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Alex Theatre: history + street views

216 N. Brand Blvd. Glendale, CA 91203 | map |

More Alex Theatre pages: forecourt | lobby areas | auditorium | booth + atticbackstage |


Opened: September 4, 1925 as the Alexander Theatre. The theatre was a project of West Coast-Langley Theatres, a partnership of C.L. Langley and West Coast Theatres, Inc. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Phone: 818-254-8456 Website: www.alextheatre.org | Alex Film Society: www.alexfilmsociety.org
 
The Alex is now operated for the City of Glendale by SAS Entertainment Partners. SAS website | SAS on Facebook |

History: C. L. Langley's full name, which he didn't like, was Claude Leroy. He later changed the Leroy part to Leon. The theatre was named for his son Claude Alexander. Langley sold his 1/3 interest in the 21 theatre mini-circuit about a week after the theatre opened. See a September 12 item from Moving Picture World. C.L. died in 1943. Claude Alexander died in 1963. 

The project for a "magnificent $500,000 Corinthian type theatre" had been announced in the February 7, 1924 issue of the Glendale Evening News. It was, of course, "to be one of the finest in all the west." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the article. It's reproduced at the bottom of the page. At the time Langley and his buddies at West Coast Theatres were calling the circuit Southwest Theatres, Inc., something that didn't stick. 

Another project Langley initiated the same year was the Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena, opened in October. West Coast Theatres managed the Alex, Rialto, and other houses that had earlier been part of the West Coast-Langley division. In 1929 West Coast became Fox West Coast after William Fox bought a controlling interest. See more about the circuit on the Fox West Coast History page. They frequently listed it as the Fox Alexander Theatre. Fox and its successor companies National General and Mann Theatres operated the theatre for decades. 

Architects: Arthur G. Lindley and Charles R. Selkirk designed the Alexander in a Greek revival style with a large forecourt inspired by the Egyptian in Hollywood. Lindley later did the Glendale Masonic Temple and its Temple Theatre. With Selkirk he also designed the California Theatre in Huntington Park.

It got a remodel in 1940 by S. Charles Lee, who added the entrance spire and other touches. The theatre was renamed the Alex. The theatre got a bit of the Skouras treatment in the 1948 with new light fixtures and elaborate draperies. The occasion was an August 23 backstage fire.


An August 28, 1948 item about the fire appearing in Boxoffice. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating it. See the fine page about the Alex on his Historic Theatre Photography site. The theatre had a grand reopening in September 1948.

Seating: 2,030 seats in 1925, 1,460 later. The current capacity is 1,413 including 8 wheelchair spaces.

Stage specifications: The proscenium is 46' wide and 27' high. The depth is 28' 9" plus 5' 6" of apron depth. The 42 linesets of the counterweight system are operated stage right. The orchestra pit is on a lift installed in 1999. All the dressing rooms are in the basement. Backstage had a $6 million renovation that was completed in 2014 that added 6,600 square feet of space and included many improvements including elevators. For more stage information see the backstage page.

Projection: The theatre has 35mm reel-to-reel capability. The digital projection equipment is DCP capable after a major 2019 equipment installation. For more information see the booth page.

Pipe organ: It was a Wurlitzer 2 manual 10 rank style 215, opus 1050, installed in a typical left/right chamber configuration (nothing behind the ceiling starburst). It became unplayable in the mid-to-late 1950s when wind chest parts were removed for use at the Rialto in South Pasadena. The remains were sold in 1959 to Russ Nelson, who had purchased many organs from the Fox circuit in that era. Thanks to Mark Herman and Mike Hume for the data.

Closing as a film house: Mann Theatres closed the theatre September 26, 1991 with "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" as the last film to run. In June 1991 the company had opened the Mann Exchange 8 in a new shopping/dining/office complex a block south of the Alex. 

Saving the Alex: The Alex was purchased by the Glendale Redevelopment Authority in 1992. The theatre reopened December 31, 1993 after a renovation under the direction of architect Richard McCann. Since then it has been running as a performing arts venue with occasional film events. Starting in 2008 the Alex became an operation of the non-profit organization Glendale Arts.

