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Highland Theatre

 5604 N. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90042 | map |

The News: The family that built the theatre has put it up for sale. The current operator's master lease on the building expires in February 2023, allowing a new owner great flexibility to determine future uses. It was a 99 year deal signed by West Coast Theatres in 1924 that has been re-assigned a number of times. Barry Lank broke the news in "Highland Park's last remaining movie house goes up for sale," his August 18 article for The Eastsider. Thanks to Jason Vega and Sandi Hemmerlein for spotting the story. 

Lank notes that while the exterior was landmarked in 1991, the interior use could be changed. In addition to the theatre there are 4 retail spaces and long-vacant 2nd floor apartments. The theatre's balcony and stage areas are currently unused. Since 1983 it's been a triplex using only the main floor. Orbell Ovaness of Ovaness-Rostamian Group at Marcus and Millichap is one of the brokers handling the property. See the Loopnet listing for more details. 


Opened: March 5, 1925 with a personal appearance from Norma Shearer. The building was constructed for Clyde M. Church, a local banker. This stretch of Figueroa was originally called Pasadena Ave. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

Early Highland Park was thriving with a vibrant theatrical scene that at one time or another supported eight different theatres. The other nearby venues included the Arroyo Theatre (1928-1957) at 3236 N. Figueroa, the Franklin Theatre (1936-1952) at 5502 N. Figueroa, the Highland Park Theatre (c.1913-1914) at 5630 N. Figueroa, the Sunbeam Theatre (1914-1925) at 5722 N. Figueroa, the Park Theatre (1936-1963) at 5825 N. Figueroa, the Dayton Theatre (c.1913-1929) at 509 W. Avenue 28, and the York Theatre (1923-present) at 4949 York Blvd.

Phone: 323-256-6383     Website: www.highlandtheatres.com


The operator of the theatre in 1925 was West Coast Theatres, the company that became Fox West Coast in 1929. This opening night program is in the collection of the family owning the building, who brought it to display at the November 2015 Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation tour. Thanks to Stephen Russo for the photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.

Architect: Lewis A. Smith, who also did the Rialto in South Pasadena, the Beverly in Beverly Hills, the Vista Theatre, as well as a number of other projects for West Coast Theatres. The Highland had a Moorish interior and much of the decor in the balcony area remains intact.

Seating: Originally 1,432 seats as a single screen theatre.
 

A ticket to a cartoon show in 1944. Buy a War Bond, get a ticket for your kid. Thanks to John Conning for sharing this in a post on the Theatre Architecture Facebook page.

The Highland was operated for years by Fox West Coast Theatres. After they gave it up it had a run as a porno theatre. Family films came back in 1975 under operator Arman Akarakian. In 1983 it was triplexed with 3 theatres on the main floor. The balcony is is walled off and unused, as is backstage. It was designated as a cultural historic monument by the City of Los Angeles in 1991.

Status: The neighborhood went through some rough decades but it's now booming. The theatre prospers as a triplex by running a friendly, efficient operation and offering bargain prices.

In 2022 the building was placed on the market. The tail end of the 99 year lease held by the current operator expires in February 2023. See the news at the top of the page.


The Highland in the Movies:


The Highland has never been much of a movie star but we see the marquee as John C. Reilly does a nighttime drive-by in "Cyrus" (Fox Searchlight, 2010). The film, directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, also features Marissa Tomei and Jonah Hill. Thanks to Films In Films for the screenshot.

We get a look at the Highland in "Lights Out" (New Line/Warner Bros., 2016). It's a story about a supernatural being that threatens a family when (are you ready?) the lights go out. The film, directed by David F. Sandberg, stars Teresa Palmer and Gabriel Bateman. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting this one.



We spend a lot of time in Highland Park with Amanda Seyfried and Shirley MacLaine in Mark Pellington's "The Last Word" (Bleeker Street Media, 2017). The neighborhood is standing in for a California town called Bristol. Amanda's an obituary writer at the local paper, the Bristol Gazette, and Shirley hires her to write her obit -- only she realizes that she needs to change her life to get the writeup she wants. See the Theatres in Movies post for several more shots.


