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Palace Theatre: history

630 S. Broadway Los Angeles CA 90014 | map |

More Palace Theatre pages: vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | backstage | basement support areas | office building |

Opened: The theatre opened June 26, 1911 as the Orpheum with two-a-day vaudeville. Many famous performers have appeared on the theatre's stage including Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, Sarah Bernhardt (1913), the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and Will Rogers. This is reported to be the oldest surviving theatre that was built for the Orpheum circuit.  Photo: Bill Counter

Phone: 213-629-2939  Website: | on Facebook | on Twitter

The Palace Theatre is now owned and operated by Broadway Theatre Group, Ed Baney, General Manager. The firm also owns the Tower, State and Los Angeles Theatres. The initial developer of the project was the Orpheum Theatre and Realty Co., a subsidiary of the theatre circuit. The land it was on was leased for a term of 50 years.

This was the 3rd home for Orpheum Circuit vaudeville in downtown Los Angeles. Prior to the construction of this theatre, Orpheum had presented at the Grand Opera House on Main St. and at the Los Angeles Theatre on Spring St., a venue later known as the Lyceum. This house on Broadway was renamed the Broadway Palace when the circuit moved down the street to the present Orpheum Theatre in 1926. Later this theatre was known as the Fox Palace and, eventually, just as the Palace.

Architect: San Francisco based G. Albert Lansburgh designed this lovely French renaissance bonbon. Robert Brown Young and Son was the firm serving as the local associate architect and probably was responsible for the commercial spaces.

The polychrome terracotta facade, reported to be the first in Los Angeles, was executed by Gladding, McBean & Co. The four figures on the facade by Domingo Mora represent the muses of vaudeville: comedy, dance, song and music. The building was designed with fire safety in mind. There are 22 exits and one of the city's first sprinkler systems.

A young Mr. Lansburgh. It's a photo that appeared with the article "The New Orpheum Theater Building, Los Angeles" in the September 1911 issue of Architect and Engineer. Following the main article, Lansburgh adds "An Architect's Tribute to Domingo Mora," the artist who did the sculptural work on the project. Mora's son would later do the sculpture for the Million Dollar Theatre. The A and E issue can be viewed on Internet Archive. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the articles. See the Palace page on his Historic Theatre Photography site for many of his fine photos.

Lansburgh had earlier designed the Orpheum that opened in 1909 in San Francisco, now demolished. His major surviving works in San Francisco include the Golden Gate Theatre (1922), the Warfield Theatre (1922) and the War Memorial Opera House (1932). Lansburgh would later design the RKO Hillstreet (1922) for the Orpheum circuit as well as the current Orpheum Theatre (1926) at 842 S. Broadway. His other work in Los Angeles includes the auditoriums of the El Capitan Theatre (1926), the Shrine Auditorium (1926) and the Wiltern Theatre (1931).

Lansburgh, with his name misspelled, talks about getting the theatre ready in this article from the June 3, 1911 L.A. Times. Clarence Drown was the initial manager. He got a bio in the June 11 issue of the Times where it was noted that he had been at the circuit's two previous Los Angeles locations, had been on the road managing Orpheum attractions and was, at the time of the opening, also VP and assistant general manager of the circuit as well as the west coast division manager. 

The L.A. Times ad for June 27 showing the theatre's first week bill. Although it wasn't Orpheum policy to run feature films, short films were part of the first program, here advertised as "Daylight Pictures." Theatre historian Ed Kelsey notes that the booth was at the rear of the 1st balcony, a smaller booth than the one currently in that location. The 17 piece "Symphony Orchestra" was led by Abraham Frankum Frankenstein, who had been the Orpheum's music director in Los Angeles since 1898. A 1913 composition, with lyricist F.B. Silverwood (yes, the clothing store operator), was "I Love You California," declared the State Song in 1951. See a Jewish Museum of the American West page for more about Frankenstein. 