With the dissolution of community redevelopment agencies in 2012, the City of Glendale explored options for keeping the theatre afloat. It transferred ownership from its redevelopment agency to the city itself. A March 2012 story in the L.A. Times outlined the problems. The venue was receiving a subsidy of $415,000 per year from the redevelopment authority. The city itself then took on the subsidy. The idea was to move the theatre operation toward self-sufficiency.

A major expansion of dressing room facilities and improvements to the loading area was undertaken in 2013. The Crescenta Valley Weekly had an April 2013 story. The L.A. Times ran a June 2013 story on the project of the theatre's "overhaul." Total cost was about $6 million and occasioned a 5 month closure of the theatre. PMSM Architects of Santa Barbara designed the project. Five of their floorplans are near the bottom of this page.

Visit Sandi Hemmerlein's July 2014 Avoiding Regret photo essay "Open House at the Restored Alex Theatre, Magic Hour" for a tour of the theatre following the backstage renovation. The L.A. Times had a February 2015 "uplifting" story about brighter prospects for the survival of the theatre after the backstage expansion.

An August 2015 L.A. Times story "Historic Alex Theater flashes a glimmer of restored tower lighting" detailed the completion of the restoration of S. Charles Lee's iconic spire. At the time of the story they were just giving a small preview. The original design was neon plus incandescent chaser lights. Those incandescents have now been replaced with programmable LEDs.

City Council issues: Until the Covid shutdown in March 2020 the Alex had been alive and well as a performing arts venue with events about 200 days a year. Glendale Arts had managed the theatre for the City of Glendale since 2008. Their management contract expired June 30, 2020 but they were given several extensions running through June 30, 2021 and then the through end of October 2021 while the city council decided what they wanted to do about a new longer contract. 

The City was distressed that GA was still asking for a substantial management fee and decided to request proposals from other interested parties to operate the theatre after June 30, 2021. A Staff Report gave an interesting, if flawed, analysis of the merits of the proposals submitted by SAS Entertainment Partners, General Admission and Glendale Arts. See the Meeting Agenda for a video of the discussion. The RFP / BID page is still viewable on the City's website where you can download a PDF with details.

The City Council evaluated the three proposals at a meeting on April 20, 2021 and initially decided to negotiate exclusively with Glendale Arts. But with GA still asking for a hefty management fee and negotiations not going well, the council voted in a closed-door session June 15 to terminate the exclusive negotiations. At a special June 29 meeting they voted to reopen talks with the other two bidders they had previously rejected. GA's woes were outlined in a press release quoted on a June 23 Los Angeles Theatres Facebook post. It was revealed at the June 29 meeting that the city staff had rejected 3 GA proposals without producing counter-offers. As one councilman noted it wasn't "back-and-forth." It was "back-with-no-forth." They were never told what benchmarks they should meet.

In the meantime, Glendale Arts' agreement to manage the Alex ended June 30. The council offered a temporary extension. GA got a one-time Shuttered Venue Operators Grant from the Small Business Administration. See "Alex Theatre operator gets $821,960 to reopen Glendale showplace," a July 16 L.A. Daily News story. They intended to use the funds for a new ticketing system and other items including equipment for live streaming. GA staged a September 2021 reopening party. The expectation was that they would continue to be the operators.

In a 3 to 2 vote at their September 28, 2021 special meeting the Glendale City Council decided to terminate negotiations with GA and open exclusive negotiations with SAS Entertainment. The Glendale Meeting Portal provides access to videos of past city council meetings. See the September 29 Facebook post of former GA CEO Elissa Glickman for a discussion of the vote. As she noted, this happened after "2+ years of discussions, jumping through hoops, humiliation, assessments and 3 proposals." 

The Crescenta Valley Weekly had a play-by-play rundown of the meeting in their September 30 story "Glendale Arts Ousted in Favor of SAS." The Glendale News-Press had an October 2 story titled "SAS on Course to Take Over Alex Theatre." Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting the story. October 29, 2021 was the last day of operation under Glendale Arts management. 

