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Opened: November 12, 1921 as Loew's State. 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. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007
The opening attraction was Metro's "Liliom." Marcus Loew was in attendance with a bevy of stars. Wonderfully successful as a vaudeville/movie house, it 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.
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. Since 1998 the State has been leased out to a church. That lease expires in October 2017.
Phone: 213-629-2939 Website: www.statetheatre.la
Seating: 2,404. It has the largest capacity of all the Broadway theatres.
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 rising in April 1921. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. The building is on a 160 x 169 foot lot. The State's office building is now known as the United Building. Through at least the late 30s there was a cafeteria in the basement with Moorish themed decor.
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 the Gaiety Theatre for him, a venue later known as Loew's Hipppodrome and Loew's Union Square. 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. It's unknown who was operating 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.
West Coast Theatres took over management of Loew's State in 1925. They also ended up with the Warfield. At the time these were the only west coast houses for the Loew circuit. Although operated by Fox West Coast for Loew's for much of its early life, the theatre kept the Loew's name on the signage and in advertising until 1949 when, because of the consent decree, it was one of a number of theatres the Fox circuit had to relinquish control over.
It became known as "The State" when United Artists Theatre Circuit took over the management. The signage didn't get changed until 1955. Metropolitan Theatres was the final operator for its life as a film house.
Harris, Loew and Ackerman in a photo from the Exhibitors Trade Review.
A December 3, 1921 article in Exhibitors Trade Review discussed the opening:
“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 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 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.
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:
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.
In early 1932 the Fanchon and Marco stage shows were discontinued and the State went to a film-only policy. When the F&M shows came back downtown in October 1932 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.
Consent decree divorcement: In 1949 Fox West Coast turned the operation of Loew's State over to United Artists Theatre Circuit as part of the consent decree separating the studios from their theatre chains. Fox and its predecessor company, West Coast Theatres, had operated the State since 1925.
UATC, previously just a holding company, started actively operating the theatres that they had built in the 1927-1932 period that Fox West Coast had been running for them. This included the United Artists downtown, the Four Star and the United Artists houses in Inglewood, East Los Angeles and Pasadena.
In addition, the consent decree attempted to minimize the Fox West Coast chain's near monopoly position in Los Angeles by requiring Fox to divest itself of about a dozen other theatres such as the State and the Egyptian. The State was sometimes listed in UA ads as the United Artists State.
A renovation proposed in 1955 for the United Building/State Theatre. Fortunately it didn't happen. Thanks to Steven Otto for posting the rendering on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
Metropolitan Theatres takes over: In January 1963, the State Theatre was acquired by Sherill Corwin's Metropolitan Theatres and, after downtown could no longer support major first-run bookings, was used for action flicks as well as Spanish language product in its final years. One by one as the larger circuits left downtown Metropolitan bought buildings and acquired leases. They closed the State in 1997.
Use as a church: In 1998 the State was leased to a church group. The current lease term expires in October 2017 and the word is that it won't be renewed by the Delijani family. As far as what the plans are when the church leaves, nothing has been announced.
The State in its church era. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for the 2013 photo.
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 Theatres In Movies post for shots of the Pantages / Warner Downtown and the Mason Theatre from the film.
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 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 Loew's 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 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 Theatres in Movies post for more State shots from the film as well as views of the Orpheum and the Palace.
The theatre is seen briefly as a c.1895 New York City theatre in Walter Hill's "Wild Bill" (United Artists, 1995). A commentator on Cinema Treasures noted that the current house valence was installed by that production.
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 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: The State Theatre website has a fine 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."
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. Wikipedia has a page on the State Theatre.
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