Start your Los Angeles area historic theatre explorations by heading to one of these major sections: Downtown | North of Downtown + East L.A. | San Fernando Valley | Glendale | Pasadena | San Gabriel Valley, Pomona and Whittier | South, South Central and Southeast | Hollywood | Westside | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | Long Beach | [more] L.A. Movie Palaces |
To see what's recently been added to the mix visit the Theatres in Movies site and the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

Wilshire Ebell Theatre

4400 Wilshire Blvd. and 4401 W. 8th St. Los Angeles, CA 90005 | map |


Opened: December 29, 1927 as the Windsor Square Theatre with a production of Sigmund Romberg's "The Desert Song." It's four blocks west of Crenshaw on the south side of the street. We're looking at the theatre's entrance on 8th St., around on the back of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010 

Phone: 323-939-0126     Website: www.ebellla.com

Architects: Sumner P. Hunt and Silas R. Burns designed the building for the Ebell of Los Angeles Women's Club. In addition to the theatre, the complex includes many club rooms, offices and a ballroom. The main entrance is on Wilshire Blvd. 
 
 

A plan of the theatre. The rest of the building is off to the left with Wilshire Blvd. beyond. Also see another version of the plan annotated to show fire safety items. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating these. See the Wilshire Ebell page on his Historic Theatre Photography site for about 35 of his fine photos of the theatre. 

A drawing that appeared in the December 25, 1927 issue of the L.A. Times. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating it.
 
 
 
 
 An article appearing in the December 28 issue of the Times. 
 
 
 
The conclusion of the December 28 Times article. 
 
 

The December 28 Times ad for "The Desert Song."
 
 

The considerably smaller opening day ad in the Times: December 29, 1927.

Seating: 1,266 currently with 883 on the main floor and 383 in the balcony. In 1949 it was listed as 1,294 with 911 of that on the main floor and 383 in the balcony.

Pipe Organ: It's a 3/13 Barton that's owned and maintained by the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society.


The console of the Barton. Thanks to Kevin R. Cartwright for the photo. 

Stage Specifications: 

Proscenium: 39' wide x 27' 3" high

Stage depth: 31' 2" from the proscenium plasterline to the back wall. The orchestra pit (when covered) adds another 6' 1". It's 5' from the footlights to the house curtain and 30' from the curtain to the backwall.

Stage wall to wall: 85'. Wingspace stage left is 12', with some restrictions. Stage right it's 8'.

Counterweight system: The 34 linesets are wire guide, all operated at stage level stage right except for one set 23' 10' upstage that's run from upstage left. Batten length is 50.' Grid height is 60'. It was originally a hemp house with a flyfloor stage right. In 1949 it was listed as using both hemp and counterweight sets.It's unknown who manufactured the counterweight system equipment.

Lighting control: It's an ETC Expression 2 console with 167 2.4 Kw dimmers. In 1949 the house was listed as having both AC and DC power.

Followspots: 2 1.2 Kw Selecon units

Projection: There's a digital projector in the booth, no film equipment. Balcony rail to the screen is 50', booth to screen is 80'. The house's 12' x 16' screen is usually on batten #5, 4'10" upstage of the plasterline.

Loading: Upstage right via a 8' x 8' door.

Some of the stage data comes from the 1949 ATPAM Theatre, Arena & Auditorium Guide. Thanks to Bob Foreman for putting the publication on his Vintage Theatre Catalogs blog. At the time the rent was $135 a night.

Status: This club and theatre, located in the affluent Hancock Park area, has always been a popular venue. In the 1928 city directory the club was listed with a 4400 Wilshire address. In 1929 and 1930 it was listed as 743 S. Lucerne Blvd.  

The club is thriving with the theatre as well as other ballrooms and meeting spaces rented out for a variety of events. The organization does no presenting. It's exclusively a rental venue.