Status: Since the end of October 2021, the theatre has been operated for the City of Glendale by SAS Entertainment Partners, an event management company headed by Miles Williams. Prior to this they had managed the Saban Theatre for a three year period. More recently they had provided backstage crews at the Orpheum and Theatre at Ace but didn't book shows or operate the theatres. 
 

The Alex in the Movies:


We see the side of the Alex with the roof sign on the stagehouse ("Alex - The Place To Go") in Andre de Toth's "Crime Wave" (Warner Bros., 1954). The film stars Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson. We also get shots of the Glendale, Temple and Hide Away theatres in Glendale and, at the end, go downtown to look at the Roosevelt Theatre on Main St. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for those shots.



Joel Murray as Frank and and Tara Lynn Barr as Roxy are onstage at the Alex at the end of a cross country killing spree in "God Bless America" (Darko Entertainment, 2012). He's been targeting people who lack decency. Or are just plain stupid. Or those who make fun of untalented people like the hosts of the "American Superstarz" TV show have been doing. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more views of the Alex as well as shots of the Showcase, Chinese and Music Box from the film. 



The theatre got a part in "Lovelace" (Radius-TWC, 2013), a biopic about porn star Linda Lovelace. In the film we go to the Alex for an invitational screening of "Deep Throat." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four more shots of the Alex from the film.


Street views from the 20s to the present: 

Note: You'll find some photos of the stage end of the building appearing on the backstage page.


c.1925 - An early look into the forecourt from the site Card Cow.  It's one that appears on their Glendale Postcards page.



1920s - A look at the south side of the theatre from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1930 - A view of the theatre's added marquee. The photo appeared with "Special Event for Historic Birthday," a 2017 article by Nestor Castiglione about the theatre's 92nd birthday celebrations that appeared in the Crescenta Valley Weekly. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article.



1939 - A Herman Schultheis photo looking north toward the Alexander. They're running "Naughty But Nice" with Dick Powell and Ann Sheridan. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.


 
1940 - The entrance prior to the S. Charles Lee remodel with the Alex running "The Shop Around The Corner," a January release with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan. Check out that cute boxoffice. The original ticket windows were at the other end of the forecourt, near the entrance doors. The photo is one that appears with the theatre's 1996 application for inclusion on the National Register. It's available on the National Archives website. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating a link to the document. 
 
 

1940 - Another "Shop Around the Corner" photo. This one is on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection.


 
1942 - The theatre post-remodel. It's a photo by Nate Singer on Calisphere from the UCLA S. Charles Lee Papers Collection.
 

1948 - Firemen outside the loading doors on Maryland Ave. battling a stage fire on August 23. Thanks to Mike Hume for getting a shot of the image and cleaning it up. The photo, from the Special Collections Room of the Glendale Public Library, is part of a history display in the theatre's inner lobby.


1948 - A look from above on the occasion of the Alex's grand re-opening after the fire. They took the cleanup as an opportunity to give the theatre a bit of the Skouras look. It was also the theatre's 23rd Anniversary. The photo once appeared on a Glendale Arts Alex Theatre Facebook page. It also appears in the 2006 Arcadia Publishing book "Glendale: 1940 - 2000" by Juliet M. Arroyo. It's available on Amazon. The page with the photo appears in the book's preview on Google Books.



1948 - The night of the reopening after the crowd was inside. Thanks to Bill Gabel for posting the photo on the Facebook page Vintage Neon Heaven. It has also been seen on the Vintage Los Angeles page from Brian Michael McCray.



1950 - The crowd is lined up for "Summer Stock." It's a photo from the Glendale Arts collection. 



1950s - A great 50s postcard view looking north on Brand Blvd. with the Alex on the right. It was a post of Viewliner on Photobucket but seems to have vanished from that platform. It also appears on Noirish Los Angeles contributor Beaudry's Noirish post #19327 and on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



1955 - A look north on Brand. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the photo on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



 
1955 - A shot featuring two Pacific Electric Red Cars. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for sharing the photo from his collection on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. He credits the image to Interurban Films.
 

