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State Theatre: history

703 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90014  | map |

More State Theatre pages: vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | projection booth | backstage | basement cafeteria |

The News: It became a church again in June 2021. The church group that had been using the theatre until January 2018 is back as a tenant. The plans of the owners to make the theatre usable for theatrical presentations went nowhere -- except for a couple events it sat vacant for two and a half years. The theatre's 100th birthday will be in November 2021. 


Opened: November 12, 1921 as Loew's State. This view of  the theatre rising in April 1921 is a Los Angeles Public Library photo. The building is on a 160 x 169 foot lot. The location at 7th and Broadway was at the time the busiest intersection downtown. In addition to the Broadway entrance, until 1936 the theatre also used an entrance at 306 W. 7th St.

Wonderfully successful as a vaudeville/movie house, the theatre later featured elaborate stage shows by Fanchon and Marco with leading performers. Judy Garland sang here when she was still one of the Gumm Sisters. Through at least the late 30s there was a cafeteria in the basement with Moorish themed decor. The office building that the theatre is part of is now known as the United Building.



The opening attraction was Metro's "A Trip To Paradise," an adaptation of the stage play "Liliom." Marcus Loew was in attendance with a bevy of stars. Nat Holt was the first manager. He was formerly at the Hippodrome on Main St. Thanks to the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for the opening day ad, a post on the LAHTF Facebook page.

The State Theatre is now owned by the Delijani family's Broadway Theatre Group with Ed Baney as General Manager. BTG also owns the Los Angeles, Palace and Tower theatres. The State closed in 1997 and in 1998 was leased out to a church. After their lease was up in October 2017 they stayed on for a while on a month-to-month deal, leaving in January 2018. The Universal Church came begging and got back in with a new lease in June 2021.

Website: www.statetheatre.la

Architects: Charles Peter Weeks and William Day of the San Francisco based firm Weeks & Day designed the theatre and the striking red brick and terracotta clad twelve story office building. It's the largest brick-clad building in downtown Los Angeles. The firm designed many other theatres including the Fox theatres in Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento. Associated with them in the design was the firm of the Reid Brothers, well known for their many designs of theatres and other commercial buildings. They were also based in San Francisco.

The theatre was built as the west coast showcase for the product of the Loew's subsidiary Metro Pictures which later evolved into MGM. Loew didn't operate the theatre himself. That was initially contracted out to the San Francisco based theatre operators Ackerman and Harris, dubbed Loew's "west coast representatives." Note their names on the construction signage.

Ackerman and Harris had previously worked with Loew in San Francisco. They ran Loew's Hipppodrome for him, a venue later known as the Union Square Theatre. In 1922 when Loew built the Warfield on Market St. in San Francisco Ackerman and Harris ran that for him as well. The State Theatre in Long Beach was also called Loew's State in the early 20s. Ackerman and Harris also ran that one for Loew.

Earlier California theatres under the Loew banner had included some remnants of the Sullivan and Considine vaudeville circuit that Loew picked up in 1913 when that circuit fell apart following the death of one of the partners. San Francisco's Empress Theatre (later known as the St. Francis) was the Loew's Empress from 1913 to 1916. The Empress on Spring St. in Los Angeles was also called Loew's Empress during the same period. It ended up being called the Capitol.  



Harris, Loew and Ackerman in a photo from the Exhibitors Trade Review.

The December 3, 1921 issue of Exhibitors Trade Review discussed the opening in their article "New House Has a Mammoth Screen":

"The new Loew State Theatre, which opened in Los Angeles Nov. 12 has a screen 24 by 44 1/2 feet. It is twice the size of any other screen in use in that city and pictures are furnished for it by what is said to be the largest projection booth in the world. The new theatre is of Spanish renaissance architecture, in keeping with a California style. It is combined with a Moorish effect, which gives a gorgeous interior decoration. Every seat in the house gives a broadside view of the stage. 

"The ventilating system provides a mushroom distributor under each seat. A vacant seat call designed by Manager Holt and W. F. Scott, the house stage director, and which is known as the Holtscott system, has been installed. The stage curtain weights 1100 lb., and is made of velour. Special scene shifting apparatus makes it possible by means of pulleys to whisk the medallions from the stage floor in a few seconds. The stage can be changed from three to fifty feet in size instantly. A six-manual Moller organ, costing $50,000, and an orchestra leader with twenty-five pieces furnishes the music. 