An article giving a big preview of the new theatre's features, including "strange combinations" and "new lighting effects," appeared in the Times on June 14. In a lengthy Times article on the 27th that reviewed the opening, Julian Johnson noted that in the "club-like" smoking room "a slave dispensed cigarettes." Upstairs "the ladies packed their exquisite French foyer-boudoir almost to suffocation." As far as the show, he noted: "The were flowers, but no stopping of the show for speeches or the customary tiresome 'inaugural ceremonies.' The Orpheum, as its habit is, simply gave a 'show.'" Thanks to Mike Hume for finding the Times items.

A first floor plan of the building from the September 1911 issue of Architect and Engineer. It's on Internet Archive. On the Broadway end of the building the office building lobby and elevators are at the upper left, on the south end of the building. In the upper right note the lobby area for the 2nd balcony, also serving as an exit passageway for north exits from the theatre. It's now retail space. Both north and south passageways are 10' wide. The article noted that the theatre's lot is 150' wide and 122' deep. Cost of the building was $350,000.

Seating: Currently 1,068 with the 2nd balcony not in use. The theatre's website gives a main floor capacity of 608 with seating for 460 in the balcony. No seat is farther than 80 feet from the stage. The seating got rehabbed as part of the 2011 restoration. On the main floor, several rows are missing at the front. The orchestra pit is covered.

Originally it was touted as 2,200. A perhaps more realistic total is the number 1,956 that appears on the theatre's website with a breakdown of 774 on the main floor, 389 in the 1st balcony, 645 in the  2nd balcony, and 148 in the boxes. 1,956 is also the number that appeared in a 1910 L.A. Times article announcing the project. After a Fox remodel in late 1929 that included removal of the boxes, the L.A. Times reported, perhaps with a bit of puffery, that the capacity would be 2,250.

The 2nd Balcony, aka The Gallery: The 2nd balcony seats were cheaper but the area was not racially segregated. The cheapest seats in the upper section were actually benches, still in place. There were conventional theatre seats below the crossaisle, a section called the Family Circle. The 2nd balcony has its own restrooms and an upstairs lobby -- really just a corridor. While terrific for vaudeville, this balcony is less desirable for film viewing and hasn't been used since the 1930s.

The boxoffice for the 2nd balcony was in a small lobby at the north end of the facade, later converted to retail space after use of the balcony was discontinued. A dedicated set of interior stairs went up from there with no access to other areas of the theatre, typical of two balcony theatre construction at the time. These stairs are now blocked below the 2nd floor and all the side exits on the north side of the theatre now go to the alley (through what had been stage space) rather than to Broadway. 

Another set of stairs for 2nd balcony exit use is off the office building lobby, on the south side of the building. There's a third set of stairs leading from the front of the house right side of the 2nd balcony straight down to the alley. Access is also possible using the fire escapes. Or via a firedoor at the top of the first balcony near the booth. That gets you into the second floor of the office building where the theatre's offices once were. From there you have access to the the stairwell coming up from behind the office building lobby. In Bob Poole's 2011 L.A. Times story about restoration work, Shahram Deljani announced plans at that time to "flip it" and make the second balcony a V.I.P. area. But it's still unused.

The July 26, 1915 program. The show that week featured Nazimova in "War Brides" and Joe Cook. The cover appeared in a post on the Palace Theatre Facebook page.

An Orpheum Circuit program in the collection of Gary Leonard. Thanks to Gary and the Palace Theatre for the photo. It appeared in a post on the Palace Theatre Facebook page.

The last performance as the Orpheum was the evening of February 14, 1926. The new Orpheum Theatre down the street opened the next evening. On February 20 this theatre that had been the Orpheum reopened as the Broadway Palace. It was still being run by the Orpheum circuit but now with feature films and less prestigious vaudeville acts, programming much like the "Junior Orpheum" format at their Hillstreet Theatre, a house that they had opened in 1922.

An article in the July 14, 1926 L.A. Times announced that the format would be downgraded to films only, lower admission prices, and four changes a week. Orpheum continued to run the Palace into the fall of 1928. The Variety issue of August 15, 1928 had a little story:

"Orpheum Loses Lemon - Pacific Amusement Co., headed by Harry Strere [sic], who operates the Rialto (downtown) and is also interested in the Forum, is taking over the Palace (Orpheum circuit) Oct. 1, relieving the vaude circuit of one of its biggest liabilities on the Pacific coast. A grind policy of pictures will be in effect. Principal Pictures Corp. (Sol Lesser and Mike Rosenberg) owns a small block of stock in Pacific Amusement Co. Palace was formerly the Orpheum, where the circuit shows were played prior to the opening of the new Orpheum several years ago."

