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Crenshaw / West Angeles Performing Arts Theatre

3020 Crenshaw Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90016 | map |


Opened: November 14, 1941 as an independent neighborhood house called the Crenshaw Theatre. It's on the east side of the street a block north of Jefferson Blvd.

The lovely 1941 or 1942 Julius Shulman photo of the theatre's entrance is in the collection of the Getty Research Institute. The display cases have posters for the 1941 releases "Sing Another Chorus" and "We Go Fast." Admission at the time of the photo was 22 cents with Juniors getting in for 17 cents and Children for 11. Steve Milner notes: "The ‘39 Olds was Shulman’s, with his wife behind the wheel."

Phone: 323-733-8707

Architect: S. Charles Lee. Some sources (including the Getty Research Institute) credit Paul Laszlo as the architect but the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection has the drawings Lee did for the theatre.



A fanciful early design for the theatre's facade by S. Charles Lee. What got built was noticeably simpler. The drawing is on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection.

UCLA has only 621 items online from the Lee collection. See the index page on Calisphere. The thousands of other drawings and plan sheets have to be viewed in person at the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library. See the finding aid to the collection for an overview.

Seats: 800 was the initial capacity. All the seating was on the main floor with the exception of a small private box upstairs near the ladies lounge that sat about 8. Now with the addition of a stage and other changes the seating capacity is 474.
 

A pre-opening ad. This one appeared November 10, 1941. Thanks to Mike Rivest for locating it. Visit his site: Movie-Theatre.org

 

An opening day ad, November 14, 1941. Thanks to Mike Rivest for finding it.  

Around 1952 the theatre was run for a year or so as a legit house by Nick and Edna Stewart as the first African-American operated theatre in Los Angeles. Nick Stewart, a veteran of the "Amos 'n Andy" show, was interested in showcasing actors in productions offering roles beyond the stereotypical ones available to African-American actors at the time.

Marvin Wright-Bey, the theatre's manager since 1995, notes that Stewart's operation at the Crenshaw location had difficulties surviving in a neighborhood that at the time was overwhelmingly white and Asian. Stewart went on to greater success with his venture at the former Rimpau/Metro Theatre, 4720 W. Washington Blvd. The Stewarts renamed that house the Ebony Showcase Theatre.

The theatre had greater success in the late 50s as the L.A. Jazz Concert Theatre. In the 1970s it was renamed the Kokusai Theatre and became an outlet for Japanese films. 
 

A Samurai Festival in 1986. It's an ad that ran May 16. Thanks to Gerald DeLuca for locating it for a post on Cinema Treasures.

Closing: The closing date is unknown. Gerald DeLuca notes that it was running as  late as July 1986. 

Status: The theatre is now called the West Angeles Performing Arts Theatre. Since 1985 the building has been owned by the West Angeles Church of God In Christ (westa.org), located just across the street. When the church first bought the building they called it the West Angeles Christian Arts Center and it housed the Spanish language branch of the church.

General manager Marvin Wright-Bey comments: "After a few in-house productions I thought it wise to change the name to broaden our appeal to a larger community. We specialize in family oriented entertainment. With the increasing decline of performance houses in the surrounding communities, (the Vision Theatre, the Miracle Theater, the Ebony Showcase Theatre, Inner City Cultural Arts Center, Inglewood Playhouse) the West Angeles Performing Arts Theatre is now the oldest African-American, church owned and operated theater in Los Angeles, to my knowledge."

The theatre used to produce many shows but it's now a rental facility. Even though the theatre had seen some live shows the stage facilities were extremely limited. During Wright-Bey's tenure the stage has been expanded and a new upper level created backstage to house dressing rooms and restroom facilities. The projection booth has become a lighting control location and the former box next to the ladies restroom has become the sound booth.

The original layout was a men's room on the main floor and a ladies lounge and restroom upstairs. An additional ladies room has been added on the main floor.

In a May 2021 post about the theatre on the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation Facebook page David Saffer commented: 

"The thing to watch closely here is that West Angeles recently sold their land holdings north of Jefferson as they prepared for an expansion of their cathedral at Crenshaw and Exposition. So far nothing has been publicly released for this site but development has been announced for almost every piece of land surrounding it."

 
Lobby views: 


Looking toward house right in the lobby. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018 



The lobby view toward house left. The table and chairs were there for a first reading of an upcoming play. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



The stairs to the booth and original ladies room. Note the 1942 "Powder Room" sign in the upper left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


The auditorium: 


 A look in from the rear of the auditorium in 1942. Photo: Julius Shulman - Getty Research Institute



The view in from house left in 2018. Photo: Bill Counter



Up near the screen house left. Photo: Julius Shulman - Getty Research Institute - 1942



The rear of the house. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


Upstairs: 


A peek into the ladies lounge. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



In the booth, now a lighting control location. The former private box on the house left side of the booth is now the sound control location. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018 



The view down from the booth. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


More exterior views:


A 1942 view from the south. The Julius Shulman photo is in the collection of the Getty Research Institute. "Ruggles of Red Gap" dated from 1935. The co-feature, "Ellery Queen and the Perfect Crime," was a 1941 release.

Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Hoss C for finding the four Shulman photos in the Getty Research Institute collection. He featured them on his Noirish post #37138. See the Getty's home page for more about their collections. They have thousands of photos by Shulman, indexed by job number. See their Shulman search page to get started.


 
A little problem with a murder in the parking lot. Note the vertical sign reading L.A. Jazz Concert Theatre. It's a 1958 Los Angeles Examiner photo in the USC Digital Library collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire for finding the photo in the USC collection. His Noirish post #3262 also has several additional photos of the theatre.



The theatre's vertical in the Kokusai days. Thanks to Bill Gabel for posting the photo on Cinema Treasures.



Thanks to American Classic Images for this 80s view.  



A 1983 look at the theatre when it was running as the Kokusai from the American Classic Images collection.



A c.2013 look at the entrance by Ken McIntyre. It was a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



A 2016 Google Maps view.



The south side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Looking north on Crenshaw. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Looking in toward the entrance. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



The entrance doors and terrazzo. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



The theatre from across Crenshaw. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018 

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the theatre, which they list as the Kokusai. The Cinema Tour page offers three 2003 exterior views.

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