The lobby: 


 
A vintage look at the Highland's ladies lounge from the Highland Park Indepent Film Festival Facebook page. It has the look of a photo used for a carpet ad in a trade magazine.
 

A look down the bar. Thanks to Michelle M. for sharing her 2020 photo on Yelp.



The lobby of the Highland. It's a 2015 photo by Ivan A. appearing on Yelp.
 
 

An inner lobby view. Photo: Michelle M. on Yelp - 2020


On the main floor:  
 

A look to the screen of one of the three main floor auditoria in 2019 from Dora H. on Yelp. The balcony is unused.
 

A 2018 peek in one of the houses from Kari A. on Yelp.



Yelp contributor Tom P.'s 2015 look back toward the booth of one of the three main floor theatres.



A look toward the rear of one of the houses taken by Gina Christine during the 2012 NELA Art Short Film Series. Note some decorative plaster remaining on the balcony rail. The photo also appeared as part of  "Northeast L.A. Filmmakers Take a Bow,"  a story on the blog The Eastsider.



Another busy night. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for her 2015 photo, one of many appearing with her Avoiding Regret photo essay "Highland Theatre's Hidden History."


Up to the balcony: 


Heading up the stairs to the long unused balcony. Thanks to Nicole Loretta for this photo and the others appearing here. You can view the full set of seventeen photos of her adventure on the LAHTF Facebook page. The photos were taken at the November 2015 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building.

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation is the primary organization promoting preservation of historic theatres in the L.A. area. The group sponsors events, works with building owners on preservation issues and hosts tours. www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official Facebook page



Pegasus in plaster, evidently with gold leaf underneath the paint we see. It's a Stephen Russo photo taken on the stairs up to the balcony that appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.



 A balcony lobby view from ace theatre photographer Wendell Benedetti.  The ceiling decor isn't original -- it appears to be from a 40s Fox West Coast Skouras-style renovation. That wall at the end was added, sealing off a staircase. The balcony hasn't been used since the theatre was triplexed -- all three houses are on the main floor. Thanks to Wendell for this and the rest of his 2015 photos appearing on this page. A set of seven can be seen on the LAHTF Facebook page.



A view down from house right. Note the AC ducting for the theatres below -- and the walled-off proscenium opening Photo: Stephen Russo - 2015



One of the sidewall murals in front of the balcony rail. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015 



A house right side exit door. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015



A detail of a crest above an exit door. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015  



The house right wall up near the ceiling.  Photo: Nicole Loretta - 2015



A view down from the top. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015



A look across from the house left end of the crossaisle. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015



A composite view done in 2015 by Wendell Benedetti imagining what the theatre might have looked like prior to triplexing. He's borrowed some details from the Rialto in South Pasadena, a similarly sized house designed by the same architect, Lewis A. Smith. The photo appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.  Thanks, Wendell!  



A look back down the stairs to the balcony lobby. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - 2015


Backstage:

 
Looking up at the cove above the proscenium. On the left is the wall enclosing the unused balcony. On the right that's part of the asbestos curtain. Photo: Nicole Loretta - 2015



A view toward the Armstrong - Power wire guide counterweight system stage right. Thanks to Louis Villaescus for this and his other 2015 photos appearing here.



A bit of cleanup stage right by LAHTF volunteers before the 2015 "all-about" tour. It's a photo that once appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page



Looking along the lockrail from upstage. Photo: Louis Villaescus - 2015 


 
A ropelock detail. Photo: Louis Villaescus - 2015



The index striplight. Photo: Wendell Benedetti- 2015



Several of the arbors. Photo: Louis Villaescus - 2015



The dimmerboard stage right. Photo: Wendell Benedetti- 2015



Another dimmerboard view. This one's from the Highland Park Independent Film Festival Facebook page. 



A look along the back wall as LAHTF volunteers move surplus projection equipment. On the right note the drywalled area enclosing the front end of the downstairs theatres. It's a 2015 photo that appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.


 
The dressing room corridor underneath the stage. Photo: Nicole Loretta - 2015 



Another stage basement view. Photo: Nicole Loretta - 2015 


 
Coming back up to upstage right. Photo: Nicole Loretta - 2015. Thanks, Nicole! 

