The News: The 90th Birthday is coming up on January 20th. The Grand Vision Foundation is having a virtual birthday bash on Saturday the 23rd. Here's all the information: www.facebook.com/events/209238847500244/
The January 2021 issue of "San Pedro Today" is dedicated to celebrating the Warner's birthday. The 60 page magazine can be seen in its entirety on the site Issuu. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting the coverage.
Opened: January 20, 1931 as the Warner Bros. Theatre with "Goin' Wild" with Joe E. Brown as the initial attraction. It's reported that Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Blondell were among those attending the premiere. Jack Warner called it the "Castle of Your Dreams." He sent his son Jack Warner, Jr. to the opening. The facade of the Warner, especially when lit at night, is an impressive big city sight in generally low-key San Pedro. It's owned by the City of Los Angeles and managed by Lee Sweet. Photo: Bill Counter - 2013
Renovation news: SPF:architects is planning a $10 million renovation, one that was intended for 2019-2020 as a $4.5 million project. SPF is the firm that headed the 2000 renovation at the Pantages. With other items on the wish list, the total package would be $30 million. The hope is that the upgrades will entice promoters to bring in bigger acts. The project was discussed in an April 2019 Daily Breeze story by Donna Littlejohn. An update was featured on pages 44 and 45 of the January 2021 issue of "San Pedro Today." It's on Issuu.
A June 2019 Easy Reader News story discussed "Love the Lobby," Grand Vision Foundation's fundraising campaign to restore the area to its 1931 look. The campaign is also detailed on Grand Vision's restoration page. The site also has articles about a 2019 lighting system revamp and the sound system upgrade done in 2019 and 2020.
Website: www.grandvision.org | events | photo gallery | restoration | tech specs - 2008 pdf |
Seating: 1,598 at one time, now 1,523.
Architect: B. Marcus Priteca, who also did the Warner Huntington Park (opening November 19, 1930) and Warner Beverly Hills (opening May 19, 1931). Plus over 100 other theatres. Interior decoration was by Anthony Heinsbergen. The contractor was Lange & Bergstrom, Inc. of Los Angeles. Priteca's other Los Angeles theaters include the downtown Pantages (1920, later renamed the Warner Downtown), the Hollywood Pantages (1930) and the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills (1937).
Warner Brothers was riding high in 1930 with their profits from Vitaphone releases and embarked on a big expansion program across the country. Exhibitors were worried but Warners tried to calm them by saying that existing relationships weren't in jeopardy as they were just building new houses where their films weren't getting good play. The first two new houses in the project for the L.A. area were announced in February 1930. This was the front page coverage in the February 5 issue of the San Pedro News-Pilot:
Somehow the theatre didn't end up very "Italio-Spanish." Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article. A smaller article with similar information also appeared in the February 5 issue of the L.A. Times. Mike notes that the News-Pilot is accessible online via UC Riverside and the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Access is free, but you may need to set up an account: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/
The three Warner neighborhood houses to be designed by E. Marcus Priteca [sic] were featured in this article appearing in the April 5, 1930 issue of Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive if you wish to expand it for easier reading.
That Italo-Spanish exterior look seen in the rendering for the Huntington Park theatre was later modified to become very deco, although then they would have called it "modern." Thanks to theatre explorer Mike Hume for locating the article. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for news of his latest investigations. And don't miss his page on the Warner Grand.
"Designs For Various Cities Shown - To the upper left is depicted the Warner Brothers Theater at Wilshire Boulevard and Reeves Drive in Beverly Hills, to be started this month. To its right is shown the Fox Pantages Theater at Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle, the opening date for which has been set for the 29th inst. To the lower left is the Fox Theater soon to be built on Greenleaf avenue, Whittier, while Warners' San Pedro project is pictured at the lower right. In the center is the Fox Wilshire Theater now being erected at Wilshire Boulevard and Hamilton, Beverly Hills. Completion is scheduled for September."
The illustration appeared in the May 4, 1930 issue of the L.A. Times. This article appeared on the same page:
The new Fox theatres mentioned for Wilshire Blvd. at Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills and in Huntington Park never happened. Fox broke their lease on the theatre in Whittier and it opened as an independent called the Wardman, named after its owner. The article was a find by Mike Hume.