"The theatre was christened by Viola Dana with a bottle of real champagne broken over the facade of the building on the the opening night. Of the 2,800 seats, one thousand were sold to the public at a box office sale which started Thursday, Nov. 10, at 10 o’clock and closed at noon the same day. Stars who participated were Buster Keaton, Ora Carew, T. Roy Barnes, Wanda Hawley, George Beban, Herbert Rawlinson, Bebe Daniels and Wallie Reid. Fred Niblo was master of ceremonies and Bert Lytell introduced Mr. Loew. The theatre was a blaze of lights both inside and out. 

"It is the 200th theatre built by Marcus Loew and is the most completely equipped on the coast. It is housed in a twelve-story building costing $2,500,000. The theatre proper cost $1,500,000. It was built by Woods Brothers [sic], Weeks and Day, and is under the direction of Ackerman and Harris, Western managers for Loew in San Francisco. Manager Nat Holt was formerly in charge of the Hippodrome."

Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding the article and posting it on his Theatre Talks blog. The full article is also available as a PDF thanks to Mike Hume.

 
 
An article about the new theatre from the January 21, 1922 Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive. A bit of puffery and a few factual errors: 2,800 seats? A 41 degree projection angle? A 6 manual organ? A pit big enough for a full symphony orchestra?
 
 

Another photo from the 1922 Motion Picture News article.
 
 

The new theatre got a page in a 1922 issue of Architectural Digest survey issue of noteworthy southern California buildings. It's on Google Books from the Stanford Library collection. Several photos of the theatre appeared the July 1923 issue of Architect and Engineer as part of a portfolio of work by Weeks & Day. It's on Internet Archive.

Pipe Organ: Long gone. The December 3,1921 Exhibitors Trade Review article had noted: "A six-manual Moller organ, costing $50,000, and an orchestra leader with twenty-five pieces furnishes the music." Other sources more realistically say the organ was a 3/18 Moller and the cost was $9,000. Later a Style 235 Wurlitzer was in the house. It was stolen in the late 70s. An item in the June 1978 issue of the magazine Console about a group of ATOS members paying a visit to the house when planning their 1979 convention noted: "The group...inspected the Style 235 Wurlitzer at the State and believe it to be complete. There has been a persistent rumor that a hole was knocked in one part of the theatre building and half the organ stolen, about two years ago."

Although pronounced complete at the time, it evidently vanished within the next several months. Earlier, the organ at the Los Angeles had gone missing as well. A September 1978 Console item noted that the gossip was that Mike Ohman, owner of The Great American Wind Machine Pizza Parlor, and also vice chairman of Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society, had both organs. He offered tours of his warehouse for anyone interested. A December 1978 Console item about the missing Los Angeles Theatre organ quoted an employee there as saying that the gang that took the Los Angeles organ "was the same bunch that took pipes out of another theatre." Thanks to Mike Hume for digging through the Console issues.  

Seating: 2,404 at one time. Now it's 2,119. It has the largest capacity of all the Broadway theatres. Several trade magazine articles gave the initial capacity as 2,800.

The theatre underwent many policy changes over the years regarding the stage portion of the programs. The initial format was a feature, some orchestral numbers, and five acts of vaudeville. By September 1922 they decided that beginning with the run of "The Prisoner of Zenda" that vaudeville was too low class for the kind of operation they desired: 
 

 
The impression one gets reading the text is that the house would be on a films-only policy. But at the bottom it was noted there would still be prologues and "other unusual features." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article. 
 
 

A 1923 view north on Broadway. The theatre is running "The Meanest Man in the World." It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. Here they've already added a readerboard up on the second floor. The marquee would soon get more elaborate as well.

In 1924 Marcus Loew engineered the merger of Metro with the Goldwyn Co. (which Sam Goldwyn had departed from in a 1922 power struggle) and the Louis B. Mayer group -- resulting in Metro-Goldwyn Pictures. By 1925, Mayer's name was also part of the company name, thus becoming MGM. MGM's prestige product was well suited to the type of theatres operated by the Loew's Corporation. At its height in the late 1920s the circuit totaled only about 200 theatres but they were typically lavish first runs in major cities. Most of the Loew houses were on the east coast.

West Coast gets the management contract: West Coast Theatres took over management of Loew's State in 1925. They also ended up with the Warfield in San Francisco. At the time, these were the only west coast houses for the Loew circuit. 
 
 

A 1925 ad for Loew's State after a change of management. This ad for "The Unholy Man" with Lon Chaney notes: "direction West Coast Theatres, Inc." In addition to the film, we got the Fanchon and Marco "Orchids Idea." From 1925 until 1935 (with a few breaks) Fanchon and Marco were responsible for the elaborate prologues that accompanied the features.

