Sunset Blvd. West Hollywood, CA 90069 | map |

Opened: "L.A.'s First Underground Theatre" opened in the early 60s as a storefront 16mm operation running "nudie-cuties." The theatre was also known as the Cinematheque 16 Moviehouse. The location was across the street from Tower Records.  

Producer and exhibitor Robert Lippert took it over in 1964 with the idea of continuing to run softcore product but the invasion of the counterculture on this part of Sunset made that venture unprofitable. With the success of the Cinema Theatre in running underground and experimental films, Lippert took that programming route instead, along with some foreign and American classics.

A June 1966 photo by Ed Ruscha from the Getty Research Institute collection.

A detail from the previous image. They evidently were short an "N" for "Vivian." The signage notes that in addition Bruce Connor's three minute 1965 short they were also running the 1912 D.W. Griffith two-reeler "Musketeers of Pig Alley."
On the IMDb page about "Vivian," they quote Judd Chesler: "A film portrait cut to the tune of Conway Twitty's version of 'Mona Lisa.' Filmed in part at a 1964 show of Conner's artwork in San Francisco, the film is also a witty statement about forces that take the life out of art. Vivian Kurz, the subject of the film, is entombed in a glass display case." See a Wikipedia article on artist Bruce Connor.
A shot by Mr. Ruscha of the building to the west reveals that the Cinematheque was also running "Public Enemy" and "Little Caesar." The 8820 building is now the store Book Soup. Thanks to Timothy Haack for locating these images for a 2020 Facebook post that featured 30 photos by Mr. Ruscha of various Sunset Blvd. and Hollywood locations related to a Frank Zappa album. Thanks to Alison Martino for sharing Timothy's post on her Vintage Los Angeles page in 2023. 

There over 70,000 Ruscha items now available for browsing. A few places to start: Sunset Boulevard, 1965-2010, undated (58,167 digitized items) | Hollywood Boulevard, 1973-2005, undated (4,292 digitized items) | Santa Monica Boulevard, 1974 (4,956 digitized items) | Melrose Avenue, 1975 (3,724 digitized items) |  Specifically about Sunset Blvd., see the Getty Research Institute's site "12 Sunsets." Their October 2020 Press Release discusses the project.

The films running at the time of the Ed Ruscha photos appear in this June 9, 1966 ad located by Mike Rivest. Visit his site:

Theatre historian Kurt Wahlner comments: 
"I remember seeing 'Alexander Nevsky' there once upon a time. The thing was between the two buildings. There was a staircase leading down and around to the back of the building on the left. You went in and there must have been some sort of lobby, but I don’t recall it. 
"The screen was on the wall to you right as you entered, so you were looking at the seats with the booth on the far wall. The print of 'Nevsky' was one of the worst I have ever seen (or heard). I think I left in the middle someplace."

How to get there. Thanks to Dennis Seules for sharing this "entrance" shot as a comment on Timothy Haack's 2019 Facebook post. He says he took it in 1975 or 1976.

The theatre hit its stride with "Psychedelic Film Trips" featuring work by Stan Brakhage, Ed Emshwiller, Stanton Kaye, John and James Whitney and others. Frank Woods later bought the operation and opened other Cinematheque 16s in Pasadena (a quick failure) and San Francisco.

An October 1966 ad for the Cinematheque. The ad is reproduced with a series of Roger Delfont articles archived on the site Ad Sausage that analyze the film ads that appeared in the Los Angeles Free Press. His discussion about the Cinematheque:

"With the success of places such the the 800-seat Cinema Theatre on Western, and its popular 'Underground Cinema 12' program (put on by Michael Getz), L.A.'s underground film culture was gaining ground. In 1964 exploitation film producer Robert Lippard [sic] purchased a theater on the Sunset Strip. The theater only had 16mm capability and Lippard's intent was to screen nudie-cuties. But when the Strip became the destination for the hippie culture, his programming choice proved fruitless.

