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Ritz Theatre

5214 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036
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Opened: October 15, 1926 as the West Coast Ritz. It became the Fox Ritz when William Fox bought a controlling interest in the circuit in 1929. It was operated for decades by the Fox circuit and its successor companies. It was on the south side of Wilshire with the entrance just east of La Brea.

This pre-opening photo of the stage end of the building by the Dick Whittington Studio is in the USC Digital Library collection. "My Official Wife," the theatre's opening attraction, is on the marquee.

An entrance detail from the 1926 USC photo. Note the guy up on the ladder putting the milk glass letters on the marquee. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Flying Wedge who found the photo in the USC collection and included it in his Noirish post #17458.

Architect: Lewis A. Smith.

Seating: 1,660 originally, reseated down to 1,402 

When United Artists was having a feud with Fox West Coast in the early 30s they built the Four Star nearby as competition. But when the theatre opened the dispute was settled and Fox, of course, ended up running the theatre for them. Also nearby is the El Rey, later it too ended up being run by the Fox circuit.

After Fox West Coast closed the theatre, it was used for a time by Mike Todd as a private preview house. Mr. Todd died in a plane crash in 1958. In 1960 the Ritz became famous for running the Mike Todd, Jr. production "Scent of Mystery" in the Smell-O-Vision process. There's more information about it lower on the page.

In 1963 the Ritz was leased to the Lindy Pen Co. and became the Lindy Opera House, a venue for legit dramas, musicals and revues. In 1976 the Ritz was renamed the American Theatre with grand plans for a bi-centennial revue that had only a short run.

Status: It was demolished in 1977 for a parking lot.

The Ritz in the Movies: We get a fine scene in John Schlesinger's "The Day of the Locust" (Paramount, 1975) with William Atherton, Karen Black and Donald Sutherland in which we were supposedly going to the movies in Glendale. We're actually at the Ritz.

Leaving the auditorium after a movie "in Glendale." Note the beige drapes installed for the 70mm installation at the theatre covering the proscenium and way beyond. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for identifying the shooting location as the Ritz and Wendell Benedetti for the screenshots from

A shot of the lobby in "The Day of the Locust." One of the trio has broken the glass of a display case to steal a photo for Karen Black. That's the manager running over to see what's going on.

Heading out toward Wilshire Blvd. in "The Day of the Locust." You can see the clip of the sequence filmed at the Ritz on YouTube. The end of the film features the Chinese Theatre -- or rather a set of the Chinese. See the Theatres in Movies post about the film for more screenshots.

The ticket lobby of the Ritz after some Skouas style redecoration. The door's open -- let's take a tour. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

The lobby in the 40s. War Bonds, anyone? Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

A look at one of the Ritz's collection of curtains from the Ronald W. Mahan collection. Note that great teaser and the painted legs to frame the screen. It's a photo taken by Dwyer that was once in the Tony Heinsbergen collection. Thanks, Ron.

Another exotic piece of drapery. Thanks to Ronald W. Mahan for this photo of the grand drape. It was taken by Dwyer and was once in the collection of Tony Heinsbergen.

A 1937 balcony view of the proscenium and grand drape. On the sides of the stage are advertising placards. "Beyond the Blue Horizon" is on the left and "True to the Army" is on the right. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

A proscenium view from the main floor. They've opened the curtain we see in the photo above revealing a traveler upstage of it. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

The house right sidewall before the Skouras renovations. The whole organ grille area would get draped. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

House right up in the balcony. Note the simplified paint job and the added Skouras swirls above the exits. New drapes on the far left cover the former organ grille area. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library

The rear of the house. Photo: Los Angeles Public Library 

Exterior views:

A 1929 view west on Wilshire. We get a bit of the Fox Ritz signage on the left of the photo. The photo appears in the collection of the Miracle Mile Residential Association. See their Historical Photo Collection for many more views of the area.