History: The theatre didn't get a separate listing in the 1928 city directory. In the 1929, 1930 and 1931 city directories it's the Windsor Square Theatre at 4401 W. 8th St.
 
Mike Hume notes that "The Desert Song," the theatre's inaugural production, closed after a three week run and was moved to the Mason Theatre downtown. Initially the stated reason was that the production needed more seats. At least that was mentioned in the L.A. Times article on January 22, 1928 titled "'Desert Song' moves from Windsor Square to Mason." In "Club Theater Lessee Denies Suit for Rent," a February 11 Times article that Mike located, it was stated that one factor in the show's closure had been complaints from neighbors.
 
Evidently there were no further public events at the theatre until March when an ad appeared in the Times on the 4th for a production of "Abraham Lincoln," a company from New York "sponsored" by the Ebell Club that ran for a week beginning March 12. For the next eight months the bookings were low-key. There were regular rentals for church services and occasional one-night events such as "The Belle of Barcelona" in October and a USC student revue in late 1928.
 
Although it hadn't been totally dark, an article in the December 27, 1928 issue of the Times talked about a "reopening." The page 13 story "'Pierre of Plains’ In New Debut" discussed the theatre's reopening and "resuming its place on the Los Angeles theatrical map." The article goes on to say that the theatre "has housed but one major theatrical attraction heretofore: 'The Desert Song.'"
 
 

"Not a Movie." This ad for "Pierre of the Plains" also appeared in the December 27, 1928 issue of the Times. Thanks to Mike Hume for dating the ad, locating the story, and researching the other early events.

In the 1932 directory it's become the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, again with the 8th St. address. That year W.T. Wyatt is listed as manager. One of his jobs much earlier had been as business manager of the Seaside Theatre in Ocean Park, a house that opened in 1905. He was the son of Henry Clay Wyatt (1849-1910) a legendary impresario who at various times had operated the Mason Opera House, the Grand Opera House and the Lyceum Theatre.

Judy Garland (then Francis Gumm) supposedly had her first audition at the Wilshire Ebell and was later "discovered" while performing here. In 1937 Amelia Earhart made her last public appearance at the Ebell before embarking on her last flight.

The Ebell in the Movies: 


John Barrymore runs onstage in a panic in his New York theatre when he realizes the star he's created, played by Carole Lombard, has abandoned him to go to Hollywood in the Howard Hawks comedy "20th Century" (Columbia, 1934). Nearly the first twenty minutes of the film was shot at the Ebell plus a return at the conclusion. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in the Movies post for ten more shots from scenes at the Ebell.



 
Katherine Hepburn is coming down the house left aisle in Phillip Moeller's film "Break of Hearts" (RKO, 1935). The Ebell is supposedly a concert venue in New York and her husband, Charles Boyer, is conducting. Like the marriage, the concert doesn't go well. He shows up late and drunk. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots at the Ebell from the film.
 

Fred Astaire is coming onstage to take the baton from Artie Shaw for a number toward the end of "Second Chorus" (Paramount, 1940). Also featured are Paulette Goddard, Burgess Meredith and Charles Butterworth. H.C. Potter directed. The cinematography was by Theodor Sparkuhl. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot up in the Ebell balcony as well as two backstage views that were shot elsewhere. 
 


The theatre is used for a political rally in "The Farmer's Daughter" (RKO, 1947). H.C. Potter directed this sweet tale of farm girl Loretta Young coming to wicked Capitol City, taking a job as a maid and somehow getting elected to Congress. The film also stars Joseph Cotten, Ethyl Barrymore and Charles Bickford. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots from the scene at the Ebell.



Joseph Cotten and Ethel Barrymore go to a concert at a New York theatre in William Dieterle's "Portrait of Jennie" (Selznick, 1948). Cotten is obsessed with a young girl played by Jennifer Jones who appears to him at random intervals and each time she's a few years older. He says "Everything reminds me of Jennie" and leans forward to stare intently at the stage.

