Start your Los Angeles area historic theatre explorations by heading to one of these major sections: Downtown | North of Downtown + East L.A. | San Fernando Valley | Glendale | Pasadena | San Gabriel Valley, Pomona and Whittier | South, South Central and Southeast | Hollywood | Westside | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | Long Beach | [more] L.A. Movie Palaces |
To see what's recently been added to the mix visit the Theatres in Movies site and the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

Forum Theatre

4050 W. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90019 | map

Opened: May 14, 1924 as an independent operation with D. W. Griffith's "America" featuring Lionel Barrymore. It's on the south side of the street two blocks east of Crenshaw Blvd. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Architect: Edward J. Borgmeyer. The murals were by Christian von Schneidau. In addition to the theatre space, there was the Forum Ballroom on the third floor over the lobby areas. The building has a number of lounge areas and meeting spaces including some in the basement. There's an elevator to get to the various levels.

The theatre got a big spread in the May 11, 1924 issue of the L.A. Times that was headed "Forum Last Word in Theater Construction." An article about the new theatre was spotted by Joe Vogel in the August 1924 issue of Architect and Engineer. Floor plans and a section were included in a 25 page early 50s brochure that's now in the Ronald W. Mahan collection. It's reproduced down at the bottom of this page.
Seating: 1,766 -- all on one level.
Dr. H.B. Breckwedel of the Symphony Theatre and Palace of Pictures downtown was behind the project. The theatre originally featured reserved parking (for an additional 10 cents) in its adjacent 500 space car park. The project had been announced in a January 22, 1922 story that was located by Jeff Bridges in the L.A. Times: 
"Contracts were executed yesterday by financial backers of the Symphony Theater for the erection of the Forum Theater at the corner of Pico street and Norton avenue with a seating capacity of 2000 and estimated to cost $900,000. An orchestral organ, said to be the largest theater organ in the world, will be installed by the W.W. Kimball Company of Chicago. This organ, it is said, is to be more massive than the great organ in the Mormon Tabernacle at Salt Lake City and, it is said, will cost $100,000. 
"Dr. H.B. Breckwedel, managing director of the Symphony, states that the Forum will mark a new departure in the future of motion-picture houses for Los Angeles, as he is following the theory that big theaters must be built away from the congested district with ample provision for the parking of automobiles. 'Also our policy will be to support the open market, offering nothing but first-run pictures and not to be tied to any one producer,' said Dr. Breckwedel yesterday."

An ad from opening day, May 15, 1924. Thanks to Comfortably Cool for locating this for a post on Cinema Treasures

"Nothing like it in the world!" Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this August 2, 1924 ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

The cover of a 1925 issue of the Forum's magazine. Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for locating it for a post on Cinema Treasures

Gus A. Metzger and Harry Srere acquired a partial interest in the theatre around 1926. Srere had been running the Rialto downtown in the late 20s. Metzger and Srere, and other partners, had taken over the Palace Theatre in 1928. The duo were the lessees of the Fairfax Theatre when it opened in 1930 and the Roxie when it opened on Broadway in 1931. Metzger and Srere also did business as Pacific Amusement Co. and Metzger-Srere Theatres.

The theatre's lighting was discussed in "Life o' the Show-House: Light," an article by Nellie Barnard Parker from the publication "Light" that was reprinted in the February 19, 1927 issue of Exhibitors Herald. It's on Internet Archive. Ms. Parker comments:

"Here is a place of restful charm -- that is, if you crave languishment -- accentuated by careful lighting that has prompted over 200 letters from enthusiastic patrons during the past year. ... Concrete pillars and urns along both the side walls give a feeling of space to the panorama of Grecian scenes painted upon the walls. The audience experiences the sense of looking between colonnades upon a vast and beautiful country. Forty 1000-watt spots above the canopy ceiling illuminate these walls from above and a three-colored lighting system hidden behind a low baluster enables the electrician to obtain marvelous effects on these scenic walls. Colored lights in the urns give the appearance of burning insence. Four hundred 60-watt cove-lighting lamps and other sources and 'spots' placed to judicious advantage, all operated by a splendidly equipped switchboard, help to make this show-house one of the show places of Los Angeles."

Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article, which also discusses the Egyptian, Orpheum and Carthay Circle theatres. Visit Mike's Historic Theatre Photography site for historical data and many fine photos of the theatres he's explored.

A great 1927 Forum postcard from Penny Postcards from California's City of Los Angeles page.

Soon it became part of the Warner Bros. empire and was advertised as the Warner Bros. Forum Theatre. Metzger and Srere continued to have a part in the operation, at least as late as 1930. They were also involved in the Fairfax and in the Roxie downtown. 
The organ in the theatre was a 4/37 Kimball. In 1931 Warner Brothers pulled it out and installed it in their new Warner Bros. Western Theatre, now called the Wiltern. The Warner circuit was soon in deep trouble and bailed out of the Wiltern in mid-1933 but kept the Forum. They eventually went back into the Wiltern after it ran for a few years as an independent.