"The theater ('little more than an anonymous doorway under awning') was taken over by Lewis Teague, an NYU graduate in film studies. Teague offered to run the theater as an art house, and after introducing new weekly programs (European art films), renamed it Cinematheque-16. The art films didn't fare much better than the previous nudies. Initial programming was certainly a mixed bag. In 1966, what was billed as 'A Horror Show', gave a stunned audience the following: 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' (Robert Wiene, 1920), 'Triumph of the Will' (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935), 'Andalusian Dog,' and 'Way to Shadow Garden' (Stan Brakhage, 1954).

"But after adding Psychedelic Film Trips to its advertising, locals in the music and drug culture gave the theater new momentum. Comedian Lenny Bruce closed his last professional performance at San Francisco's Basin Street West, he allowed producer John Magnuson to capture the show. The result ended up becoming the 65-minute film 'Lenny Bruce' - shown at Cinematheque 16.

"Experimental filmmakers such Shirley Clarke, Jack Smith, Robert Kramer, Gregory J. Markopoulos, Thomas Reichman, Robert Downey and Kenneth Anger had their work shown; Downey's 'Chafed Elbows,' 'No More Excuses' and 'The Sweet Smell of Sex' ('A drama of people who claw their way to the bottom') and Anger's 'Scorpio Rising' all were given ample time at the Sunset cinema. Warhol movies found a home there, and 'Bike Boy' had its West Coast premiere. Doors' front man Jim Morrison premiered his 40-minute 'Feast of Friends,' along with Warhol's 'I, A Man.' This was followed some time later with readings from 'An American Prayer.' The success of Sunset Strip location spurned two more location; San Francisco and Pasadena (which didn't last long)."

A June 1967 Free Press ad. Note "The Exiles" on the bottom of the bill.

A September 1967 ad in the Free Press. 

An ad for Warhol's "Bike Boy," an October 1967 release. Thanks to Gerald DeLuca for posting it on Cinema Treasures

April 1968. All the Free Press ads are from the Roger Delfont pieces collected on Ad Sausage.

The venue is perhaps best known as the site of May 30 and 31, 1969 fundraisers for Norman Mailer when he was running for mayor of New York. The event featured Jim Morrison reading poetry. Also performing were Tom Baker, Seymour Cassell, Jack Hirshman, Michael C. Ford, Mary Waronov and Jamie Sanchez. The ad appears on a page about the event on the site Mild Equator

Later in 1969 the Cinematheque 16 became a porno operation. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this June 1972 ad.

Some of the Cinematheque's signage. Thanks to the site Mild Equator for the image.
In 1974 the theatre became the Sun Art. Thanks to Mike Rivest for locating this September 26, 1974 ad. "Deep Throat" and "The Devil in Miss Jones" were still running in October 1976.

The Sun Art poised to become the Orpheum Theatre. The 1976 photo of Pavel Cerny appears as a 2015 post on the Orpheum Theatre Corporation Facebook page. The caption: 

"The day we signed the lease for the porn theatre that was to become the Orpheum Theater Corporation on Sunset Strip. Yes, Orpheum. I was so green in LA that I had no idea there was already one huge beautiful theatre of this name in Downtown LA."

By late 1976 it was hosting live events under Cerny's direction. As their Facebook page says: 
"Produced everything from classics to avant garde, from pantomime to the very first punk rock concerts in LA." 
The first production was the U.S. premiere of Isak Dinesen/Helena Weltman play "Immortal Story."

 The bill on April 16, 1977: The Nerves, The Weirdos, The Zippers and The Zeros.
Pleasant Gehman, in her essay in John Doe's book "Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk," describes the theatre: 

"The Orpheum wasn't a regular rock venue, just a small black-box theater that Peter Case [of The Nerves] had somehow managed to rent for this gig, which I believe was the first -- and last -- rock show ever held there. Located just off the Sunset Strip, kitty-corner from Tower Records on the tiny dead-end Nellas Street, the entrance was in the back, and as our car full of crazies arrived, there was already a number of punks congregated in the alley drinking, including Belinda [Carlisle, of the Go-Go's]...." 
It may have been the first such show at the Orpheum but it evidently wasn't the last.