These "Ideas" frequently were staged at a suburban house like the Manchester, got their debut at Loew's State, and then toured the West Coast Theatres circuit. The chain would become Fox West Coast when William Fox got a controlling interest in 1929.


 
"New $100,000 refrigeration plant now in operation." It's a 1927 ad from "Now," the West Coast Theatres promo magazine. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for locating this.
 

"Stage Shows Out." This article about the change of policy appeared in the L.A. Times on October 3, 1932. The Fanchon and Marco stage shows were discontinued and the State went to a film-only policy beginning on October 6 with "Grand Hotel." The F&M shows came back downtown later in October 1932 but it it wasn't at the State but at the newly reopened United Artists. That policy there didn't last long and the live shows later resumed at the State, running until the mid-1930s.  
 

 
An item appearing in the Times on December 13, 1941. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this and the ad below for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page that included other ads from that day's issue. The State put up "Open All Night" neon during the war years.
 
 

The theatre's ad in the Times on December 13, 1941.

Consent decree divorcement: In late 1949 Fox West Coast turned the operation of Loew's State over to United Artists Theatre Circuit as part of the 1948 Supreme Court consent decree ruling mandating separation of the studios from their theatre chains. Fox and its predecessor company, West Coast Theatres, had operated the State since 1925 under contract from Loews, Inc., the parent company of MGM. In addition to a requirement that the circuit shrink its size by about 50% over the next few years, they were required to spin off certain key theatres to improve the competitive situation downtown, in Hollywood, and in certain other areas. 


A remodel was announced in this November 6, 1949 L.A. Times item. They make it sound like MGM will be taking over the operation.



This item in the November 9, 1949 Boxoffice issue gave no hint that a transfer was in the works.



An item in the November 12, 1949 Boxoffice has the writer a bit confused about who was taking over the theatre. It was to be United Artists Theatre Circuit, not Loew's. This transfer does, of course, raise the question of when Loew's ceased to have any involvement with the property. Fox had been operating it for Loew's under contract. Perhaps Loew's got out of their master lease when the operation was transferred to UATC, even though their name continued to be used. 



Finally we get a mention of which circuit is taking over. This November 27, 1949 L.A. Times story notes the transfer from Fox West Coast of the State, the Egyptian and the California in Pomona (renamed the United Artists) to the newly energized United Artists Theatre Circuit, previously just a holding company that didn't actually operate any theatres. By then this had become a company separate from the UA film production and distribution operation. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding these 1949 items.

The additional theatres DeCicco mentions in the article to get the circuit up to fifteen were twelve theatres that UA had built in the 1927-1932 period that had been managed for decades by Fox. The February 1, 1950 transfer of that bunch was discussed in "Twelve FWC Theatres Under UA Banner," a short article appearing in the February 4 issue of Boxoffice. The theatres included the United Artists downtown, the Four Star, and the United Artists houses in Inglewood, East Los Angeles and Pasadena. The article termed it the "last step in the complete severance of the joint interests of Fox West Coast and United Artists."

The consent decrees revisited: Some provisions of the consent decrees were still affecting the distribution and exhibition business seven decades later. Variety's August 2018 story "DOJ Will Review 70-Year-Old Consent Decrees..." discussed a pending overhaul. The L.A. Times also had a story that month titled "Justice Department to review.." that noted that "Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and MGM...were barred from reentering the theater business without court approval, though others were not. Universal, Columbia and United Artists didn’t own theaters at the time, so they weren’t banned from acquiring them in the future. Paramount Pictures itself was not blocked from owning exhibitors, because it settled its case early."

Deadline's November 2019 story "Justice Department Wants To Terminate Paramount Consent Decrees" noted that the administration would be asking a federal court to terminate the decrees as the exhibition landscape had drastically changed in the era of streaming and multiplexes. Of course, in recent decades there have been many instances of studios owning theatres with no government opposition including Universal having a big stake in Cineplex Odeon, Sony taking over the Loew's circuit (later sold to AMC), Paramount and Warner in a joint venture operating the Mann Theatre chain and Disney operating the El Capitan. Disney, not one of the majors in 1948, was not subject to the ruling but its current status is in doubt after acquiring 20th Century Fox. Netflix and Amazon are not subject to the decrees.

Exhibitors have been wary, especially about the possible return of block booking. Related stories on Deadline included "Exhibitor Stocks Gain..." and "Will Studios Rush To Buy..."  The conclusion in the latter article was "Don't bet on it." Variety's November 2019 story "Justice Department Moves.." also discussed the developments as did the L.A. Times story "Justice Department to throw out..." It became official in 2020. Bret Lang's August story for Variety, "Judge Approves Ending Paramount Antitrust Consent Decrees," noted that prohibitions against block booking and circuit-wide dealing will also be ending, after a two year sunset period. 

