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Opened: It opened as the Santa Monica Opera House on December 12, 1911. It was initially used for legitimate theatre and silent films. It soon became known as the Majestic Theatre.
The photo is a c.1920 view from the Santa Monica Public Library collection. The theatre, on the right, here still has its original facade. The initial street address was on Oregon St., later renamed Santa Monica Blvd.
Architect: Henry C. Hollwedel
Seating: Initial capacity is unknown. Later it was down to 602 seats, with a balcony.
J. Euclid Miles, a prominent real estate man in Santa Monica, was one of the backers of the theatre. Charles Tegner, a founding father of Santa Monica was also involved.
The theatre got a revamped facade in 1928 reflecting the new craze for Spanish revival buildings in southern California. As a movie theatre, the Majestic was architecturally stunning but didn't have the class of the larger theatres such as the Elmiro or the Criterion. It became the Mayfair Theatre in 1967. It closed as a movie theatre in July 1973.
Mark Valen comments: "I used to see double features here when I was a kid (under both the Majestic and the Mayfair names). I ushered this theater for the final couple of months it was open as a movie theater. It closed in July 1973. At that time we were showing double bills of fairly recent films for a full week with admission at 99 cents, including 'Clockwork Orange' and 'Performance,' 'High Plains Drifter' and 'Play Misty For Me,' etc. It was a cool, if slightly spooky theater, run down but still glorious. It was owned at that time by Sayles Bros.Theaters, who also owned the Star in Hollywood and the Nuart in West LA (they transferred me to the Nuart when the Mayfair closed). Shan Sayles was a particularly stern owner. He would walk in unannounced and put on a white glove. He'd run his finger along the top of the popcorn and soda machines. If there was any dust on the counters the person on duty was automatically fired."
In 1973 it became the Mayfair Music Hall under the direction of Milt Larsen, of Magic Castle and Variety Arts Center fame. It was a showcase for comedy acts and variety presentations and revues. Larsen used some decorations from the closed Fox Belmont Theatre to enhance the look of the Mayfair. Some of the inside paneling was doors salvaged from other buildings.
At the time, it was reported to be the oldest legit theatre still operating in the Los Angeles area. Larsen gave up the theatre in 1985 and it was then operated by a succession of other promoters. Second City performed at the theatre for about two years with their first show on April 16, 1990. Richard Long notes that at this time the venue was called the Second City Comedy Club. Comedy Central also did shows originating at the Mayfair.
Status: It suffered damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and closed at that time. It then sat vacant. In 2010 the building was demolished with only the facade remaining.
The new structure rising behind the 20s facade is retail on the ground floor, parking below and 34 apartments above. Karl Schober has owned the building for many years and has spent a number of them trying to negotiate a design that would be approved by city hall. Schober is the grandson of Charles Tegner, one of the original owners. He purchased the shares of the other inheritors in 1986.
The Majestic / Mayfair in the Movies:
Reginald LeBorg's "Models, Inc." (Universal-International, 1952) did a lot of filming in Santa Monica and included one quick shot of the Majestic. The film, starring Howard Duff and Colleen Gray, is a "startling expose" of a racket in which of models marry for money. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. His report: "Sadly there's nothing more than this to be seen of the Majestic. It's a background shot 66 minutes in as our heroine Rusty Faraday, played by Coleen Gray, anxiously looks out for the car which is picking her up from outside Bank of America, from where she's just withdrawn a large amount of cash as part of a money racket. That's it!"
The Mayfair appears in Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" (20th Century Fox, 1974). We get a look at the back of the house prior to Irving Berlin's song "Puttin' on the Ritz."
A view of the stage area during the theatre scene with Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in "Young Frankenstein."
This view of Peter Boyle at the end of the number also gives us a good look at the decor of the proscenium box beyond.
The Mayfair was also used in Henry Jaglom's "Someone To Love" (Rainbow Film Company, 1988).
The Mayfair on TV: The theatre appears in the 1974 pilot for "The Rockford Files." Trav S.D. tells all about it in "Vaudeville in 'The Rockford Files' Pilot?!," a 2017 post on his blog Travelanche. James Garner goes into the Mayfair in several scenes and in the background we see variety acts on stage including a dog act, a wire walker and chorus girls. Trav also discusses some of the performers that appeared there during Milt Larsen's tenure. Thanks to Robert Nedelkoff for spotting the story.
The Mayfair in "The Rockford Files." Thanks to Trav S.D. for the screenshot.
More exterior views:
A 1911 drawing of the facade of the Santa Monica Opera House. It's in the Santa Monica Public Library collection.
A postcard version of the c.1920 photo at the top of the page. It's on Flickr from the Billy Holcomb collection in the Don Lewis album Vanishing Movie Theaters. Carole Robinson also has a slightly different version of the card on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.
A 1929 view from the Look Out News. Note the new Spanish Revival facade. The photo appears with the April 2007 article "Strolling Through Downtown's Past." The theatre is running "Sacred Flame" with Pauline Frederick and Conrad Nagel. Also see the March 2008 story "Rebirth of a Landmark."
Another version of the 1929 photo. Thanks to Richard Orton for this one appearing on the Venice, Ocean Park and Santa Monica Facebook page. He notes that the City of Santa Monica still has blueprints for the late 20s remodel of the theatre.
A 1964 photo of the theatre, when it was still called the Majestic, from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Note the interestingly named stores: The Horn of Plenty and The Lady Bug. The photo is also in the collection of the Santa Monica Public Library.
A 1978 photo by John Margolies. It's in the Library of Congress collection.
The Mayfair Music Hall in 1979. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
The theatre in 1980, a photo from the American Classic Images collection.
A 1983 view from American Classic Images.
Before demolition: the forlorn Mayfair awaiting its fate. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007
The supported facade minus the rest of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - February 2010
The view down the alley. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
A facade detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
The facade from the rear. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
During construction: the restored facade with the new building behind. Photo: Bill Counter - 2013
A look from the east. Photo: Bill Counter - 2013
Just the facade is left -- behind it's all new condos and retail. Well, at least they put up a marquee and a vertical sign for the main floor retail tenant, Shoe Palace. Photo: Bill Counter - 2016
More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Mayfair for lots of fond recollections and links to many more exterior photos. See the Santa Monica Landmark Properties Mayfair Theatre page for more history of the building.
Cinema Treasures researcher Jeff Bridges (aka Vokoban) has discovered some interesting facts about the theatre. They're on his Majestic / Mayfair Theater Flickr page. His photo set has shots taken in January 2010 during the demolition.
The blog Doves 2 Day offers many interesting snippets of Santa Monica history in the blog post "Searching for ABW - Santa Monica" from March 2009. Wikipedia has a short article on the Mayfair Music Hall.
If you're looking for information on an earlier Santa Monica Opera House, see the page for Steere Opera House.
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