Warners was still operating the Forum in 1948. At the time, in addition to the Warner Beverly Hills and Warner Huntington Park listed in the ad, they also operated the Wiltern, the Warner Hollywood and the Warner Downtown (the former Pantages). They were out of the Warner San Pedro that they had built but it eventually was back in the circuit. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.  
Consent decree divestment: The Forum building was sold in 1949 to Sherill C. Corwin and Sol Lesser who then took over the operation from Warner Bros. The transaction was announced in the February 15 issue of the Times. Corwin was the founder of Metropolitan Theatres, Lesser had long been involved with Fox West Coast. Other Warner houses soon got spun off to the newly independent Stanley-Warner Corp. following the consent decree.
For sale again: The booth view below is one of many illustrations in a 25 page booklet produced when Sherrill Corwin and his partners were trying to sell the building in the 1950s. The full booklet, from the Ronald C. Mahan Collection, is reproduced at the bottom of the page. 

An early 1950s view from the booklet produced in an attempt to sell the building. Note the Simplex E-7 with the front shutter still on the machine. It's pre-Cinemascope. That large lower magazine we see is a preview attachment so 1,000 ft. reels could be run with picture and sound on separate reels.  
The theatre goes legit: 

The Forum closed as a film house sometime in the early 50s and then had a fling as a legit theatre. This ad for the revue "My L.A." appeared in the November 4, 1951 Times. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. The show was not a success and only had a short run.

In 1955 the theatre was used for recording sessions for the Pacific Jazz label that included Chet Baker, Art Pepper, Bill Perkins, Hoagy Carmichael and other artists. 

The program cover for "Pajama Tops" with Barbara Eden at the Forum in 1956. It was for sale on Amazon. Thanks to Arnold Darrow for spotting it. 
The Forum on TV:

This murky proscenium view is seen 1957 Ed Wood pilot TV "Final Curtain." The 22 minute film, on YouTube, has many more views of the Forum, including lots of low-res backstage shots. See the Theatres in Movies post for a chandelier shot and an exterior view of the Dome Theatre in Ocean Park. 
Cinerama arrives: It was the offices and a test screening house for Cinerama from March 1961 until 1978. The louvered Cinerama screen installed at the Forum encompassed a 146 degree arc with a size of 34' x 88'.

Sound equipment being installed at the Forum for Cinerama. The photo is from the collection of Cinerama historian Roland Lataille on his page devoted to the Forum Theatre.  Thanks, Roland!

The theatre was used for testing lenses, evaluating prints and as a shipping depot. It was initially equipped for 3 strip projection and (later) with 2 Norelco DP70 35/70mm projectors when Cinerama started working with a 70mm format. 

The first demonstration of 70mm single strip Cinerama at the Forum was June 6, 1963. This article about the unveiling of "Single Lens Cinerama" appeared in the Times on June 7.

The Forum booth with two Norelco DP70 35/70mm machines as well as Cinerama 3-strip equipment. Thanks to Thomas Hauerslev for the photo in his terrific site It's on the page about DP70s in California.
For sale again in 1972: The theatre was for sale again when this article appeared in the September 10, 1972 issue of the L.A. Times:

Many thanks to Ron Mahan for locating the Times article.
The theatre still retained its 3 strip projection capability with the last screening in that format on October 17, 1978 -- a private showing of "How The West Was Won."

Status: It's been a Korean church since the late 70's. The original auditorium ceiling is obscured with a dropped ceiling and the murals have either been painted over or otherwise covered. A 2006 report from Jeff Bridges on Cinema Treasures:

"The exterior is pretty much intact, but the auditorium is destroyed. It looks as though a new building was built inside of the theater, so the original might be above the very strange A-frame ceiling of the auditorium. I cannot imagine why anyone would spend the money to construct an A-frame ceiling underneath the huge original ceiling. 
"The building is massive on the outside and when you see the interior space now, it feels as though you are in a tiny church. Most of the detail in the lobby and stairs going up on the sides is still there, although it has been painted over with white and beige glossy paint. I imagine it would have been gold originally. There is no sign of any murals left unless they are behind walls or above the weird ceiling."

Lobby views:

A 1924 lobby photo from Architectural Record. Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for including it in a post on his Theatre Talks Tumblr blog. For other interesting material see his other Theatre Talks blog on Blogspot and visit him on Facebook. The photo is also in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A 50s view looking in from the rotunda toward the inner lobby. The photo is one that was included in a 25 page brochure produced when the building was up for sale. The full brochure is reproduced at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Ronald W. Mahan for sharing it.

A 1924 inner lobby photo from Architectural Record. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for making it available.

Another early view of the inner lobby. It's from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A 50s inner lobby view from the brochure in the Ronald W. Mahan collection. 
The auditorium: 

 A luscious view from the 1924 Architectural Record article. It's on Cezar Del Valle's Forum Theatre post.

A look across the house appearing in the Arcadia Publishing book "West Adams" by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Don Lynch and John G. Kurtz. There's a preview on Google Books. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire for including the photo in his Noirish post #4448.