A great 1929 photo looking east. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Handsome Stranger for posting this eBay find on Noirish post #4301 along with other vintage L.A. views. Note the Fox Ritz roof sign in the middle of the photo.

A 1930 photo by C.C. Pierce looking east from the Tower Building west of La Brea. It's in the USC Digital Library collection from the California Historical Society. The Los Angeles Public Library also has a version of it.

A roof sign detail from the 1930 USC Digital Library photo. The sign had been redone in 1929 to get the Fox name up there.

A c.1931 look west toward the Fox Ritz from the L.A. County Natural History Museum collection. The Four Star Theatre hadn't been built yet.

Another view west toward Wilshire and La Brea from the L.A. County Natural History Museum collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for finding these two photos in the LACNHM collection and including them in his Noirish post #32327 that also features photos of the Four Star.

The building on the corner of Wilshire and La Brea with the Ritz on the far left. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. 

A 1931 look east on Wilshire Blvd. past the Fox Ritz. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. 

A detail of the second floor terracotta from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A shot of the facade while running a Greta Garbo feature, "As You Desire Me," from 1932. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

A 1932 photo looking east on Wilshire toward La Brea with the Ritz on the right. It was taken for the Automobile Club of Southern California and is now in the USC Digital Library collection. They were surveying the traffic situation on Wilshire Blvd. The Four Star Theatre is visible just down the street from the Ritz.

The large building at Wilshire and La Brea opened c.1930 as the E. Clem Wilson Building. Major tenants later were General of America Insurance and Mutual of Omaha. It's still there -- now with a big Samsung Mobile sign on the top.

Another 1932 view from the USC Digital Library collection. There's a a slice of the Ritz vertical down on the next block on the right as well as a bit of the roof sign. It's a photo from the California Historical Society. There's also another shot taken a bit closer.

Also in the USC collection: looking east 1929 - zoom in for the Ritz down the street | looking east 1939 - a glimpse of the Ritz sign on the right, El Rey on the left | 1940 aerial view - Ritz on the lower right.

A late 30s shot for Life looking east toward the theatre. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for the find. It's on his Noirish post #40300 with a number of other great Wilshire views.

A look west on Wilshire toward the Four Star and the Fox Ritz. The 1950 photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library Blackstock Negative Collection. Thanks to BifRayRock for including the photo on his Noirish Los Angeles post #19498.

We get a look east in this postcard from the huge Elizabeth Fuller Los Angeles Postcards collection on Flickr. The El Rey Theatre sign is poking out at the left. Down the street in the middle of the image there's the roof sign for the Fox Ritz. Thanks, Elizabeth! Also see: Wilshire at night | Prudential Building | 1947 Miracle mile night view |

A dazzling 1954 view looking east on Wilshire from the Neat Stuff Blog. It's from a 2009 post called "Vintage Los Angeles." You can see a bit of the red Ritz vertical sign in the center just to the left of the Whelan Drug sign. The photo was a find on eBay.

The photo also appears in the Historical Photos Collection on the Miracle Mile Residential Association website. The Four Star Theatre is down the street on the same side just two more blocks.

The building got a re-do. This 1955 photo of the streamlined facade is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.   

"Home of CinemaScope Pictures" A 1955 marquee view from the Los Angeles Public Library.

Senator Estes Kefauver driving by the theatre while campaigning in 1956. They're running "Song of the South," a November 1946 release. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for the find in the Life collection. It's on his Noirish post #40300.  

Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Hoss C for finding this 60s "For Rent" view of the Ritz and posting it on his Noirish post #25218. We're looking west on Wilshire toward La Brea. The photo also appears in the Historical Photos Collection on the website of the Miracle Mile Residential Association.

It's a great 4 minute drive along the Miracle Mile in "Wilshire Blvd. Miracle Mile December 1967" on YouTube. In this shot from the Producers Library footage the Ritz, then called the Lindy Opera House, is on the right with the the vertical saying "Opera." We also get a drive by of the Four Star (with 4 flashing stars atop the tower) and the El Rey.