More exterior views: 

c.1952 - A Julius Shulman photo in the collection of the Getty Research Institute. Thanks to Bill Gabel for locating it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 


1955 - A newspaper photo looking south on Figueroa with the Highland Theatre on the left. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the shot for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



1962 - A photo from the Highland Park Independent Film Festival. It appeared with "Highland Theatre celebrates 90 years of movie-going in Highland Park," a 2015 article by Nathan Solis on the blog The Eastsider.



1982 - Looking south along Figueroa. Thanks to the vanished American Classic Images website for the photo.



1982 - Thanks to American Classic Images for this shot.



1984 - A June post-triplexing shot from American Classic Images. Note that interesting open-air pavilion on the 3rd floor, later removed.



2002 - A shot from the now-vanished website LA OK.



c.2005 - A look from above. Thanks to Claudia Mullins for finding the photo.



c.2008 - A photo shared by Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



2008 - The theatre from the north. Photo: Ken McIntyre



2008 - From across the street. Photo: Ken McIntyre - Photos of Los Angeles



2008 - A sidewall view. Photo: Ken McIntyre - Photos of Los Angeles
 


2010 - A look across toward the roof sign. It's a photo from Emilio H. on Yelp.
 


2010 - Another look at the roof sign. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - A corner view of the building. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - An entrance detail. Photo: Bill Counter 



2011 - The sign on May 18, the evening of its relighting. Each of the 502 bulbs on the sign was sponsored by an individual as a community project. Thanks to Escott O. Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for his photo. It's one of nineteen in the "Highland Theatre Sign Lighting Ceremony" album on his Old Sign Art Facebook page.



2012 - A photo located by Cinema Treasures contributor Granola for the site's page about the Highland Theatre.



2015 - A shot appearing on Yelp.



2018 - A look down the south wall. Photo: Bill Counter 



2018 - The building from the rear. Photo: Bill Counter



2018 - A view south toward the boxoffice. Photo: Bill Counter



2018 - The sign got an upgrade. The story "Highland Theatre rooftop sign Goes LED" has additional photos. It's on page six of the April 2018 issue of LA Art News, available on Issuu. The publication also has a Facebook page with news about Highland Park art events. In this January 2018 shot by Tomoko it's (left to right) Edward de la Fuente, Carl Haney and John Peacock. Thanks to Los Angeles Magazine's Chris Nichols for spotting the story and sending along the photo.

The article notes: "To get onto the theatre roof, you need access a secret door to go through a small, dark crawl space, walk across a curved roof, then climb up on the sign, which dates back to the 1920s. The rooftop sign was rewired and relit in 2011 as part of Relighting the Historic Signs of Figueroa Street project—a community-funded effort that restored both the theatre sign and the rooftop Manning’s Coffee Store sign on Las Cazuelas’s roof. Since 2014, local area man Carl Haney and his crew of guys not afraid of heights have been replacing bulbs on the theatre sign. Traditionally incandescent, it was determined that LED was acceptable for historic signage by city preservation officials. There was enough money in the original fund to purchase the 504 LEDs (plus a bunch extra for future use). The bulb swap-outs started in January and are now complete." 
 
 

2022 - An April photo appearing with the theatre's listing on Loopnet

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Highland for lots of historic data and tales by former and current moviegoers. Also see the site's list of other theatre projects by L.A. Smith. The Cinema Tour page has several nice 2001 exterior photos by Bob Meza.

Check out Edward Rivera's delightful 5 minute slide show "20 Theatres of Northeast Los Angeles," a 2011 post on the blog Arroyo Seco Journal. Of the twenty theatres he has photos of, the Highland is the only one still operating. Also on the blog see two additional 2011 posts: "Relighting the Highland" and "Highland Theatre Sign Relighting."

Check out Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret photo essay "Highland Theatre's Hidden History" for many photos and tales of her adventures at the 2015 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building.

See the 2011 Highland Park Lights story about the project to "Help Re-Light the Historic Signs of Figueroa Street." Highland Park Patch also had a story about the relighting. Matt Lambros has a 1 minute +  2017 video tour of the balcony on his After the Final Curtain Facebook page.

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