I leaned forward as well but not because of Jennie. In this shot everything reminded me of footage I'd seen before. Yes, that conductor reminded me of Charles Boyer. Why, it is Charles Boyer. And the audience is the same one that was there in scenes at the end of the 1935 RKO film "Break of Hearts," footage reused for this film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of Cotten and Barrymore up in the balcony. Well, most likely those shots were done on some risers at the studio.  
 

Diana Ross takes a bow as Billie Holiday near the end of "Lady Sings the Blues" (Paramount, 1972). The Ebell is standing in for Carnegie Hall. Sidney Furie directed the film which also features Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, James T. Callahan, Paul Hampton, Sid Melton, Virginia Capers, Yvonne Fair and Scatman Crothers. The cinematography was by John Alonzo. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the Ebell shoot as well as views of a number filmed at the Follies Theatre on Main St. 


Gary Busey, Charlie Martin Smith and Don Stroud backstage at the Ebell as Buddy Holly and the Crickets in "The Buddy Holly Story" (Columbia, 1978). Steve Rash directed the film. The theatre is used as the Apollo in New York as well as for another theatre on the road. Two theatres in Atlanta were used for exterior shots. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots at the Ebell from the film.
 


When Ritchie Valens (Lou Diamond Phillips) goes to New York to play the Brooklyn Paramount in the Luis Valdez film "La Bamba" (Columbia, 1987), the Wilshire Ebell is used for the interiors. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more views of the Ebell from the film. For the exterior views the film uses some footage of the Wiltern that was shot for "American Hot Wax" in 1977.

In addition to the theatre, other areas of the building are also seen in many films and TV shows. Tom Hanks briefly plays ping pong on an upstairs terrace in "Forrest Gump" (Paramount, 1994). We spend a lot of time with Richard Dreyfuss and Jenna Elfman in the main ballroom and other areas at the end of "Krippendorf's Tribe" (Touchstone, 1998). The ballroom is used for a party at Harvard near the end of the stoner film "How High" (Universal, 2001). Jesse Eisenberg is at an a cappella performance in the ballroom in "The Social Network" (Columbia, 2010).


The lobby: 


The Wilshire Ebell lobby. The doors on the right are the theatre's main entrance on the south end of the building. Photo: Dave PD - Photos of Los Angeles - Facebook - 2003  


On the main floor: 


A peek in from the rear of the main floor. Photo: Dave PD - Photos of Los Angeles -  2003



A proscenium view from the rear of house right. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A main floor view from the Ebell Club website.



A closer look at the proscenium. Photo: Marianne Lozano Photography / Biz Bash



Another main floor view. Photo: Dave PD - Photos of Los Angeles - 2003   



The rear of the auditorium. Photo: Dave PD - Photos of Los Angeles - 2003. Thanks, Dave!



Another look to the rear. Photo: Marianne Lozano Photography / Biz Bash



Under the balcony. Photo: Marianne Lozano Photography / Biz Bash


Up in the balcony: 


The view across the Ebell auditorium at balcony level. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - 2015. Thanks, Wendell! The photo originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.



A balcony view from house left. Photo: Marianne Lozano Photography / Biz Bash



A look down from in front of the booth. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



The stage from house right. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



A c.1927 Mott Studios photo looking across the theatre's balcony from the California State Library collection. The ports have been opened up a bit.


Up in the booth: 


Looking out the door on the house right end of the booth. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



Looking across from house right. Current equipment includes a digital projector and two followspots. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



Looking out the port where the projector is. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



The 1927 vintage switchboard on the back wall. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



A room on the house left end of the booth with an old motor-generator set and some sort of exhaust fan gear. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019



Looking back across from the house left end of the booth. Photo: Mike Hume - 2019


Backstage: 


Theatre explorer Ron Mahan offstage right checking out the lockrail. The event was a visit to the theatre during the 2017 Theatre Historical Society Conclave. Photo: Mike Hume



The upstage end of the lockrail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2017 



A lockrail detail. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A look at the curious ratcheting tension blocks. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



Looking onstage from behind the wire-guide sets. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A view into the house. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



Looking to the grid from stage left. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



One of the dressing rooms. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017


More exterior views:


A 1927 photo from the Herald Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Public Library. We're looking south from Wilshire with the main building in front, the theatre in back.