The groundbreaking was in June 1930. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for locating this item from the June 18 issue of the L.A. Times:
"Warner Brothers will break ground today for their new $500,000 theater on Sixth street, near Pacific avenue, San Pedro. Jack Warner, son of the vice-president in charge of production, will wield the shovel and Leslie Mott, president of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, will speak for the community. A number of film folk will be introduced by M.A. Silver, general manager of Warner Brothers' Theater chain, including Loretta Young, Grant Withers, Claudia Dell, Irene Delroy, Walter Pidgeon and Leon Janney. The site runs 150 feet along Sixth street and extends back 125 feet. The building will have an auditorium seating 2000 persons, and will contain six stores and twelve offices. Lange & Bergstrom, Inc. of Los Angeles, is general contractor."
A front page photo appearing in the January 19, 1931 issue of the San Pedro News-Pilot. In addition to a story with the photo giving minute details about the next day's opening, twelve full pages inside the issue were filled with congratulatory ads and dozens of news stories about every detail of the theatre and its operation. Articles included discussion of exciting topics such as "Sound is Perfect in New San Pedro Theatre," "Ushers Train for Two Weeks," "It's Your Theatre Says Warner Head For This District" and "Plenty of Air for Warner Patrons."
The cover of the January 20, 1931 opening night program. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for rounding it up for display at a Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation tour of the theatre. It's in the collection of the San Pedro Bay Historical Society.
This review of the opening appeared in the January 21 issue of the San Pedro News-Pilot. The article's conclusion:
new theatre got a big spread with nine photos in the Better Theatres section of the July
4, 1931 issue of Motion Picture Herald. The article, "The Warner in San Pedro" is on Internet Archive.
Several articles have noted that it was the first theatre equipped for sound in the South Bay area but that can't be true. 1931 was pretty late. Maybe it was the first South Bay theatre built after the arrival of sound. By this time Fox West Coast had been running sound features for several years at their nearby Cabrillo and Strand theatres.
Stage: The Warner got a stage with flying capability with a 65' high grid. The original rigging was replaced with a new counterweight system in 2007. All the dressing rooms are in the basement, an area not built out in 1931. The stage is very wide and shallow: 50' proscenium width (32' high) but a stage depth of only 20'8". They've made the facility more usable with a stage extension out beyond the original apron. The stage is 80' wall to wall. See the stage + basement page for more data.
Pipe Organ: It never got one. The nice empty chambers are used for storage.
Film equipment: The booth has a pair of Norelco AAII 35/70mm projectors and a RCA 16mm machine. Digital is done with a portable unit from the front of the balcony. See the booth page for more details. The screen is 21' x 48'.
A May 8, 1934 ad from the San Pedro News-Pilot. It's from the clipping file at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society collection. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for taking a photo of it.
The theatre finally started prospering during World War II with lots of employment nearby at the port, the shipyards, and other military locations. Evidently Warner Bros. got out of operating the theatre sometime prior to the end of 1941 and it was still not back in the circuit in 1948.
A July 1942 ad for the Warners neighborhood houses with the San Pedro venue absent. Not listed in this ad are the two first run houses that Warners had at the time, the Warner Hollywood and the Warner Downtown. Sometime after 1948 the Warner San Pedro was again part of the circuit.
In 1953, as a result of the Federal consent decree splitting studios from their theatre chains, Warner Bros. split their business into two firms with existing stockholders ending up with shares in both companies. Warner Bros. remained the film production and distribution company. The theatres ended up with the new Stanley Warner Corporation -- Stanley Corp. being the name of a largely east coast theatre chain the Warners had purchased in 1927.
In the city directories it's been listed under all sorts of variations of the Warner name including Warner Bros. (1932), the Warner Bros. San Pedro Theatre (1937), the Stanley Warner San Pedro Theatre (1956), the Warner Theatre (1957) and the Stanley Warner Theatre (1959).
Stanley-Warner combine eventually grabbed the RKO circuit theatres as
well, becoming RKO-Stanley Warner in the mid 1960s. Pacific
Theatres took over the southern California theatres in the chain in
1968, becoming the Warner San Pedro's new operator and, presumably,
owner. New operators took over in 1974 and the theatre had a run as
a Mexican film house under the name Teatro Juarez. It's unknown if
Pacific ran the house right up to the 1974 transfer or not.
The theatre closed in December 1975, with the operators reporting difficulties getting financing for new equipment and other upgrades. The other downtown theatre, the Strand, then closed in January 1976. Both theatres were discussed in the San Pedro News Pilot on January 17 with the article "San Pedro left with no movie" and again on January 19 with the editorial headed "Theatres die." Both articles are reproduced at the bottom of the page about the Strand Theatre.
