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Theatre Mart

605 N. Juanita Ave. / 600 N. Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90004
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The Theatre Mart in 2011. Photo: Google Maps

The 1927 vintage building is at the corner of Clinton St. and N. Juanita Ave. -- one block east of Vermont, one block south of Melrose. The Theatre Mart usually used the address of 605 N. Juanita Ave. in their advertising.

In the 1942 city directory the Theatre Mart is listed as at 4049 Clinton St. The City of Los Angeles currently uses 4051 Clinton as the address for the property. The architect of the building is unknown.

The initial seasons: Noted theatre patron Alice Pike Barney opened the building as a theatre in 1928. She had previously produced several shows at the Hollywood Playhouse, now a music venue called the Avalon. Thanks to Joël Huxtable for this photo of Ms. Barney on the patio at the Hollywood Playhouse.

Ms. Barney ran the Theatre Mart for three years with a different production every week -- some written by her. Several of the 1929 productions were "Luna, The Man in the Moon," "The Women Plays" and "Transgressors."

The Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature notes a production of Pedrac Colum's "Balloon" at Theatre Mart in May 1931. Later in 1931 the Los Angeles building department and fire department paid her an "unwelcome" visit and declared the building not usable as a theatre. Barney died later that year.

The reopening and "The Drunkard" era: In 1933 Preston Shobe and Galt Bell did work on the building and reopened it as a dinner theatre style venue with a view toward doing a season of classics. The opening attraction, "The Drunkard," sold too well to continue with the rest of the proposed season. The melodrama by W.H. Smith dated from 1844 and was a piece promoting the temperance movement that was originally produced by P.T. Barnum.

"The Drunkard" opened July 6, 1933 and closed October 17, 1959. That's 9,477 performances over 36 years -- a world record at the time. The record was later eclipsed by the 42 year run of "The Fantasticks" in New York with 17,162 performances. The record list is currently topped by the 27,000 performance run of "The Mousetrap," running in London since 1952.

Seating after the remodel was 340 at tables and chairs. The venue served both food and drinks.

Thanks to Larry Harnisch of the blog "The Daily Mirror" for this 1934 program. It's featured in his 2008 post about "The Drunkard."  You can click on any of these for a larger view.

Page two and three of the 1934 program. 

Pages four and five.

Pages six and seven. 

Mr. Harnish's article is a delightful history of the show and a recounting of tales by the cast members. He had earlier discussed "The Drunkard" on a post for "The 1947 Project."

The building c.1937. It's a photo by Herman Schultheis in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

Another c.1937 view taken by Mr. Schultheis from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

A 1939 program for "The Drunkard."  

The rear of the 1939 program with some comments from the stars. Mary Pickford: "One of the gayest evenings I ever remember." Billie Burke: "I go again and again."  W.C. Fields: "The greatest show on earth."

A look inside a 1941 version of the program. 

At the Theatre Mart, the temperance message of the play was accompanied by an olio and other celebrations including beer, sandwiches and pretzels. The original 1933 admission price was $1.00 -- which included a buffet. The production supported a cast, crew and staff of approximately 55. Many participants were with the show for decades and many marriages resulted.

It was perhaps critical to the success of the production that many Hollywood stars paid a visit. Boris Karloff came to the show and was the one who suggested adding an olio to the presentation. John Barrymore was a repeat visitor. W.C. Fields came over 30 times and incorporated a production of "The Drunkard" into his 1934 film "The Old Fashioned Way." 

An entrance view taken sometime during the run of "The Drunkard." Thanks to Ron Whitfield for the photo, a post of his on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Fire Department was the real villain of the melodrama. In 1959 they paid another visit and ordered a reduction of seating to 260. This eliminated the show's possibility of profit and closure came soon after the seating reduction.

Status: After it closed as a theatre, the building became the Los Angeles Press Club in 1960. The club's operation at the building included a cafe, cocktail lounge and press conference facility. The club later sold the building and moved to rented offices elsewhere. The building was then used as a vocal studio and, later, as a restaurant.

A view of the Theatre Mart building in 2010. We're at the corner of Clinton and Juanita. That's Juanita St. off to the right.  Vermont is just a block away up the hill to the left. Photo: Google Maps

The Clinton St. side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2011

Until around 2012 it was a Korean restaurant and club called Garam. If you were to drive by on Vermont, a sign and a hedge is all you'd see. Part way up the block on Clinton St. there's a driveway leading to a parking lot and stairs to an entrance on the west side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The property totals 47,000 sf and is for sale. Loopnet had a 2014 listing with an aerial view. There's also a 2017 listing showing the frontage on Vermont Ave.

More information: Billboard ran an article in 1953 about "The Drunkard." See the bottom of page one and a continuation on page 15. They note that 2 million patrons had seen the show in its first 20 years. Wikipedia has an article on "The Drunkard." The Theatre Mart production is discussed in the book "Theatre, Culture and Temperance Reform." It's on Google Books.

The success of the Los Angeles production inspired many related productions. A 1935 film called "The Drunkard" with James Murray and Clara Kimball Young was about presenting a production of the show. Veterans of the L.A. production operated a long running melodrama venue at Knott's Berry Farm called the Birdcage Theatre. There also was a long run of the play in Tulsa at the Spotlight Theatre.

LA Stage Insider has a nice 2010 post about Alice Pike Barney and the Theatre Mart. Scroll down a bit to find it. For more on Ms. Barney also see "Alice Pike Barney, Her Life and Art" from 1994. Wikipedia also has an article on Alice Pike Barney.

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