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Westlake Theatre: history + exterior views

638 S. Alvarado St. Los Angeles, CA 90057 | map |

Also see: Westlake Theatre - interior views

The News: It's now for sale. The property is owned by the City of Los Angeles. They had hoped to find a developer interested in doing something with the other parcels on the block the City also owns. The catch was that to get the other land the theatre had to be restored and returned to use as a performance space. There were no takers.



A pre-opening view from the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. On the marquee: "Grand premiere opening Wednesday September 22 - 'A Night of Nights' Stars! Lights!" The Library also has a cropped version of the photo. 

Opened: September 22, 1926 by West Coast Theatres. The opening attraction was "Other Women's Husbands" plus a Fanchon and Marco stage show.



The theatre in 2007. Photo: Bill Counter

Architect: Richard M. Bates, Jr.  Robert Power Studios did the decorating. In 1935 S. Charles Lee was involved in a decorative upgrade during a two week closure. The Heinsbergen Co. was the decorator for the remodel. Among other work, the mural in the two-story entrance lobby was repainted with a new design.

Seating: 1,949

The Westlake was operated for decades by Fox West Coast Theatres and its successor companies. Later it was operated as a sub-run house by Metropolitan Theatres. It ended its movie days in 1991 as a Spanish language house.

The roof sign still works and got a renovation in 1987 as part of the MacArthur Park Public Art Program. It hasn't been on recently. After closing in 1991 the theatre became a swap meet prior to acquisition by the Community Redevelopment Agency. See more about the later history down at the bottom of the page.



The Westlake in 1926 running "Tin Gods" with Thomas Meighan and Renee Adoree. Also on the bill is Fanchon & Marco's "Variety Ideas." It's a photo by the Dick Whittington Studio that's in the USC Digital Library collection.

The photo is part of a set of 21 pictures of theatres and other buildings. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Godzilla for finding the set and including this one on his Noirish post #17461. Note on the vertical sign they're styling it "West Lake" with a space in the middle.



An entrance detail from the USC photo.



It's lovely that you can zoom in and wander around the photos in the USC collection. Here's an even closer view.



A view with the theatre running "Hot News" with Neil Hamilton, a 1928 release. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



Looking east from Parkview Avenue toward the Westlake's roof sign in 1936. Construction has begun on this stretch of Wilshire Blvd. through the park. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



Construction continues through Westlake Park in an October 1936 Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A view east after the 1936 completion of Wilshire Blvd. across the lake. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the photo on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. Here the signage still says "West Coast Westlake Theatre." The circuit had become Fox West Coast in 1929.



A shot of traffic on the completed section of Wilshire Blvd in 1937. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.  Note the redone roof sign -- no more "West Coast." And there's an added "Now Playing" readerboard for all those new Wilshire Blvd. drivers.



Another 1937 Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A wonderful early postcard view of Westlake Park and the theatre's roof sign from Sean Ault's collection. Thanks, Sean! Another version of the card appears on the LAHTF Facebook page as a post by Kimberly Vinokur Reiss.



A 1938 Life magazine photo by Peter Stackpole. It makes an appearance on "Life in Los Angeles circa 1938," a Blackwatch blog post about the car culture of Los Angeles. Blackwatch gives us this quip by an unknown author: “They say in L.A. there are only two methods of transportation - car and ambulance."



Looking east on Wilshire in a c.1943 Frasher Foto Card from the California State Library collection.



A 1955 look across the lake toward the theatre from the Sean Ault collection. It can also be seen on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. Thanks, Sean!



A 50s look east across the bridge in the renamed MacArthur Park. Thanks to Dave Urov for the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



A view across the lake toward the Westlake Theatre and a now vanished boathouse. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for the photo from her collection. Note that the "Now Playing" readerboard on the roof sign has been removed.



An idyllic 50s postcard view looking across the lake toward the Westlake's roof sign. It's from the Richard Wojcik collection on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



A fanciful postcard, "Los Angeles, the City at the End of the Rainbow," with the Westlake Theatre over on the left. Thanks to Sean Ault for the find.



A 1978 view looking north on Alvarado added by Ken McIntyre to the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



A 1978 exterior shot by Anne Laskey that's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



A c.1978 shot appearing on Photos of Los Angeles from Ken McIntyre.



A William Reagh look at the front of the Westlake Theatre in 1979. It's in the collections of the California State Library and the Los Angeles Public Library.



A 1983 look at the Westlake marquee in all its glory. The photo is part of the American Classic Images collection. Also on their website: facade - April 1982 | marquee detail - April 1982 | facade and sign - January 1983 |



The theatre in its days as a Spanish language film house. Photo: Sean Ault Collection. Thanks, Sean!



A c.2005 facade view from Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. They have a great portfolio of photos of ruined or decaying theatres around the country called Theaters (2005-20xx) on their website -- still a work in progress.  Also see their very interesting Ruins of Detroit section.

A selection of the duo's theatre photos are featured in "Beautiful Photographs of Decaying & Repurposed Movie Palaces," Jason Bailey's May 2012 article on Flavorwire.



The Westlake Theatre from the south. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007



A 2008 look at the roof sign by Ken McIntyre. It's on Photos of Los Angeles.