Harry Srere later went on to be a partner in the opening of the Fairfax in 1930 and the Roxie in 1931. Sol Lesser was long involved with West Coast Theatres, soon to become Fox West Coast. William Fox came calling in late 1929 and Fox West Coast advertised the theatre as the Fox Palace.

A September 18, 1929 Times article located by Mike Hume announced the Fox takeover. Fox ran the house for a couple of weeks and then, on October 6, shut it down for ten days for what they billed as a complete overhaul. One major change was removal of the boxes and installing murals in flat panels that were created.

The story that appeared in the Times on October 6, 1929 detailing, with some puffery, the renovation by Fox West Coast. Thanks again to Mike Hume for the research.  The theatre reopened October 16 with the King Vidor sound film "Hallelujah" on a two-a-day reserved seat policy.

An opening day article in the Times noted that the event would be broadcast due to the "Widespread interest in all parts of the Far West in the spectacular opening." Bandleader Benny Rubin was the MC, introducing stars to the radio audience as they came through the ticket lobby. The article noted that "practically every star of prominence in the film colony and stage world not engaged in thespian activities tonight will attend.."

A section of a 1931 insurance map from the Los Angeles Public Library showing the theatre and identifying it as the Broadway Palace Building. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for the photo.

By 1936 Fox West Coast had bailed out and the Palace was a second run house operated by Downtown Broadway Theatres, Inc., a firm later known as Metropolitan Theatres. In 1939 it became a newsreel theatre known as both the News Palace and the Palace Newsreel Theatre. The vertical signs were temporarily covered to say "Newsreels" but by November 1945, when signs could be lit again, they were again saying "Palace."

The theatre was back with Fox West Coast management in the 40s, operated by their subsidiary Principal Theatres of America. After some big first run engagements such as "Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) it was back to newsreels, at least that was the programming in 1949. It had a fine run as a grindhouse after its first run and newsreel days were over. Metropolitan ended up with it after Fox, like the other major circuits, left downtown.

Closing: The Palace closed as a film house in 2000. It was sold to downtown developer Tom Gilmore who didn't have any luck making the building financially viable.

Status: The Palace has been owned since 2004 by the Delijani family. They also own the Los Angeles, State and Tower theatres. It's operated by an entity known as the Broadway Theatre Group with Shahram Delijani heading the firm and Ed Baney as general manager. The theatre currently is a rental house used for theatrical productions, concerts, film shoots, and occasional film screenings.

The facade received significant cleaning and repair in 2007. The theatre unveiled $1 million in  restoration work to celebrate its 100th birthday on June 26, 2011. The Delijanis have plans to make all four of their theatres more active. In recent years the theatre has sometimes been advertised as the Downtown Palace.

The Palace in the Movies: The interior of the Palace has been used for many films, videos and commercials due to its lovely period feel. In 1983 interiors for the Michael Jackson video "Thriller" were filmed at the Palace. The Rialto in South Pasadena was seen as the exterior.

The exterior of the Palace is seen in Gregory Nava's "El Norte" (Cinecom Pictures, 1984). It's a story of Guatemalan immigrants coming to the United States in search of a better life. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting the theatre in the film. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a screenshot.

A stripper played by Claudia Christian goes on a rampage and takes a wild drive by the Palace's wildly flashing marquee in “The Hidden” (New Line Cinema, 1987). Her body has, of course, been taken over by an alien creature. Jack Sholder directed the film starring Kyle MacLachlan and Michael Nouri. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of other theatres seen in the film including the Westlake, Las Palmas, Pantages and the United Artists. 

We get a look at the Palace in the cruise down Broadway during the opening credits of Dennis Hopper's "Colors" (Orion, 1988). We also see the Million Dollar, the Broadway and the State. The credits are the best part. You don't need to see the rest of the film. Check out the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the other theatres.

