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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.

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.

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

History: Dr. H.B. Breckwedel of the Symphony Theatre downtown was behind the project. The theatre originally featured reserved parking (for an additional 10 cents) in its adjacent 500 space car park.

Soon it became part of the Warner Bros. empire and was advertised as the Warner Bros. Forum Theatre. 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. At the time they also had the Warner Downtown (the former Pantages) and the theatres they had built in Hollywood, Beverly Hills, San Pedro, and Huntington Park. They eventually went back into the Wiltern after it ran for a few years as an independent.

The Forum building was sold in 1949 to Sherill C. Corwin and Sol Lesser who then took over the operation from Warner Bros. 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.

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.

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: 

A murky proscenium view from the 1957 Ed Wood pilot "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 at the Forum: 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 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.

The first demonstration of 70mm single strip Cinerama at the Forum was June 6, 1963. 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."

Interior 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.

 A luscious auditorium 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.

The booth in the early 50s. 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.  Photo: Ronald W. Mahan collection

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:

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

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

A c.1924 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. They also have another similar shot in their collection.

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

An early look at the Forum discovered by Ken McIntyre. He has it stashed in one of his Photobucket albums. Note the row of trees on top.

A view of some sort of filming outside the theatre in 1925. 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.

 A photo appearing in the May 22, 1926 issue of Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Mike Hume/Historic Theatre Photography for finding it on Internet Archive.  

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

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

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

A 1955 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 1955 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 and.

A 1958 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.

A presumably early 1960s 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.

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

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

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 2008 Forum set on Photobucket. If you start at his first Forum photo you can page through about 16 images of the exterior. Don't miss the Facebook page that Ken curates: Photos of Los Angeles.

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.

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