A 2008 marquee detail from Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



The Westlake Theatre facade looking south. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



A c.2012 look up the street from Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



Some of the terracotta ornament. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012 



A column capital. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



More terracotta facade ornament. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



A view of the south wall. It's a 2012 photo by Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



Another look up toward the sign. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the 2012 photo on Photos of Los Angeles.



This 2014 marquee detail by Hadley Meares appears as part of her terrific article for KCET: "Sign of the Times: Sensation, Scandal and Salvation at Westlake Theater." It's part of their "Lost Landmarks" series.   



A 2015 photo by Sean Ault.



Prometheus in MacArthur Park. Thanks to Sean Ault for his 2015 photo.



A view-by-drone as the craft rises southwest of the Westlake Theatre. Photo: Ian Wood, from "Los Angeles,"  his seven minute 2015 tour on Vimeo.



The theatre from the air. Thanks to Ian Wood for the great work. These two shots are from his stunning video "Los Angeles" on Vimeo. The ride includes flyovers of Disney Hall, Capitol Records, the Warner Hollywood, Cinerama Dome and lots more. Not to be missed!



Howard Gray looks across the park in 2017 toward the closed theatre. The photo was a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



A closer look. It's a 2017 Howard Gray photo on Photos of Los Angeles.



A 2017 roof sign view. It's a Howard Gray photo on Photos of Los Angeles. Thanks for these, Howard!



Need a key at the re-purposed boxoffice? It's a 2008 photo from Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



A key shop closeup. Photo: Sean Ault - 2006



A side view of the boxoffice. It's a Sandi Hemmerlein photo appearing with her 2017 Avoiding Regret photo essay "Down the Rabbit Hole..." Thanks, Sandi. And sorry that the explorations didn't go well. 



The light fixture in the ticket lobby above the entrance doors. Photo: Sean Ault - 2006



The theatre's ticket lobby. On the far right note the boxoffice and the added security gate out at the sidewalk line. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2016. Thanks, Wendell!

That's theatre explorer Michelle Gerdes checking it all out. Behind her note the display cases -- more are on the far left. The opening below that light fixture once had the entrance doors. The swap meet operation that had been in the building was phased out by the city a few years earlier but a number of items still remain.

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation is actively involved in the study and preservation of the vintage theatres in the L.A. area. The group frequently supports events and offers tours of the buildings. www.lahtf.org | LAHTF on Facebook

History after closing:  After closing as a film house in 1991, the building was sold by Metropolitan Theatres to Mayer Separzdeh who proceeded to level the main floor with a new concrete slab. The building reopened as a swapmeet. The balcony was not in use during the swap meet days.

The City of Los Angeles, alarmed at the possibility of additional alterations, declared the building a Cultural Historic Monument in September 1991. In addition to buying the theatre in 2008, the CRA also acquired some surrounding parcels.



A concept for a mixed use project designed by Utopiad was floated in 2008 but went nowhere as no interested developers materialized. The illustration was a rendering for that project. Some CRA news in 2009 had a slightly different proposal for the theatre. It surfaced in an L.A. Times article: "A home sweet home for Culture Clash in MacArthur Park?" Culture Clash is a local Latino theatre troupe. That was the last of the CRA proposals.

The swap meet operation was closed in 2011. With the 2012 state-wide disbanding of such agencies there was a triage going on of CRA assets. Some were sold, some the City of Los Angeles assumed ownership of (such as the Westlake), and some seemed to be in endless deliberation.

Eddie Kim did a November 2013 story in the L.A. Downtown News about the process of unloading the CRA properties. There was hope at the time that a viable project would eventually materialize to renovate the theatre and create a mixed use building around it.

The property finally emerged from post-CRA limbo and in 2016 the City of Los Angeles went looking for proposals to redevelop the theatre and adjacent property they own. The focus would have been on restoring the theatre as a live performance venue along with whatever else penciled out to benefit the community: offices, retail, hotel, parking, whatever.

They were looking for a developer with "a strong understanding of the unique urban fabric and historic and cultural assets of the Westlake community."  Even after giving tours and extending their deadline for proposals there were no takers.

Status: It's now for sale after having been a swap meet for a number of years. And then sitting vacant for a few. Main floor seats have been removed and the floor leveled but most of the decor is intact.

The Westlake Theatre on Video: See the "Tour of the Westlake Theatre" by Pico Union Now on YouTube.

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Westlake Theatre for oodles more historical data and recollections by many contributors. The page also has links to more photos from a variety of sources. The Cinema Tour page has several photos from Ken Roe.

A May 2014 Curbed L.A.story "Mapping the Huge Wave of Gentrification About To Hit Westlake" discusses new housing, transit accessibility and two other nearby theatres in the news: the Hayworth and the Playhouse/Teragram Ballroom.

Sandi Hemmerlein details her adventures at the Westlake in a 2017 Avoiding Regret photo essay "Down the Rabbit Hole...

Don't miss the terrific article Hadley Meares did for KCET in 2014: "Sign of the Times: Sensation, Scandal and Salvation at Westlake Theater." It's part of their "Lost Landmarks" series.

An earlier Westlake Theatre: The 1912 and 1913 city directories list a Westlake Theatre at 680 S. Alvarado. There's a listing started for it but not much more information yet.

Pages about the Westlake Theatre: | back to top - history and exterior views | interior views

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