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Four Star Theatre

5112 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036
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Opened: It was completed in 1931 or '32 and originally named the United Artists. The now-vanished theatre was on the south side of the street midway between Highland and La Brea. This Mott Studios photo of the newly finished building is from the collection of the California State Library. They have the photo indexed as the United Artists Fox Ritz due to the copy on the marquee: "3 shows daily at Fox Ritz."

The Four Star was part of an ambitious building program by the UA circuit in the early 30s as a result of a booking war with Fox West Coast. Fox ran the bulk of the theatres in the Los Angeles area and UA, angry with the terms and the bookings they were getting for their pictures, embarked on a building spree.

A late-in-life facade view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Architects: Clifford A. Balch and Walker & Eisen (Percy Augustus Eisen and Albert Raymond Walker) were associated architects on the project. Balch and the W&E firm individually designed many other Los Angeles theaters in addition to teaming up for the UA building spree. The Four Star was a standard United Artists style house for the period with deco panels on the front labeled "Unity" and "Artistry."

A rare interior view. It's a sketch done by the architectural team of Walker & Eisen/Clifford Balch that's in Eric Lynxwiler's collection on Flickr. It also appears in the Historical Photographs Collection of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.  Thanks, Eric! Don't miss browsing through his Los Angeles Theatres set on Flickr that includes nearly 500 terrific photos.

The design of the Four Star was similar to the Balch/Walker & Eisen designed UA theatres in Long Beach, Inglewood, Pasadena and East Los Angeles (that one later called the UA Alameda). They also did one in Berkeley (now a 7 plex) that got a stagehouse. The others were strictly for film. Walker & Eisen (without Balch) had earlier done the building for the downtown United Artists -- although that theatre's interior was by noted Detroit theatre architect C. Howard Crane.

Seating: 900

The program for building 15 theatres was detailed in a November 22, 1930 story in Exhibitors Herald-World. A November 29, 1930 story announced an expansion of that to 25 theatres. The theatres that actually got built at the time in the L.A. area were constructed on a budget of $150,000 to $200,000 each. Albert Lee Stephens, Sr. was the actual owner of this theatre at opening -- it was leased to UA.

They specifically targeted areas where Fox had houses and there were no independents to run their pictures. In some cases, like in Inglewood, they ended up across the street from a Fox house. Here, the Four Star was in the next block east from the Fox Ritz.

The fun part of the story is that by the time these UA theatres were completed, a truce had been declared and they all ended up getting operated for UA by Fox West Coast. The L.A. Times covered the story on September 5, 1931. 

The Motion Picture Herald issue of December 19, 1931 had a story "A Group of Small Theatres" that discussed the 13 United Artists houses either completed or underway as part of the expansion program. The article noted that this house was to have 900 seats and a construction cost of $89,000 including the retail spaces. The article includes typical floor plans and interior and facade renderings.

In 1933 it was renamed the Four Star. The four stars in question were, of course, the founders of United Artists: Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. The reopening as the Four Star took place November 29, 1933 with "Berkeley Square" starring Leslie Howard. The Los Angeles Times, quoting a FWC press release, had described the philosophy in a November 20, 1933 story:

"For years it has been the dream of Winfield Sheehan, film producer, to see a theater within easy reach of Hollywood that might, in a sense represent a laboratory where stars, directors, producers, technicians of the film industry might enjoy the finest creations of their fellow-workmen. Concurring in this thought, Charles P. Skouras, head of Fox West Coast Theaters, has created the Four Star Theatre, a showhouse that will be devoted entirely to the finest achievements of the motion-picture industry, a place where screen devotees, both within the industry, and the lay public, may applaud the outstanding examples of the motion-picture art.

"There will be no stage shows or prologues. There will be no ballyhoo, fanfare, lights. There will be none of the gaudy, glittery trappings usually associated with the screening of great pictures. The Four Star Theatre will be a haven where picture lovers, whether they be glamorous celebrities or obscure nonentities, may relax and amid simple settings [and] enjoy the entertainment they came to see."

The L.A. Times also had story about the new policy on November 24, 1933. The Four Star turned out to be a good location for premieres and the theatre got many from the late 30s until 1970.

Fox Movietone News was at the Four Star in 1939 for the premiere of "Hollywood Cavalcade" (20th Century Fox). The footage appears with the DVD of the film. Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Darryl F. Zanuck (among many others) were there. In the film, we pay a visit to the Egyptian for a premiere of a film-within-a-film. See the Theatres In Movies post about the film for some Egyptian shots.

Other premiere events at the Four Star included "Grapes of Wrath" in 1940, "Julius Ceasar" in 1953 and "The Magic Christian" in 1970. The tower got augmented with additional neon stars and other animated adornment around 1947 or 1948.