The 5th floor loft is seen as a New York apartment in Oliver Stone's "The Doors" (TriStar Pictures, 1991). The film stars Val Kilmer, Kathleen Quinlan, Meg Ryan and Kyle MacLachlan. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several Orpheum views from the film.

The Palace fills in as a number of different theatres in the 1993 TV movie version of "Gypsy" with Bette Midler. Here Cynthia Gibb as Gypsy is on the runway at the Diamond Burlesque in Detroit. Thanks to Mike Hume for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post on "Gypsy" for more Palace shots from the film as well as views of the State and the Orpheum.

The setting for the apartment of Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) is in the Palace's 5th floor loft space in Joel and Ethan Coen's "The Big Lebowski" (Polygram, 1998). When the dude (Jeff Bridges) comes to visit we get a view of the Los Angeles Theatre out the windows. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more views of the Palace seen in the film.

We get a murky look at the loading door of the Palace as the entrance to Club Silencio in David Lynch's "Mullholland Drive (Universal, 2001). When we go inside we're at the Tower Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the back of the Palace as well as shots of the Tower from the film. 

The Bill Condon film "Dreamgirls" (Dreamworks, 2006) used the Palace as the "Detroit Theatre" and changed the neon on the marquee for the shoot. In this view work is still in progress changing the neon on the front of the marquee. Note that the vertical still says "Palace." Thanks to Ed Fuentes for his photo on Flickr.

A look out into the house from "Dreamgirls." Note that the proscenium boxes are a set piece constructed for the film -- the actual ones were removed decades ago and replaced by murals.  See the Historic L.A.Theatres in Movies post for eight more "Dreamgirls" shots at the Palace.

In Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" (Touchstone/Warner Bros., 2006) we get several scenes using the interior of the Palace. The film stars Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale and Michael Caine. We also spend lots of time in the Tower, Los Angeles and Belasco theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more screenshots from the film.

Looking into the auditorium at the Palace with John C. Reilly onstage in "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (Columbia, 2007). The film is in color but for this sequence director Jake Kasdan went for a 60s grainy TV news look. The film also used the Variety Arts, the Warner Grand and the Shrine Auditorium. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of those theatres from the film.

In the Adam Sandler film "You Don't Mess With the Zohan" (Sony Pictures, 2008) the Palace marquee gets a brief shot as the NYC venue for "Hacky Sack Mania." Interiors were shot elsewhere.

We get a nighttime view looking south on Broadway in Marc Webb's "(500) Days of Summer" (Fox Searchlight, 2009). The film stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the film we also get to go to the movies at the Million Dollar. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three shots at the Million Dollar.

We get lots of Los Angeles (as parts of Gotham) in Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight Rises" (Warner Bros., 2012). Included is this shot of the west side of the 600 block of S. Broadway and the Palace's marquee advertising "Grand Reopening." See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of filming in front of the Los Angeles Theatre.

The Palace is featured in Sacha Gervasi's "Hitchcock" (Fox Searchlight, 2012) with Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. In this photo by Don Kelsen we see the Palace doubling for the DeMille Theatre in New York where "Psycho" premiered in 1960. The photo appeared with an October 2012 L.A. Times story by Richard Verrier. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Palace photo and several of the Orpheum, used as the United Artists in Chicago for the "North By Northwest" premiere in 1959.

We see a lot of the Palace in Weird Al Yankovic's 2014 video "Tacky." We start on the 5th floor fire escape, move into the loft, and go down the elevator into the theatre. It's on YouTube.

The Palace plays some anonymous theatre on the road for the "My Boy Friend's Back" number with The Angels in Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" (Warner Bros., 2014). The film also uses the Belasco and Orpheum theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for some shots at those two theatres.

We see lots of the Palace building (although much of it isn't easily recognizable) in "Whiplash" (Sony Classics, 2014). It's a film about the music business set in New York starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. Miles goes to a film ("Rififi") at the Palace with his dad. The next morning we're at a rehearsal studio (the Palace's 5th floor loft) and soon in a hallway (the Palace's basement lounge corridor) outside a classroom. Later we go back to the theatre -- the Palace lobby again. We also get a nightclub scene using the Palace ticket lobby. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Orpheum as Carnegie Hall near the film's end.