Arnulfo Estrada, a Wilmington grocer, bought the theatre in 1980. After managing it himself and having problems with violence and vandalism he leased the theatre to South Bay Theatre, Inc., a group headed by Raymond Howell and Clay Colbert that went in on a ten year lease beginning in early 1983. They changed the name to the Warner Grand, started a refurbishment program, and ran classics, organ concerts, and other programming. It was the first English language programming in San Pedro since 1976. Howell had previously managed the Chinese for Fox West Coast. Estrada noted that they folded after ten months and forfeited their lease deposit. "They couldn't control the crowds" reported Sonny Singh, who was managing the theatre in 1984.
Daniel Sharma leased the theatre from Estrada on a month-to-month basis beginning in December 1983. At one point he tried running English language features but that experiment only lasted a bit more than a week. Sonny Singh, his manager, noted that "...much of the action takes place off-screen. Fighting and vandalism are common occurrences when the theater shows teen-oriented American flicks...theatre employees were assaulted and abused on more than one occasion. For $3 a seat, who needs it?"
The problems the theatre faced were discussed in "S.P. cinema fans driven out of town," a February 2, 1984 News Pilot article by Steve Hirano. Inasmuch as both the Juarez and the San Pedro Drive-In were running only Spanish language features, moviegoers looking for English language features had to go to Torrance or Long Beach. That article, plus "Downtown San Pedro movie theater faces major obstacles," another article in the same issue, are reproduced at the bottom of this page.
New owners in 1986 and again in 1991 left the venue adrift. In January 1996 it was purchased by the City of Los Angeles for $1.2 million. In "City looks to private operator to run San Pedro's Warner Grand Theatre," a February 21, 2016 Daily Breeze story by Donna Littlejohn, she discussed the city's interest in getting an outside operator to run the Warner. There were no offers from promoters to take on the theatre. Ms Littlejohn had the update in a November, 2016 Daily Breeze article: "Theater benefactors stand ready to expand, promote San Pedro's Warner Grand."
The benefactor mentioned was the Grand Vision Foundation, the official "Friends" group for the Warner that was organized in 1995 to save the theatre. Over the last two decades they have done significant fundraising for various restoration projects and also promote frequent events at the theatre. They also operate the Annex, a black box house down the block. On several occasions they have asked the City to let them run the theatre. Again they expressed their desire to manage the building -- but evidently not on the terms that were being asked.
In "Remote Control" (Vista, 1988) with Kevin Dillon the lobby of the Warner is turned into a video store. "Worth Winning" with Mark Harmon, Madeline Stowe and Lesley Ann Warren (Fox, 1989) also used the Warner. The Warner is seen in Rob Reiner's "Ghosts of Mississippi" (Columbia,
1989) with Alec Baldwin, Virginia Madsen, James Woods and Whoopi
Steve Martin is onstage at the Warner for a 1991 TV special featuring Ricky Jay: "Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women." The footage is included in "Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay" (Kino Lorber, 2012).
Steve Martin and Ricky Jay offstage right at the Warner in a clip from "Learned Pigs..." The dimmerboard we see has been removed and is now in storage. The rigging got replaced with a new counterweight system. See the Theatres in Movies post on the film for another shot showing more of the dimmerboard.
We pay a visit to the Apollo Theatre in New York in Brian Gibson's "What's Love Got to Do With It?" (Touchstone Pictures, 1993). This story of Tina Turner and her abusive husband Ike stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. We get a quick shot of the actual Apollo exterior but when we go inside we're at the Warner Grand. See the Theatres in Movies post for several more Warner shots as well as views from the film of the State Theatre, the Academy in Inglewood and Hollywood Playhouse.
The Warner was used as a West Virginia theatre in "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" (Dreamworks, 2004). Thanks to Lindsay on the blog I Am Not a Stalker for the screenshot. See the Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film featuring the Warner.
The Warner was used for "Illusion" (Illusion Productions, 2004) starring Kirk Douglas as an aging filmmaker. We see a lot of the theatre in the film but it's not a lot of fun. In this shot we get to see the seats covered the three colors of the Mexican flag, from when the theatre was a film house called the Juarez. (Well, sort of yellow rather than white in the center section). See the Theatres in Movies post for three more Warner shots from the film. Thanks to Robb Hedges for the intel on this one.
The Warner is seen briefly in "Must Love Dogs" (Warner Bros., 2005) with Diane Lane and John Cusak. Here's John coming out of the theatre. See the Theatres in Movies post for more about the film.