A 1951 ad for the premiere of "Ace in The Hole" with Kirk Douglas attending. Thanks to Ken McIntryre for posting the ad on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

The United Artists circuit eventually operated the house themselves as the UA Four Star after the consent decree forced Fox West Coast to give up many theatres. It hosted many major runs including a first run engagement of "The Graduate" in 1967 and some 70mm runs. UA removed the Norelco DP70 35/70 projectors in the mid 70's and the theatre was sub-leased to the Mitchell Bros. between 1973 and 1976 as a porno venue.

It was later operated as an independent and re-equipped for 70mm with a pair of DP70s that had come out of the Fox Wilshire. Those machines are now at the Warner Grand in San Pedro.

In the 80's and early 90's it had a grand period as a revival house showing classics, Indian movies and lots of 70mm presentations. Nick Matonak of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation reported that the plaster ceiling in the auditorium fell as a result of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The theatre stopped showing films in 1997.

The Oasis Christian Church bought the building in 2001. It had been through several additional owners since the Stephens family, the original owners, sold it in the 70s. From 2007 until the closure in 2013, it was branded as the Oasis Theatre and available for rentals in addition to church services on Sundays. The former storefront spaces had been renovated into a warren of classrooms and meeting spaces. Among other uses, the building's many rooms were for a time serving as classrooms for a charter school.

The Four Star in the Movies: The theatre is seen in "Witness to Murder" (United Artists, 1954). The film, directed by Roy Rowland, stars Barbara Stanwyck, George Sanders and Gary Merrill.  It's a tale of  a woman's sanity being questioned after she reports seeing a murder from her apartment. Jack Tillmany advises that about 70 minutes into the film we see Barbara Stanwyck driving by the brightly lit theatre where they're showing the Marlon Brando film "Julius Caesar," which opened there in November 1953.

Status: The theatre was demolished in December 2014 and was replaced by a 6 story apartment and retail complex called The Mansfield. Julie Grist at the Larchmont Buzz had the December 11, 2013 story: "Goodbye Deco Theater, Hello Apartment Complex..." She noted that the theatre was deemed (by the developer's consultant, Chattel, Inc. of Sherman Oaks) to be too altered to be considered historic. The Historic Resource Assessment, with many photos, is available as a 59 page PDF.

Hillsman Wright, of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation notes: "The sad, sad truth is that there are consultants who will come up with the desired negative result for just a few dollars more. The same names come up time after time."

A January 2014 followup in Larchmont Buzz by Ms. Grist titled "Deco Theater has a Polished, and Tarnished, History" had some nice historic photos of the exterior. Thanks to Torr Leonard and Chris Willman for spotting the article. Neal Boverman had a December 13, 2013 story on Curbed L.A. discussing the project. A neighboring Burger King was also a casualty. The new building is a design by Plus Architects for The Korda Group.

The theatre had been sold in October 2012 with a leaseback provision that allowed the church to continue using the building for up to 8 months while their new property was being renovated. PRWeb had a November 2012 story on the transaction. Oasis had put the building on the market in mid-2012.

The Four Star lobby in church mode. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Thanks to Ron Mahan for this photo from his collection. It's a photo taken by W.P. Woodcock (his # 355-2) that was once in the Terry Helgesen collection and identified as United Artists Theatre. We're assuming it's the Four Star. Note that the layout of the front exits and ventilation grilles matches those in the rendering from the Eric Lynxwiler collection up higher on this page although details of the decoration differ.

There's a possibility, of course, that it's one of the other UA theatres built during the early 30s. It's not the UA Long Beach as Ron's photo isn't a match with those of that theatre. No vintage photos have surfaced for the UA/Crest in El Centro, the UA/Alameda in East L.A. (interior stripped), the UA Inglewood (demolished) or the UA Pasadena (vacant, some interior elements still intact). The big one of the bunch, the UA Berkeley, was a larger house with a balcony, orchestra pit, organ grilles, and full stage.

A look toward the former screen area. No, it's not set up for a circus. This is church stuff.  Note that the location of the front exits don't match those in Ron's photo above. The assumption is that they were moved forward either when the church built their thrust stage or perhaps earlier when a big screen was installed when United Artists equipped the house for 70mm. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010    

The auditorium right wall. The ceiling plaster has been removed and the wood truss structure is visible. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010  

The rear of the house. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010 

The proscenium was intact and painted black. The "stage" area behind was used for tech gear storage and was all of about 8' deep. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010  

More exterior views: 

A 1932 Dick Whittington Studio pre-opening photo from the Huntington Digital Library collection. The vertical still shows the initial United Artists name. It would be changed to the Four Star in 1933. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the photo in the Huntington collection.

An entrance detail from the 1932 Huntington Library photo. When the theatre actually got open it would be managed by Fox West Coast. The marquee is plugging their Ritz Theatre, just a block to the west.

A 1933 look east toward the theatre, finally open. This is the only photo to have surfaced so far with the theatre operating with the signage still saying "United Artists." It's from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum Seaver Center Collection.

They're running "The Match King," A December 31, 1932 release with Warren William and Glenda Farrell. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for finding the photo in the NHM collection and including it, along with some Ritz Theatre photos, in his Noirish post #32327.