The Loew's name comes down: As late as 1953 the UA ads still called the theatre Loew's State. Later it was sometimes listed in UA ads as the United Artists State or as The State. The Loew's name didn't come off the signage until 1955.


 
A renovation proposed in 1955 for the United Building/State Theatre in which the building was to "be re-worked in a process which will give it an aluminum sheathed exterior divided between windows with vertical panels of porcelain enamel." The architects were to be Marion J. Varner & Associates. Fortunately it didn't happen. Thanks to Steven Otto for locating the image in the Examiner Prints Collection of the USC Digital Library.    
 
Metropolitan Theatres takes over:
 

In 1963, the State Theatre lease was acquired by Sherill Corwin's Metropolitan Theatres. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding this January 14 item in Boxoffice. Note the mention that Loew's still owned the building at the time. One by one as the larger circuits left downtown Metropolitan bought buildings and acquired leases. After downtown could no longer support major first-run bookings the State was used for action flicks as well as Spanish language product in its final years.



The State appears in this detail from an ad touting the "premiere presentation" venues for the 1969 release of the 20th Century Fox film "Che!" starring Jack Palance and Omar Sharif. Thanks to Ron Mahan for sharing this from his collection. Those swarms of things around the theatre? Cars on the freeway going to the movie, of course.

Closing: Metropolitan Theatres closed the State in 1997.

Use as a church: In 1998 the State was leased to a church group. The final lease term expired in October 2017 with the church staying on with a month-to-month deal until January 2018. Broadway Theatre Group announced at the time that they would do some renovations and once again make the venue available for theatrical use.

Status: The church group was back as a tenant in June 2021. There hadn't been much action in the two and a half years since they left. The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation held a tour. The L.A. Conservancy had a June 2018 screening of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" as part of their Last Remaining Seats series. And there was a film shoot or two. The church had their "Gran Reinauguracion" on June 27, 2021. 


The State in its first church era. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for the 2013 photo.

 The State Theatre in the Movies:


One of many views of Harold Lloyd and the alley side of the State in "Never Weaken." He has some dazzling scenes up on what looks like an unfinished building in this 1921 Pathe release. Some shots were from 1st and Hill but here we're at 7th and Hill  looking east at the back of the Loew's State building -- then under construction. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for shots of the Pantages / Warner Downtown and the Mason Theatre from the film.

 

Journalist Lee Remick and boyfriend Paul Benedict are driving in midtown Manhattan and they go by the State Theatre in "Hustling" (Lillian Gallo/Filmways, 1975). Nope, not the one in Times Square. He tells her: "Everybody hustles. Some of us just don't get arrested for it." She's doing a story about who benefits financially from prostitution. Also starring are Jill Clayburgh, Alex Rocco and Burt Young. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Tower, Los Angeles and Palace. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting the theatres in the film.


We get a scene in the alley behind the State in James Cameron's "The Terminator" (Orion Pictures, 1984). Amid lots of plasma-like special effects, Michael Biehn plops out of the future, naked, and goes looking for Linda Hamilton. He's been sent to help save her. Arnold is trying to kill her. We get quite a tour of downtown. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot with a sliver of the front of the building as well as several showing the Warner at 7th & Hill. 



We get a look at the State in a big cruise down Broadway during the opening credits of Dennis Hopper's "Colors" (Orion, 1988). We also see the Million Dollar, Palace and Broadway Theatres. It's all downhill after that. The credit sequence can be seen on YouTube.  See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the film.



"Action Jackson" (Lorimar, 1988) with Carl Weathers and Craig T. Nelson is set in Detroit but we get a number of Los Angeles views including the Alexandria Hotel, Cole's P.E. Buffet and this shot of the State. You probably don't want to watch it unless you're obsessed with picking out the L.A. filming locations.



Sade makes a run south on Broadway past the State (running "Hellraiser III") in her 1992 music video "No Ordinary Love." Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting it -- and figuring out where we were. The video is on You Tube.



The State interior was used for scenes supposedly at the Olympia in London in Brian Gibson's "What's Love Got To Do With It" (Touchstone Pictures, 1993), a film about Tina Turner and her abusive husband Ike that stars Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne. The exterior they use for the Olympia was a backlot creation. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots at the State as well as views of the Academy in Inglewood and the Hollywood Playhouse.