A 1975 look east on Wilshire posted by Ken McIntyre on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. The sharp eyes of Steven Otto spotted the vertical sign saying "Opera" on the right. The photo was taken when the Ritz was called the Lindy Opera House and used for legit shows. Demolition was in 1977.

Smell-O-Vision at the Ritz: In 1960 the Ritz ran the Mike Todd Jr. 70mm production "Scent of Mystery" in Smell-O-Vision. It was with 6 channel stereo sound and all the smells.

An ad for the New York run of "Scent of Mystery" from "Variety review 'Scent of Mystery,'" an article on the great site featuring a reprint of a 1960 review.

An L.A. Times ad for "Scent of Mystery" at the Ritz. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

The film was later re-cut as "Holiday in Spain" and went out in both 70mm and 3 strip Cinerama and Cinemiracle versions. See the "Holiday in Spain" listing on Roland Lataille's Cinerama website for all the details. There's also an article about the process from Boxoffice magazine.

Bruce Kimmel comments: "Oh how I loved the Ritz, despite only being there a handful of times. The first movie I remember seeing there was 'The Adventures of Haji Baba,' but of course I'm the one and only person I know (and no one has ever stepped forward to dispute this) that actually saw 'Scent of Mystery' in Smell-O-Vision there during its very brief run. I loved every second of that movie - I thought it was so clever and fun, the 70mm was so clear and astonishing, the sound was amazing, and I have to tell you by that time they'd figured out the smell problems and fixed them and they worked really well. 

"I have tons of memorabilia from the film, issued its soundtrack on CD (the booklet is in Smell-O-Vision), and do the commentary track on the Blu-ray. Unfortunately, they haven't found and probably never will find the original cut - so when people see the Blu of 'Holiday in Spain,' they can sort of kind of get an inkling, but it's been shorn of over twenty minutes, there's stupid added narration, the intermission point was moved earlier (the original intermission point was something no one who worked on restoring the film had a clue about - when they originally showed me the faded 70mm version of 'Holiday in Spain,' I told them exactly where it was - it was one of the best lead ups to an intermission ever), and I think you can't ever make a proper reassessment of the film. 

"The other interesting Ritz story was: My mother used to regale me with her tale of going there, having her chair break (in the balcony) and suing them (they settled for some small amount of money). I was always afraid to go there for fear of my chair breaking, but I never sat in the balcony anyway." Thanks, Bruce!

The Belknap collection's Hollywood Ballyhoo section has a page on Smell-O-Vision. They note: "Todd, Jr. invested his inheritance in the development of Smell-O-Vision, a process in which evocative smells were pumped to the cinema audience through pipes leading to individual seats in the auditorium. Bottles of scent were held on a rotating drum and the process was triggered by a signal on the film itself.

"Only one film, 'Scent of Mystery', was made in Smell-O-Vision and was far from a milestone in movie history. Mike Todd, Jr. lost his entire investment and left the film business. As an added audience incentive, Eddie Fisher, best friend of Mike Todd, Sr. and, at the time, the husband of Todd's widow, Elizabeth Taylor, sang the memorable theme song from 'Scent of Mystery.' Filmmaker John Waters paid homage to Smell-O-Vision with his 1980 film, 'Polyester.' Waters created the process of Odorama and, rather than pumping in scents, used individual audience 'Scratch and Sniff' cards."

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Fox Ritz. Also see their list of theatres by Lewis Smith.

The Motion Picture News issue of December 28, 1929 had a small photo of the Ritz in their second section, the "Theatre Building & Buyers Guide." It was pictured along with other theatres in the article "Harold B. Franklin Analyzes Theatre Personality." 

The Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles has a Miracle Mile photo album with more views of the area. There's also a Facebook page called I Heart Miracle Mile.

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