Various areas of the Warner were used as locations for Steven Soderbergh's "The Good German" (Warner Bros., 2006). The scenes of the film theatre we visit (and its booth), however, were done downtown at the Tower. See the Theatres in Movies post for some shots featuring the Tower.
Early in Peter Segal's film "Get Smart" (Warner Bros., 2008) Anne Hathaway runs into Steve Carrell across the street from the theatre. She's jogging and knocks him over. The film also features Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, James Caan and Terrence Stamp. See the Theatres in Movies post for shots from several scenes at Disney Hall later in the film.
The Warner stands in for a Modesto theatre in Ice Cube's "The Janky Promotors" (Dimension Films, 2009). Interior views of the Warner appear in "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" (Relativity Media, 2011).
It's a gangster pic set down south but here we have Ben Affleck and his kid buying tickets at the Warner in "Live By Night" (Warner Bros., 2016). See the Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film as well as photos taken during the filming at the Warner.
The Warner Grand in Music Videos:
Stephen Russo spotted the Warner as the location for Tesla's "Modern Day Cowboy." It's on YouTube.
More exterior views:
1931 - Another opening week view. It was one of nine photos with "The Warner in San Pedro," an article in the Better Theatres section of the July 4, 1931 issue of Motion Picture Herald. It's on Internet Archive. "The facade, finished in white stucco, restrainedly embellished with cornice and plaque patterns pressed into the material."
1931 - A look at the boxoffice from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. A version of the Dwyer photo also appears in the July 4, 1931 issue of Motion Picture Herald.
1934 - Miss Dare in the ticket lobby. It's a photo from the Grand Vision Foundation collection that appears on the photo gallery page of their website.
1936 - The Warner running "Mysterious Crossing," a December Universal release. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1937 - Looking east down 6th St. from Pacific toward the Warner in a photo from the the Los Angeles Public Library. The last streetcars ran on those tracks in 1934.
1958 - "No Time For Sergeants" was an April release. It's a photo from the Grand Vision Foundation collection that appears on the photo gallery page of their website.
c.1960 - An aerial view with the Fox Cabrillo visible to the left of the Municipal Building and the stagehouse of the Warner back farther back in the center of the image. The photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection appears on a Water and Power Associates Museum page of early San Pedro and Wilmington views.
1982 - The Warner as the Teatro Juarez. Thanks to American Classic Images for the June photo.
1983 - The theatre closed, again. It's a view from the American Classic Images collection. The building on the corner burned in November 2015.
2002 - A photo from the website Seeing Stars. They also have a 2006 photo in their The O.C. Filming Locations page. Also check out the Hollywood Movie Palaces section. The City of Los Angeles has owned the building since 1996.
2013 - The vertical as seen from one of the balcony exits. The marquee and vertical got stripped down and repainted in original colors in 1996. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for her photo. Don't miss her two "Avoiding Regret" photo essays on the Warner. You'll find more photos, a history of the building, and lots of information about her exploration of the theatre. There's one on the public spaces, "Open to the Public," and one on the non-public areas, "Behind Closed Doors."
2016 - A facade view by Steve Milner. It's in a set of seven photos taken in April that he posted on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.
Articles from the February 2, 1984 issue of the San Pedro News Pilot:
These are from the clipping file at the San Pedro Bay Historical Society collection. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for taking photos of them.
More information: See the Warner Grand page on Cinema Treasures for lots of details about the theatre's history. Visit the Cinema Tour page on the Warner for lots of photos by Bob Meza and others. The Warner got a nice bit of publicity with several delicious photos in a June 2014 Curbed L.A. story.
Don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's two 2013 "Avoiding Regret" photo essays on the Warner. One on the public spaces, "Open to the Public, "one on the non-public areas, "Behind Closed Doors." See Mike Hume's Warner Grand page on his Historic Theatre Photography site. Mr. Arteest has a lovely 72 photo Warner Grand set on Flickr.
Claudia Mullins has a nice set of 21 photos taken in 2017 on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. For more information on historic San Pedro consult the San Pedro Bay Historical Society. The San Pedro Historic Downtown Waterfront organization sometimes offers tours of the theatre, such as during their Summerfest.
The Warner, and lack of San Pedro movie options, was discussed after the theatre closed in 1975 in the San Pedro News Pilot on January 17, 1976 with the article "San Pedro left with no movie" and again on January 19 with the editorial headed "Theatres die." Both articles are reproduced at the bottom of the page about the Strand Theatre.
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