At Tower Records, across the street from the Orpheum in September 1977. It's a photo by Ruby Ray that had appeared on the site Nightflight. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for posting it on his Noirish post # 46639. In the photo from left to right: unknown, Hellin Killer, Trudi, Pleasant Gehman, Bobby Pin, Nickey Beat, Alice Bag, Delphina, Lorna Doom, Pat Smear, Jena.

Hoss C, in his Noirish post # 46641 notes: "Bobby Pyn (aka Darby Crash), Nicky Beat, Lorna Doom and Pat Smear were all members of the Germs (as shown on Doom's T-shirt). This would've been around the time that the group was formed." The photo can also be seen on the Getty Images site.

A detail from the Ruby Ray photo. On the Orpheum marquee: "The Clique in Pure Imagination."

The Orpheum marquee is on the far left in this 1978 shot of Abba at Tower Records. Thanks to the Sunset Blvd. Records Facebook page for sharing it. They credit it to Tom Anderson. And thanks to Craig Owens of Bizarre Los Angeles for spotting the post. The show on the marquee appears to be "Portraits of My Temple."

A flyer for "Three Golden Hairs" at the Orpheum.

A flyer for the OTC production of "Heat."

Closing: The closing date is unknown. The Orpheum operation then moved to the Callboard Theatre on Melrose.

Status: The building the theatre was in has been demolished with the new IAC Building on the site dating from 1986. West of the theatre location, Book Soup has been in the 8818 spot since the late 80s.

The Cinematheque / Sun Art in the Movies:

We get this view in "The Forbidden" (Olympic International, 1966). It's at the beginning of a tour of the Strip with shots highlighting various nightspots. This "Mondo Cane" style mock-documentary takes us to nightclubs and other venues around the world -- wherever there's a chance to show sin and bare breasts. The film was written and directed by Benjamin Andrews and Lee Frost. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Tiffany, Optic, Burbank, Art and Follies theatres from the film. 

The Cinematheque 16 is seen in Nick Millard's 1969 film "L'amour de Femme." This shot from the film once appeared as a post on the Mid Century Modern Facebook group. Our anonymous correspondent who identified the shot as being from the film noted: "That's model/actress Cathy Adams aka Carol Appleby at the bottom." Ken McIntyre notes that "Skin," the title on the marquee, was advertised in the L.A. Times in July 1969. 
We get a fine tour of Los Angeles in Jacques Deray's "The Outside Man" (United Artists, 1973). Here we're looking east on Sunset with the marquee in the upper right corner of the image. Jean-Louis Trintignant (here getting into his car) and Roy Scheider (in from Detroit) are hit men who soon find out they're working for the same guy, a Los Angeles mobster who wants them both dead. Ann-Margret is the former owner of a sleezy bar who gets caught in the middle. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Music Box/Pix, and the Vine Theatre from the film.

Harvey Keitel strolls Sunset with the Sun Art Mini Theatre in the background. It's a shot an hour and seventeen minutes into "That’s the Way of the World" (United Artists, 1975). Sig Shore directed this drama about the music business that also stars Ed Nelson and Cynthia Bostick. Thanks to Luis Antezana for spotting the theatre in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a second shot from the scene.

Before and after the theatre era: 

1950s - A view of the intersection at Sunet and Holloway pre-Cinematheque 16. Thanks to Bill Caffrey for posting this on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. The theatre was in the second building on the left, with the columned entrance. The theatre entrance was just beyond the building itself. Book Soup is now in the building beyond that at 8818, which dates from 1935.


early 1960s - Thanks to Tom Anderson for locating this shot for a post on the Mid Century Modern Facebook page.

2014 - The building on the left is on the site of the theatre. It's a photo by Russell Gearhart that's on the photo gallery page of the Book Soup website.

2019 - The theatre entrance was once just to the left of the gray Book Soup building. Photo: Google Maps

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Cinematheque 16. Check out the Orpheum Theatre Corporation Facebook page.

The Cinematheque 16 is discussed as a home for experimental film on page 225 in David James' 2005 book "Most Typical Avant Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles." The author is a professor in the school of Cinema-Television at USC. The book is available from the University of California Press or Amazon. A preview is available on Google Books.

Visit the page here on this site about the Cinematheque 16 in Pasadena. 