The State appears in Emile Ardolino's 1993 made for TV movie of "Gypsy" starring Bette Midler as Mama Rose. Here she's at the State trying to persuade the manager of Weber's Theatre in L.A. to hire the act her kids are in. We get a view of the rigging offstage right. The theatre also doubles as a theatre in New York for an audition sequence. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more State shots from the film as well as views of the Orpheum and the Palace.



"Blankman" (Columbia, 1994) is set in Chicago but various L.A. locations keep creeping in around the edges. Damon Wayans, a self-styled crime fighter, is trying to catch a Chicago bus in front of the State Theatre to reach a crime scene. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another view of the State as well as a shot of the building that was formerly the Liberty Theatre at 3rd and Main and two views of the villain's hangout in the Shrine Expo Hall. 



The State is seen briefly as New York's Bowery Theatre in the 1870s in Walter Hill's "Wild Bill" (United Artists, 1995). The film stars Jeff Bridges as Wild Bill Hickok, Ellen Barkin as Calamity Jane and Keith Carradine as Buffalo Bill. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See more on the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post.



We're supposedly in Hollywood in John Carpenter's "Escape From L.A." (Paramount, 1996) but we get this view of the 7th St. side of the building. They've added some exit doors, a readerboard, and a faux version of the sign that's in the alley north of the Los Angeles Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of Grauman's Chinese and half a dozen lobby shots at the Los Angeles from the film. 



Christian Bale and Brian Dennehy spend a lot of time inside and on the roof of the Palace Theatre in Terrence Malick's "Knight of Cups" (Broad Green Pictures, 2015). Here in one roof shot we get a look south toward the State Theatre building. In addition to many scenes in the Palace, the film also has brief views of the Los Angeles, Warner Downtown and Wiltern theatres. See the post on Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies for more from the film.


Earlier plans:  There were once plans to turn the office building into 155 "bite-sized" condos. In 2008 Eric Richardson wrote on Blogdowntown: "The United Building, better known as the State Theatre Building, could soon become home to 155 live-work condo units." The condo project was not pursued and the spaces upstairs in the United Building continued to be rented out as offices and light manufacturing. 

The Delijanis have announced various other plans over the years to revitalize all four of their theatres and in 2013 applied for liquor licenses and use permits that would have, for operational purposes, designated the four buildings as a single complex. They were asking for permits for possible 24 hour operation (but drinks stopping at 2 am). The various venues could have been operated by the owners themselves or in conjunction with outside operators. The point was to get licensed for whatever combination of uses eventually evolved. The 2013 plans envisioned up to 4 separate uses. The auditorium, lobbies and part of the basement would have been considered one venue with a maximum occupancy of 2,818 people or 2,487 seats. This could have been either with theatre seating or some removed for a dance floor.

Three additional bars and clubs were outlined for the basement.  A basement bar and lounge with a DJ entertainment might have had 202 seats and a 250 square foot dance floor. Another basement bar and lounge was listed as a possibility with 96 seats and a 335 square foot dance floor. There might also have been yet another basement bar with a DJ, 159 seats and a 460 square foot dance floor. Some of these basement uses would have been in the former cafeteria space. See "Delijanis Move Forward With Plans...," a May 28, 2013 story for the Downtown L.A. News for more details.

The liquor licenses were obtained but later surrendered as a requirement that the theatres all have kitchens for food service wasn't met. Later work has included installation of kitchen facilities in the basements of the Palace and Los Angeles Theatres. The basement of the State remained unused except for some areas used by the church.

More information: Visit Mike Hume's Historic Theatre Photography page about the State for lots of data and many fine photos of different areas of the building. The State Theatre website has a nice history page.

The Cinema Treasures page on the State Theatre has lots of historical detail and particularly interesting discussions of operational history of various theatre circuits in downtown Los Angeles. The Cinema Tour page on State Theatre has a short history and some nice 2003 photos by Adam Martin, including interior views.

See the Bringing Back Broadway site for information on Councilman Jose Huizar's initiative to revitalize the street. Frank and Maria of the blog Franklin Avenue got into the theatre in 2012. For all the details (and photos) check out their post "Sneaking Inside Downtown's State Theatre."

"Fanchon & Marco Forms Million Dollar Firm," an article about the duo's national expansion plans, appeared in the November 10, 1928 issue of Exhibitors Herald and Moving Picture World. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting it on Internet Archive. Wikipedia has a page on the State Theatre.

The State Theatre pages: back to top - history | vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | projection booth | backstage | basement cafeteria |

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