1955 - "Out of Service" It's a June 18 photo and within hours the service on Brand Blvd. will end. Thanks to Ralph Cantos for sharing this photo from his collection on the Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society website. Note the fine view we get of the ziggurat above the theatre's entrance.


1958 - Thanks to Jason Rosenthal for finding this Christmas view for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.


 
c.1961 - The Alex during the run of "Ben Hur." The 70mm roadshow engagement had been at the Egyptian. Thanks to Ginny Ulrich for posting the photo on the page for the non-public Facebook group Mid Century Modern Los Angeles.



c.1963 - A smoggy look north on Brand from Broadway. The Alex spire is down there on the right. Thanks to Alex Rojas for posting the photo on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



late 1960s - Thanks to Richard Wojcik for this view up Brand toward the Alex. It was a post on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles. Chad Rogers notes that it's a 1966 Continental in the center of the image.



1969/70 - "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" at the Alex. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.


 
1973 - A look at the Alex running "Jeremiah Johnson." The photo is part of Beaudry's Noirish Los Angeles post #19325.



1979 - The opening day of "Star Trek." It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. It's also been seen on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



1979 - A wider look taken during the "Star Trek" run. The photo by an unknown photographer is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Also see another take.



 
1980 - A "Blue Lagoon" shot taken by Meredith Jacobson Marciano. It was included in a post on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
 

1981 - Thanks to the now-vanished American Classic Images website for this shot taken in May when the theatre was playing "Excalibur."


1981 - Thanks to American Classic Images for this fine "All That Jazz" view. 


1985 - A photo by William Reagh from the collection of the California State Library.



1991 - On the center panel of the marquee Mann was advertising their new Exchange 8 complex, now the Look Cinemas. The new theatres a block away had opened in June and they closed the Alex in September. "Soapdish" was a May release, "Another You" was out in July. The photo was submitted with the theatre's 1996 National Register application, available on the National Archives website.



2007 - Looking north on Brand Blvd. Photo: Bill Counter



c.2009 - The top of the spire. Photo: Debra Jane Seltzer - Roadside Architecture



2009 - The top of the spire at night. Thanks to Corey Miller for his photo, one appearing in his "Theatre Signs" album on Flickr. 



2009 - A wonderful night view from Mark Peacock. See his Vintage Theatres & Drive-Ins photo set on Flickr for lots more great work.



2009 - A detail of the neon. Photo: Corey Miller - "Theatre Signs" on Flickr



2009 - A closer look at the "A." Photo: Corey Miller - "Theatre Signs" on Flickr



2012 - Thanks to Alex Rojas for this great photo, a post of his on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



2012 - A marquee shot from Ken McIntyre on the Photos of Los Angeles page.



2012 - A photo by Scott Pitzer appearing on Photos of Los Angeles.



2013 - A look up the spire. Thanks to Alex Rojas for his photo, a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



 
 2014 - Thanks to Franck Bohbot for this photo, one appearing in the Los Angeles Series on his website. Also check out his Cinema Series for lovely views of many other California theatres.
 

2014 - Thanks to Glendale Arts for sharing this photo by Tommy Ewasko.


2014 - A neon detail by Tommy Ewasko that appeared on the "Alex 90 Illuminate" crowdfunding appeal for tower restoration funds on the site Rockethub



2015 - A shot from across Brand. Thanks to Scott Hutchinson for the photo, one in a set of eighteen Glendale photos in a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles



2017 - Thanks to John Hough for this photo, one of many terrific views on the page about the Alex on OrnateTheatres.com, the site John does with Mark Mulhall.



2017 - Thanks to Jonathan Raines for this signage detail. It was a post on the LAHTF Facebook page.



2018 - 93rd birthday time at the Alex. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography



2019 - Looking south from atop the marquee. Photo: Bill Counter



2019 - The spire as seen from on top of the marquee. Photo: Bill Counter



2020 - "Stay safe and take care of each other!" Closed in March due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Thanks to Alex Rojas for his photo.  
 
 
 
2021 - Another view by Alex Rojas. Thanks!  
 