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  1. I've been curious about the Cinematheque 16 location as I recall a different spot for the theater. I attended film screenings at the Cinematheque 16 a couple of times during the summer of 1967. As I recall, the location was not on the Strip but somewhere on the south side of Sunset Blvd. in the middle of a shopping strip a block or two east of Fairfax Blvd. I no longer have the handbills, but it definitely was the same name and same kind of programming as mentioned in this page's description. My first visit I recall as July 5, 1967.

    1. Hi, Ron -- Thanks for your comments. My first impression is that it's unlikely there was a location on Sunset near Fairfax with the same name. We seem to have ads from the summer of 1967 with the 8816 1/2 address being used. But who knows? Let me know if you figure anything out.

  2. Cinematheque 16 was at 8816 1/2 Sunset. Circa '74, it became The Sun Art Theater. By '77, it had become The Orpheum Theater. The Germs played their first show at The Orpheum on April 16, 1977. There are two posts confirming these details on the Facebook page of The Orpheum Theater Company.

    1. Lovely! Thanks for the data. I had seen ads for the Sun Art and a photo of the Orpheum but my brain hadn't made the connection that these were all the same site. I'll get the page updated. Your input is much appreciated.

  3. Here's a link to a photo taken in Sep of '77, with the theater in the background (left of center). The top part of the sign clearly says, "Orpheum Theater." The Book Soup building is to the right of the theater sign. The building to the left is no longer there.

    1. Thanks -- But I had seen the image maybe a year ago -- that''s when I first started wondering what the Orpheum name was doing in WeHo. I had it sitting in my files and finally put it on the page yesterday before your comment here. I did take the liberty of leveling it a bit so perhaps that's why you didn't recognize it as the same image. I'll add a link to the Getty site in the caption. Cheers!

    2. Apologies! I didn't see that you had already added the photo.

      I came across your site while trying to figure out the exact location of The Orpheum, which I had just read about in Pleasant Gehman's essay in John Doe's book, Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk.

      Her description of the theater:

      "The Orpheum wasn't a regular rock venue, just a small black-box theater that Peter Case [of The Nerves] had somehow managed to rent for this gig, which I believe was the first -- and last -- rock show ever held there. Located just off the Sunset Strip, kitty-corner from Tower Records on the tiny dead-end Nellas Street, the entrance was in the back, and as our carful of crazies arrived, there was already a number of punks congregated in the alley drinking, including Belinda [Carlisle, of the Go-Go's]....

    3. No apologies necessary. It's been great to have your input for the page. I had made a few wrong assumptions so it's terrific to get the page more accurate. And thanks for the quote from Gehrman. I'll add it. It appears that the comment about only rock show being held there was a little off, though. Cheers!

  4. There’s a shot of the Sun Art Mini Theatre in the movie “That’s the Way of the World,” starring Harvey Keitel, from 1975, at about 1:17:26 in. Looking for more brought me to this page. Thanks for the history.

    1. Thanks for the data, Luis! I see Netflix doesn't have a DVD but sooner or later I'll catch up with the film. I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

    2. It's on Amazon Prime Video for free :) There's a short sequence of shots of that area of Sunset Blvd at that time that fit in nicely with the pics you've shared.

    3. I did see that Amazon had it but I'm not on their program. Need a project, Luis? You could get us some screenshots.

  5. Here are links to screenshots from the Keitel film with the Sun Art in the background. Not sure how long the links will last, so you might want to save copies if you care.

    1. Lovely! Many thanks for getting the screenshots. As you can see, I added one shot here on this page and a second on the Theatres in Movies post about the film.

  6. The theater is also in the 1969 movie L'Amour De Femme and the first photo is a screenshot from the movie. That's model/actress Cathy Adams aka Carol Appleby at the bottom.

    1. Thanks. But what screenshots are you referring to? Are you emailing them to me? -- Bill

    2. The first photo, the one that says it's from a mid century modern Facebook page. It's a screenshot from the movie I mentioned. I had it paused on that exact frame when I was reading this post. I didn't email anything I was doing Google searches on building names that were visible in the movie just to see where the filming locations were and I found this blog.

    3. Aaah. Now I understand. I'll add that to the caption. Thanks for the research!