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San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

320 S. Mission Dr. San Gabriel, CA 91776 | map |


Opened: March 5, 1927 as the Mission Play House. It was a venue designed for John Stephen McGroarty's elaborate stage show about the founding of the California Missions. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

Phone: 626-308-2865  Website: www.missionplayhouse.org | history | photo gallery |

Architects: Arthur Burnett Benton and William J. Dodd. The theatre's elaborate interior features tapestries donated by the King of Spain and decoration inspired by Aztec and American Indian designs. The chandeliers are said to replicate the look of lanterns used on Spanish galleons. The cornerstone has a 1922 date on it and calls it the Mission Play Theatre. In the 1925 through 1932 city directories it's listed as the San Gabriel Theatre at W. Mission Dr. corner W. Angeleno Ave.

Joe Vogel comments on Cinema Treasures: "Arthur Burnett Benton drew the original plans for this Mission Playhouse in 1921, and the cornerstone was laid in 1923, but the progress of construction was slow and the building was not completed until 1927, when it opened on March 5. I’ve come across several sources (a scholarly tome by William Deverell, published by the University of California, for one) claiming that, by 1926, Benton had become too ill (he died in 1927) to complete the project, and it was taken over by William J. Dodd and the firm Dodd & Richards (architects of the Kinema Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, later to become the Fox Criterion.) Dodd is said to have substantially altered the design, so he should probably be credited along with Benton as the architect. Dodd & Richards also designed a 1929 addition to the playhouse, a project that added a curio shop and exhibition gallery."

The theatre was designed with dressing room space to accommodate a cast of 150. The play didn't start with this building. The Los Angeles Public Library has a 1912 photo of an earlier auditorium for the company on a site across from the San Gabriel Mission.

Seating: 1,387 - mostly on the main floor. There is a row of boxes along either side of the main floor as well as a shallow balcony with five rows of seats.

After 3,198 performances the depression and an attempt to take the show to Broadway forced the group into bankruptcy at the end of 1932. They lost the theatre to foreclosure.

It was a film house for more than a decade following the foreclosure. In 1937 it's listed as the Mission Playhouse at the current address. During World War II the dressing rooms were used as apartments. In August 1945 voters approved a measure to buy the theatre and it was renamed the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium.

Part of the facade tumbled and one of the bell towers collapsed into a storage room adjacent to the lobby during the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake. The house reopened in February 1988. It was renamed the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse by the city in 2007.

Organ: The original organ was a 2 manual 21 rank Aeolian. The 3 manual 17 rank Wurlitzer currently in the theatre was donated in 1968 and got a restoration in 2009. It was originally installed in the Albee Theatre, Brooklyn. It's on a lift at the center of the pit.

Status: Alive and well as a performing arts center owned by the city of San Gabriel.  Tours are available for groups of 5 or more. Details are on the Playhouse website's Playhouse Tour page.

Stage Specifications:
Proscenium width: 53'10"
Proscenium height: 29'7" (at highest point)
Stage depth: 48'1"
Apron depth: 6'3"
Center line to SR: 46'1"
Center line to SL: 46'1"
Floor: black tempered masonite.
Grid height: 62'10"
Counterweight system: 40 sets operated at stage level stage right
Arbor capacity: 1000 lbs.
Batten length: 52' with 52' of travel
Flyfloors/Pinrails: 20'9" from deck, stage left and stage right
Loading bridge: use flyfloor
Orchestra pit: capacity about 20, no lift
Loading: door upstage center. No dock.
Wardrobe: SR 2nd floor, no elevator
Dressing rooms: 2 star rooms, 2 ensemble rooms, 1 chorus room at stage level SL, 1 chorus room and 5 ensemble rooms on 2nd floor SL.

The lobby:


A 2002 look toward the house left side of the lobby by Betty Sword. It's in the collection of Cezar Del Valle, a Brooklyn-based theatre historian with a serious interest in Los Angeles Theatres. For interesting material he's discovered lately check out his Theatre Talks blog.



A wider lobby view. Thanks to Candi Nash for the photo, one in a set of fourteen posted in 2017 on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.



A view of the house right side of the lobby. Thanks to Ron Lim Photography for the photo. It's one of 20 great photos on Ron's 2011 Mission Playhouse page.



A look down toward the entrance doors. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017



The lobby from the house left end of the upper level. It's a photo that appears on the theatre's Playhouse Tour page.


The auditorium: 


The crossaisle behind the main floor seating. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018 



A peek in from house right. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



A look down the house right aisle. Photo: Ron Lim Photography - 2011



A ceiling detail. Thanks to Mike Hume for his 2017 photo. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for tech data and hundreds of terrific photos of the theatres he's explored. And don't miss his page on the Mission Playhouse.



The auditorium as seen from the house mix position. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

 

A proscenium view from half way down. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



The ornament at the center of the proscenium. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A house left organ grille detail. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017


 
The house left boxes. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Behind the boxes: the house left side aisle. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017


 
A look down the house left boxes. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017



A view along the balcony from house right. It's a photo from the Mission Playhouse website's About page.