The east side of the building as we look north toward Wilshire. It's a c.1927 Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.



Another shot from the Mott Studios in the California State Library collection, this time looking southwest from Wilshire.

The Library's collection includes these c.1927 Mott Studios photos of the building: 1 courtyard photo - # 001385922 | 2 courtyard photos - # 001386168 | 4 lounge photos - # 001386234 | 7 photos: lounge, exterior views - # 001416450 | 1 corner exterior photo - # 001424635 | 3 photos: courtyard and exterior - # 001535358 | 16 photos: 1 of theatre + other areas - # 001535367 | Also: Wilshire facade -  William Reagh - 1989



A 1929 photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



Another 1929 view from the Herlick Studio that's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The theatre entrance is over on the left.



A 1937 view by Dick Whittington when the theatre was known as the Windsor Square Theatre. It's in the Herald Examiner collection at the Los Angeles Public Library. The USC Digital Library also has a copy, where they date it as 1939.



A 1939 photo of a house moving project with the Ebell in the background. It's in the Herald Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.



Thanks to Richard Wojcik for this 1954 view of the Ebell from his collection. It was a post on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.



The Wilshire side of the Wilshire Ebell building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



Another view of the Wilshire end of the building. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



Looking along the Lucerne side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The corner at Wilshire and Lucerne Blvd. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



The sign after a paint job. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017


Around back at the theatre entrance. It's a photo by Martin that appeared on his now-vanished site You-Are-Here.com.


A 2003 entrance shot from Dave PD that appeared on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



Another entrance view. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017. Thanks for all the great photos, Mike! For more of his work see the Ebell Theatre page on his Historic Theatre Photography site.



A roof sign shot from Corey Miller's great Wilshire Center / Hancock Park / Miracle Mile photo set on Flickr.



The site Public Art in Los Angeles has this Don Howe photo along with a daytime view on their Wilshire Ebell page. See their Neon Signs Along Wilshire Boulevard page for an index to many photos on the site.



 
The lights were on for Red Alert Day, Tuesday September 1, 2020 to call attention to the plight of arts organizations that have been devastated by the effects of the Coronavirius shutdown. Photo: Mike Hume 
 

A look toward the theatre in 2022. Thanks to Suzanne Wilton for sharing her photo on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
 
More Information:
See the Wilshire Ebell page on Mike Hume's Historic Theatre Photography site for his fine photos of the theatre as well as lots of historical data..

Jennifer Steinhauer's August 2010 New York Times Article "A Sanctuary for Women, Even Today" has a a nice history of the club and its activities. Danni Bayles Yeager's Performing Arts Archive has a program for a 1940 production of "Our Town" at the Wilshire Ebell.

There's a nice post (#3500) on Noirish Los Angeles with photos and discussion of the Ebell. And check in with post #3508 and post #3509 for photos of other Ebell clubs in the Los Angeles Area.

There was an earlier Ebell Club at 1719 S. Figueroa St. downtown. And one even before that on Broadway. Prior to the Broadway clubhouse, the ladies evidently had a rental adjacent to a church.  There was also an Ebell Club in Long Beach. The theatre at that club got rented out to become a commercial movie theatre, the Metro.

| back to top | Westside theatres | Hollywood | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | Westside theatres: alphabetical list | Westside theatres: by street address | Downtown theatres | [more] Los Angeles movie palaces | Los Angeles theatres - the main alphabetical list | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resources | contact info | welcome and site navigation guide |

No comments:

Post a Comment