 

2021 - End of an era. October 29 was the last day of operation of the Alex by Glendale Arts. Thanks to Maria Sahakian, the theatre's now-former general manager, for the photo she included on a Facebook post. An excerpt from her comments: 
 
"This means... I have to say goodbye to my professional home of 18 years, the iconic landmark in the heart of my hometown... I have to part ways with my long-time work family - my beloved colleagues, my team, our board; our loyal clients, artists, patrons; our generous donors, sponsors, volunteers; and our extended network of collaborators, supporters, and stakeholders... This means that all of our momentum, growth, and the plans we painstakingly developed for the future of the Alex will now sit on the figurative shelf, never to see the light of day...
 
"Here, however, is what I get to take with me to keep forever: My endless admiration and appreciation for my colleagues past and present. Each and every one of their dedication is unsurpassed, perseverance unmatched. Every day through thick and thin, they elevated the practice of going above and beyond... I should be so lucky to work among a group like this ever again...."


The boxoffice area:


The look of the entrance area is a result of the S. Charles Lee remodel of 1940. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007



A closer look at the boxoffice. Thanks to Debra Jane Seltzer for her many photos of the Alex on the California Movie Theatres page 5 of her site Roadside Architecture.



A wider look at the terrazzo. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018 



The side of the boxoffice. Photo: Debra Jane Seltzer - Roadside Architecture  



The boxoffice at night. Thanks to Bud Care for his 2010 photo on Flickr.


 
Another view of the illuminated surround. Thanks to Brian T. Meacham for his 2007 photo on Flickr



A terrazzo detail. Photo: Debra Jane Seltzer - Roadside Architecture



The north display cases. Photo: Debra Jane Seltzer - Roadside Architecture



The south side of the ticket lobby. The photo by Stephanie Klavens appeared with "America's Vanishing Historic Movie Theatres," a July 2014 Behold/Slate article by David Rosenberg that profiles various theatres across the country. The Palace and the Alex are those featured from the Los Angeles area.



The vista out to Brand Blvd. Photo: Mike Hume - Historic Theatre Photography - 2018

The Alex staff when the theatre was under Glendale Arts management had been extremely generous in devoting time for our exploration of the theatre. Thanks to managing director Maria Sahakian, production manager / stage supervisor Rafael Posada, and master electrician Jazzy Birdsong. 

More information: See the Alex Cinema Treasures page for lots of history. The Cinema Tour page on the Alex has some photos of the exterior by Scott Neff. The Past Virtual Events page on the website of the Glendale Historical Society has a one hour video tour and Q and A about the Alex.

Mike Hume has a lovely page about the Alex on his Historic Theatre Photography site. The application for the Alex's inclusion on the National Register is available on the National Archives website. Thanks to Mike for locating it.

The L.A. Times went on a Vintage Movie Palaces tour with members of the League of Historic American Theatres in 2006. The gallery of twenty four photos by Annie Wells includes the Alex.

Also see the Wikipedia article on the Alex Theatre. Many Alex Theatre photos can be seen on Flickr.

Maggie Valentine's Yale University Press book "The Show Starts on the Sidewalk" offers a nice history of the movie palace with lots of references to various historic Los Angeles theatres, especially the work of S. Charles Lee. There's a preview on Google Books

 
Floorplans from PMSM Architects for the 2013 expansion project:
 
 
The basement plan. 
 
 

The stage plan. It's 8' below street level.
 
 

The street level plan.
 
 

The balcony lobby and seating in the lower section of the balcony. 
 
 

The booth and top of the balcony. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the plans.


The article about the project from the February 7, 1924 issue of the Glendale Evening News:


The T.D. & L. Theatre mentioned in the article, a block south of the Alex, was earlier known as the Palace Grand. See that page for more discussion of the absorption of the T.D. & L. circuit into West Coast Theatres. The Southwest Theatres name used in this article didn't stick around long. Soon it was West Coast-Langley. See the Fox West Coast History page for more about that circuit. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article. The issue is on Internet Archive with the article appearing on pages one and three.

The Alex Theatre pages: back to top - history + street views | forecourt | lobby areas | auditorium | booth + attic | backstage |

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