The front of the auditorium after an early 50s proscenium redo. Note the rounded sidestage areas we see in the earlier photos have been reworked as well. Photo: Ronald W. Mahan collection

A closer look at that lovely 50s proscenium. Photo: Ronald W. Mahan collection

An early look at the rear of the Forum's auditorium. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. 

The rear of the house in the 50s, a redo presumably prompted by acoustical issues. Photo: Ronald W. Mahan collection

A view of one of the murals in a 1978 photo by Tom Zimmerman that's in the California State Library collection.

The churched auditorium. It's a photo by Richard M. appearing on Yelp. Thanks to Deanna Bayless for spotting it.

An auditorium view from David Jung on Google Maps. Again thanks to Deanna Bayless for finding the photo. 

Thanks to The Way Church website for this COVID-era view. 

Another photo from The Way Church. Thanks to Mike Callahan for locating these two and adding them as comments on a January 2022 thread about the theatre on the Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles Facebook page.   
The upstairs hall:

The 3rd floor ballroom above the lobby. The doors we see just went out to an exit corridor. The matching doors out of the frame on the left opened onto a colonnade overlooking Pico Blvd. Photo: Ronald W. Mahan Collection

More exterior views:

1924 - A view from an Architectural Record article. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for including it in the post about the Forum on his Theatre Talks Tumblr blog.

c.1924 - An early look at the facade before any signage went up. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

c.1924 - An aerial view of the Forum Theatre. Note the gas station to the left of the theatre -- and the theatre's "acres of free parking" behind it. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. 

c.1925 - The Forum's facade from the east with the beginnings of a marquee. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

c.1925 - An early look at the Forum discovered by Ken McIntyre. Note the row of trees on top.

1925 - A view of some sort of filming outside the theatre. Ken McIntyre located the photo for the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. On the marquee is "The Home Maker" with Alice Joyce and Clive Brook.

1926 - A photo appearing in the May 22 issue of Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume/Historic Theatre Photography for finding it on Internet Archive. The caption: Here's how Billy Dooley's 'The Goofy Gob,' Educational comedy made at the Christie studios was given its due, on a par with the long feature, in the electric light space of the Forum theatre, Los Angeles.

1926 - This view of the theatre running Lois Weber's "The Marriage Clause" appeared in the October 2 issue of Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the photo on Internet Archive. The caption: "The Stern Brothers 'Newlyweds and Their Baby' comedies, released by Universal, won their way into the lights at the Forum theatre in Los Angeles. This photo was taken the night 'The Marriage Clause' opened there."

1932 - A lovely nighttime look at the Forum from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1938 - A view of the Forum's new marquee. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1950s - A shot looking down the colonnade outside the third floor Forum Ballroom. Photo: Ronald W. Mahan collection

1955 - A shot by Brunk for the Herald Examiner from the USC Digital Library collection. The theatre was being used for a transportation workers union meeting.

- Another Herald Examiner transportation strike photo from the USC Digital Library collection. Her husband's in the meeting where they're discussing bringing the strike to an end.

1958 - A marquee view from Jeff Bridges on Flickr. He notes: "This is a snapshot that I found in a term paper at an estate sale. The paper is titled 'A Geographic And Cultural Analysis Of A Metropolitan Area', by Adele H. Mason."  The photo also appears on Cinema Treasures and on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

early 1960s - A look at the theatre when it was a Cinerama test house. It's the only known photo of the facade with "Cinerama" on the marquee. Thanks to Matt Spero for the find -- and for doing some work on the postage stamp sized image.  Evidently one of the gentlemen in front is Lowell Thomas.

1979 - A photo by William Reagh. It's in the California State Library collection. It's also in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

2002 - A view of the Forum facade from Cezar Del Valle's Theatre Talks collection. It's a Betty Sword photo. 

2008 - The view west along the facade. Photo: Ken McIntyre

2008 - In the colonnade. Photo: Ken McIntyre

2008 - An upper facade detail. Photo: Ken McIntyre

2008 - The east corner. Photo: Ken McIntyre

2008 - The west corner of the facade. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this and his other photos. You can see more of his Forum set on Photobucket. If you start at his first Forum photo you can page through about 16 images of the exterior.

2022 - Thanks to Esotouric for this lovely view. It was a post on the Esotouric's Secret Los Angeles Facebook page.  

2022 - A fine view west. Thanks to T Chick McClure for sharing his photo on a Photos of Los Angeles Facebook post. 

The Forum Brochure: This elaborate 25 page brochure from the Ronald W. Mahan Collection was prepared in the early 50s by the owners of the building when they were trying to sell it. Many thanks to Ron for sharing it.

Thanks, Ron!

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page for lots of historical data and links to additional photos. Bill Gabel and Ken Roe have contributed an informative history of the theatre.

| back to top Westside theatres | Hollywood | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | Westside theatres: alphabetical list | Westside theatres: by street address | Downtown theatres | [more] Los Angeles movie palaces | Los Angeles theatres - the main alphabetical list | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resources | contact info | welcome and site navigation guide |

No comments:

Post a Comment