A look to the stage from the balcony house right. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



The front of the auditorium from the balcony. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017


 
A look at the asbestos curtain. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2018. Thanks, Michelle!



On the far left side of the balcony. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017



A house left wall detail from the balcony. Photo: Ron Lim Photography - 2011



A look across to the house right wall. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017



A detail of the house right wall back near the balcony. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A look down the house right wall from the balcony. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for her 2017 photo.



A house right wall detail. That's the Aztec-inspired organ grille on the left. Photo: Ron Lim Photography - 2011



The house right organ grille. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



Several of the chandeliers. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for her 2017 photo.



The organ in action. It's a c.2017 photo that once appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.

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



The rear of the auditorium from house right. Photo: Ron Lim Photography - 2011



A look to the rear from house left. Photo: Candi Nash - SoCal Historic Architecture - 2017


Backstage:


Looking onto the stage.The upstage stairs get you to a dance studio, other support spaces including a costume shop, and a flyfloor. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017



A view into the house from centerstage. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for this 2017 look into the house from upstage left. It appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page with seven other views.



The vista from upstage left. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page -  2017 
 


A look across to stage right. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page -  2017



Another view to stage right. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2017. Thanks, Wendell! 



The panoramic view from upstage right. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page -  2017



The T-wall and lockrail from downstage right. Photo: Mike Hume - 2017


 
Looking upstage. The ramp at left leads to the loading doors upstage center. Thanks to John Hough for his 2017 photo. See many more of his fine shots on the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse page of OrnateTheatres.com, the site he does with Mark Mulhall.



Another look across to stage left. The stairs get you to several levels of dressing rooms as well as a flyfloor. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



A view to the grid. At the bottom of the image that's the pinrail on the stage left flyfloor. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017 



In the trap room. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017



Another trap room view The door at the left gets you to the organ lift. Photo: John Hough - Ornate Theatres - 2017. Thanks, John!



Another trap room view looking downstage toward stage left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



The dance studio on the 2nd floor offstage right. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



One of the many dressing rooms upstairs stage left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Another dressing room stage left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


In the attic: 


The storage room above the lobby. The white wall faces the street. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Another attic storage room view. Going through the arches you're pointed toward the stage. Off to the right is a staircase leading down to a landing on the house right balcony stairs. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Seat bottoms with original 1925 upholstery. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Looking into the attic above the auditorium. We're looking toward the stage end of the building. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018



Another attic view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018


More exterior views:


1926 - A construction view from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



March 5, 1927 - The crowd for opening night. It's an L.A. Times photo on the Calisphere from the UCLA's Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives. At the top of the Calisphere page see other photos of various performers.



1927 - A Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection. This is one in a set of four Mott photos they have, all catalogued as set # 001386272.



1927 - A corner view. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library



1927 - A facade detail. Photo: Mott Studios - California State Library



c.1928 - A postcard in the California State Library collection.



1928 - A California historical Society photo in the collection of the USC Digital Library. At the left there's a poster for the "Mission Play." 



late 1920s? - A fine view from the Los Angeles Public Library showing the auto park.



1930 - A photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



early 1930s - A facade view from the Los Angeles Public Library collection



1937 - The theatre running "The Prince and the Pauper" with Errol Flynn and Claude Rains." It's a Herman Schultheis photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1940 - Another view of the Playhouse in its film exhibition period. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

Also in the LAPL collection: 1912 interior view - an earlier Playhouse auditorium | Ernest Douglas at the organ - 1928 | 1930 exterior - with performers in front | an undated side view | cast in front - undated | another cast shot | undated facade view - no signage | another early facade view | yet another | 1938 facade view - Burton O. Bert photo | c.1937 view with parade - Herman Schultheis | The Library also has many views of performers on stage if you search "Mission Playhouse."



2009 - Thanks to Matthew Cohen for this facade view on Flickr.



2012 - A Google Maps view from the west.



2017 - Thanks to Candi Nash for this facade view, one in a set of fourteen photos posted on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page.



2017 - A lovely facade view at dusk that appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page 



2018 - The fountain and an auxiliary building to the east. Photo: Bill Counter   



2018 - Looking east in the entrance arcade. Photo: Bill Counter 



2018 - A set of entrance doors. Photo: Bill Counter 



2018 - The view west toward the boxoffice windows . Photo: Bill Counter



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



2018 - Around to the stagehouse. Photo: Bill Counter 



2018 - The stagehouse from the east. Photo: Bill Counter 



2018 - Another look along the east side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter



2018 - A last shot from across the street. Photo: Bill Counter

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Mission Playhouse for many photos and comments. Don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's 2015 Avoiding Regret photo essay "San Gabriel Mission Playhouse."

See the fine selection of photos by John Hough on the Playhouse page of OrnateTheatres.com, the site he does with Mark Mulhall. Mike Hume has a terrific page about the theatre on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

The Huntington Library has a nice 1915 photo of an illuminated roof sign in downtown Los Angeles advertising the San Gabriel Mission Play.

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