A Life photo taken at the May 2, 1936 premiere of the William Cameron Menzies film "Things to Come." It starred Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman and Ralph Richardson. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for finding the photos in the Life collection. They're on his Noirish post #40301.

The crowd for "Things to Come." Photo: Life - 1936

A view west during the "Things to Come" opening. Note the faint signage for the Ritz Theatre in the distance. Photo: Life - 1936

The west side of the Four Star.  Photo: Life - 1936

The Four Star running a revival of Valentino's "The Sheik" in 1937. It's a photo by John Swope (1908 - 1979) that appears on the site EPNet. The image is copyrighted by The John Swope Trust, MPTV.

The 1937 premiere of "Lost Horizon" at the Four Star. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. It's also in the AMPAS Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection.

A premiere at the Four Star of "In Old Chicago" in 1938 from the Herald Examiner Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library.

A Herman Schultheis photo of a billboard advertising "In Old Chicago" at the Four Star. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Schultheis also shot a few of the film's premiere: distance view | across the street | palm tree & searchlights | from the back | rays of light | more searchlights | two more views |

Check out the tent for the July 13, 1938 premiere of "Algiers" with Hedy Lamarr and Charles Boyer. It's a Herman Schultheis photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. More views of that premiere by Mr. Schultheis: another marquee view | yet another marquee view

A daytime view of the "Algiers" ballyhoo. It's a Herman Schultheis photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

The 1939 premiere of "Hollywood Cavalcade" at the Four Star. Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler for the photo from his great collection. It's on Flickr as part of his Wilshire Boulevard album. You can also find it in the LAHTF photo pool on Flickr and in the Historical Photographs Collection of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.

The 1941 premiere of "That Hamilton Woman." It's a Herald Examiner photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A 1946 look west on Wilshire Blvd. toward the Four Star. The photo is from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives and appears, with many other vintage views, in the Chattel, Inc. Historic Resource Assessment they prepared on the building. Note the roof sign of the Fox Ritz at the far right edge of the photo.

The photo also appears with Julie Grist's fine January 2014 Larchmont Buzz article "Deco Theatre Has a Polished, and Tarnished, History." Thanks to Torr Leonard and Chris Willman for spotting the article.  

A view west on Wilshire toward the Four Star and the Fox Ritz showing off the added signage atop the tower. The 1950 photo is from the Blackstock Negative Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for including the photo on his Noirish post #19498.

Thanks to Bruce Kimmel for this 1952 photo from his collection showing the Four Star running "Encore," a film of three W. Somerset Maugham stories. It was a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

A 1956 view taken during the engagement of "The Rainmaker." It appeared with Julie Grist's January 2014 article about the theatre in the Larchmont Buzz.

The Four Star ready for the 1957 premiere of "Wild is the Wind." It's a photo with Julie Grist's January 2014 Larchmont Buzz article "Deco Theatre Has a Polished, and Tarnished, History." Ms. Grist also had a December 11, 2013 story "Goodbye Deco Theatre..." about the fate of the Four Star. She noted that the theatre was deemed by the developer's consultants as being too altered to be considered historic.

Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler for this great 1962 photo looking west during the run of "The Four Days of Naples." It's on Flickr as part of his Wilshire Boulevard album.

It's a great 4 minute drive along Wilshire in "Wilshire Blvd. Miracle Mile December 1967" on YouTube. In this shot from the Producers Library footage the Four Star shows off its augmented neon with, of course, four stars at the top. We also get a drive by of the Ritz and the El Rey. 

The marquee is gone. It's c.1971 shot taken when the theatre was still part of the UA circuit. Thanks to Meghan Harken for the photo. On the billboard: "The Last Picture Show."

A 1980 post-UA exterior by Tom Zimmerman in the California State Library collection. The photo appeared as a post by Bill Gabel on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles where it inspired many comments.

A 1982 look at the Four Star from the American Classic Images collection. Also see a 1984 night view in their collection.

The facade as the Oasis. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

The east side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The tower scaffolded for demolition. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Handsome Stranger. He was there to take photos when the Four Star was demolished in December 2014. The photos appear in his Noirish post #25211.

Another view from Wilshire. Photo: Handsome Stranger - Noirish Los Angeles - December 2014

Looking into the partially demolished auditorium from the east. Photo: Handsome Stranger - Noirish Los Angeles - December 2014

A look back toward the booth. Photo: Handsome Stranger - Noirish Los Angeles - December 2014

The sad view toward the screen from the west. Photo: Handsome Stranger - Noirish Los Angeles - December 2014. Thanks, Stranger! 

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Four Star Theatre. Check out the Facebook page I Heart Miracle Mile.

In addition to the Fox Ritz, the other theatre on the Miracle Mile was the El Rey, still surviving as a music venue.

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  1. I attended a 1987 screening of LOST HORIZON. Jane Wyatt was the special guest, and she did mention that the premiere had been held some 50 years earlier!
    A priceless memory.

    1. Yes, the "Lost Horizon" premiere was 1937. We've got the photos on the page.