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Criterion Theatre - Santa Monica

1313 3rd St. Promenade Santa Monica, CA 90401 | map

Opened: 1924. The Criterion Theatre was run by West Coast Theatres and their successor companies for decades. It was the best appointed theatre in Santa Monica and with the advent of Cinemascope, was known for having the largest screen in town. The building is on the east side of the street at the corner of 3rd and Arizona. The c.1945 photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

Architects: Engineering Service Co. designed the building. The facade remains but all of what is behind it has been seriously reworked over the years. The original theatre was gutted when it was rebuilt as a 6 plex by Jeff Cooper Architects in 1983. A 2001 remodel for Mann Theatres was done by Behr Browers Architects.

Seating: 1,200 originally. The 6 plex had a capacity of 1,600.

West Coast Theatres became Fox West Coast in 1929. This June 2, 1929 photo spread in the Santa Monica Evening Outlook featured the area's most prominent men in the amusement business. At the time Louis Clark was managing the what had become the Fox Criterion. He's in the top row at the center. Thanks to Samuel Dórame for finding the newspaper item. For fine research relating to the Sawtelle area visit his blog Sawtelle 1897-1941

It's also been known as the New Criterion. The theatre got a remodel by Fox West Coast in the 40s. New seats were installed and the four original chandeliers were removed in a lighting re-design. The theatre got another makeover in 1965 to coincide with the malling of 3rd St. into what would later be called the 3rd St. Promenade. A new marquee was installed and the 1925 vertical removed. National General Corporation, the successor company to Fox West Coast, was acquired by Mann Theatres, who ran the venue until 1977.

It then operated as an independent theatre dropping down to a double feature 49 cents policy for a time. Later, along with the Broadway/Elmiro Theatre, it was run by Metropolitan Theatres as a Spanish language house. The theatre was gutted in 1983 for construction of a new 6 plex behind the historic facade. The configuration was 3 stadium style houses downstairs and 3 sloped floor houses upstairs.

In 1990 it was taken over by (once again) Mann Theatres, calling it the the Mann Criterion 6. The apartment portion of the building sustained damage in the Northridge earthquake of 1994. It was later rebuilt providing retail space on the ground floor and an expanded theatre lobby. Mann gave the complex another remodel in 2001.

The Mann circuit started slowly eroding as leases expired or properties were sold. The Mann lease on the Criterion was up in June 2010 and the operation was taken over by AMC, becoming the AMC Criterion. With AMC's acquisition of the Criterion all first run films in Santa Monica were either at the Laemmle Monica or at the AMC houses -- the other two being the Broadway 4 (earlier a Cineplex Odeon venue) and the AMC Santa Monica 7.  

The Criterion in the Movies: The theatre is seen in "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" (Warner Bros., 1985). Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting it. He notes that the Criterion is seen "in the background when it was still an old time shopping street. Before the Chia Pet statues began to pop up and all the original stores were priced out of existence."

Status: The Criterion, last operated by AMC, closed as a theatre March 28, 2013. Santa Monica Patch had an article about the closing of the 6 plex. It was gutted and is now a Brookstone store where the theatre's lobby was with Victoria's Secret taking most of the rest of the ground floor retail space. The second floor where the three upper theatres were is now occupied by the coworking firm WeWork.

A 1944 photo of retail clerks walking through the lobby after a meeting about selling war bonds. It's an Evening Outlook photo from the Santa Monica History Museum

A view of the proscenium c.1940 from the Los Angeles Public Library.

An undated sidewall photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A look at the back of the auditorium. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

Another back wall view from the Los Angeles Public Library

More exterior views: 

A 1925 view of the Criterion. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the photo, a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

A 1933 photo with the theatre running "The White Sister," an April release with Helen Hayes and Clark Gable. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on Photos of Los Angeles

Thanks to Elizabeth Webb for sharing this May 1937 photo of her grandmother on 3rd St. 

The Criterion marquee in 1938. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The Santa Monica Public Library also has a slightly different photo taken at the same shoot.

A classy 1947 look at the Fox Criterion as we look south on 3rd. The photo appeared on Alison Martino's Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Thanks, Alison!

A 50s postcard looking north along 3rd St. The Criterion's red vertical is down there on the right. It was a post by Don Sherman on Photos of Los Angeles. Chrys Atwood also added a version of the card on the very fun Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica Facebook page.

A 50s postcard with the Criterion on the left. Thanks to Douglas Rudd for posting it on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

A 1964 look north on 3rd. Thanks to Michael Hayashi for posting the photo on the Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica Facebook page. And thanks to Bruce Kimmel for noticing that the Criterion is running "Becket," a March 1964 release.

A 1965 view looking up 3rd at what was soon to be the 3rd St. Mall, later renamed the 3rd St. Promenade. Note the Criterion up there on the right. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

Another 1965 construction view with a bit of the Criterion marquee on the left. It's a photo from the Santa Monica Public Library.

A 1980 view of the Criterion in its 49 cent period. It's in the collection of the website American Classic Images.

The west end of the building in 1983. It's a Santa Monica Public Library photo.

Included in a set of black and white 3rd St. Promenade photos by Q T Leong is this fine look south toward the Criterion 6. The image has also been seen on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

The theatre in 2007. Photo: Bill Counter  

A nice night view by M.V. Jantzen, part of his Los Angeles 2007 set on Flickr

Thanks to M.V. Jantzen for this 2007 photo on Flickr.

The facade of the Criterion. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Thanks to Mark Peacock for this fine 2010 shot of the vertical. It's from his Vintage Theatres photo set on Flickr.

A 2012 marquee soffit shot by Corey Lascaris appearing on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.

End of the line for the Criterion. Thanks to Larry Ziff for his photo on Vintage Los Angeles of the theatre with a blank marquee after its March 28, 2013 closing. 

The dead Criterion. At the time of the photo, the theatre was being gutted for use as retail space. Photo: Bill Counter - September 2013

A shot of the building appearing in 2017 on Zillow. Thanks to David Counter for spotting the listing.

New Theatres for Santa Monica: The City of Santa Monica had been in negotiations with AMC to build a new theatre complex on city owned property downtown (possibly an existing garage location at 5th & Arizona) but AMC bowed out of the negotiations in late 2012 (after three years of talk) citing their concern about lack of adequate return on investment.

The Santa Monica Mirror had a story about the city investigating the possibility of other developers or theatre operators. Santa Monica Daily Press also ran a story. At one time there was concern at the city council that the downtown would be over screened after construction of the proposed garage complex and one of the requirements for a deal was that AMC shutter one or more of their existing locations. The landlord at the Broadway 4 wasn't happy about this as he feared the loss of a tenant.

Now with the ArcLight complex in the Santa Monica Place mall and added screens at the Laemmle Monica Film Center the downtown area has more screens than ever. Curbed L.A. had an October 2013 story about the ArcLight project. Santa Monica Daily Press was also on the story. The Santa Monica Lookout had additional background information.

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the old Criterion. Cinema Treasures researcher Bill Gabel has unearthed lots of history on the theatre. Also see the Cinema Treasures page on the replacement Criterion 6.

The Cinema Tour page on the Criterion has some exterior photos. The Huntington Library has a 1966 view of the Promenade but we only get a bit of the marquee at the right edge of the photo. The Santa Monica History Museum has some Criterion photos if you'd care to go on a search.

Nathan Masters did a fine 2016 KCET story with many photos about the evolution of the 3rd St. Promenade: "How Santa Monica's Third Street Became a Promenade."

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