We get a quick Palace backstage tour in "The Gambler" (Paramount, 2014) starring Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange and Brie Larson. Near the end of the film Mark meets a couple of Korean gangsters in the south exit passageway on his way to a subterranean gambling club. He goes for a walk across the empty stage (where someone is singing) and down the stage right stairs to the basement. A bit earlier we had a quick glimpse of the alley end of the Tower Theatre and then a nice shot of the Warner at 7th & Hill.

Christian Bale and Brian Dennehy (playing Bale's father) 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). It's never made clear what business his father was in and whether or not the theatre building was one of his properties. In this shot Dennehy is raving about his life while strutting the Palace stage, with some fog for effect. In addition to many scenes in the Palace, the film also has brief views of the Los Angeles, Warner Downtown, State and Wiltern theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.

For a movie about a cat, we see quite a few theatres in Peter Atencio's "Keanu" (Warner/New Line, 2016). After escaping from a drug-related shootout in Boyle Heights our eponymous cat checks out the L.A. River, walks across one of the bridges, and is seen here strolling across Broadway. The Palace is down in the next block. We also get views of the Los Angeles Theatre, the Vine Theatre and the Cinerama Dome. See the  Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.

The Palace appears in episode one of "Feud: Bette and Joan" (FX, 2017). Later in the series it's back (as we see here) with a fancy movie theatre marquee morphed on to it yet it's supposed to be New York's Martin Beck Theatre, a legit house. Interestingly, G. Albert Lansburgh designed both the Beck and the Palace. Thanks to Mike Hume for spotting it -- and for the screenshot.

More information: The Cinema Treasures page on the Palace has lots of historical data and photos. The Cinema Tour Palace Theatre page has a brief history and some 2003 exterior and ticket lobby photos by Adam Martin.

Will Campbell's 2009 Saturday Matinee blog post includes 66 photos from a 2009 LAHTF tour. They're on his Palace Flickr set as well. Check out Brent Dickerson's Broadway Tour Part 3 on the Cal State Long Beach website. This part of his tour includes Tally's, Clune's, the Orpheum / Palace and several others. It's one of many great adventures in this series curated by Brent. Details are on the site's index page.

The Facebook photo album by Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles has many nice photos of the Palace, including many seldom seen nooks and crannies. The set also includes the Tower and the Los Angeles. Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret post on the Palace "Downtown LA's Palace Theatre, Restored (But Not Completely)" details her adventures via many photos taken on a 2012 LAHTF "all-about" tour.

Mike Hume's Historic Theatre Photography site has a terrific page on the Palace. Check out the L.A. Conservancy page on the Palace. You should also pay a visit to the Palace Theatre website for a great photo gallery and a fine history page.

Earlier plans: The office tower portion of the Palace Theatre Building was proposed for a condo development at one time. It's currently vacant. Curbed L.A. reported in 2007: "On the heels of that $40 million "Bringing Back Broadway" campaign, applications have been filed to create condominiums in two Broadway theater buildings...the office tower of the Palace Theatre and the Fox office tower of the Los Angeles Theater." No action was pursued regarding those plans.

In 2013 the Delijanis applied for liquor licenses and use permits for their four theatres that would have, for operational purposes, designated the four buildings as a single complex. A number of separate club, theatre, and restaurant spaces were envisioned in each of the buildings. See Richard Guzman's May 28, 2013 L.A. Downtown News story for a rundown of what they were proposing at the time. The liquor licenses obtained in 2013 were later surrendered as the theatres didn't get the kitchen facilities installed that were a condition of their issuance.

The Hotel Project Behind the Palace: In 2015 a slender hotel was proposed for the lot right behind the Palace, at 633 S. Spring. The alley would be maintained but it will make access to the theatre for loading a show more difficult. Urbanize L.A. had an October 2015 story, including a site plan. It was a followup to their June 2015 story. There's also a Department of City Planning initial study pdf to look at. Thanks to Torr Leonard for spotting the information. Also see an October 2015 L.A. Curbed story "First Look at the Skinny 28 Story Hotel..." Project architect is Adam Sokol.

Urbanize L.A. had a January 2017 story: "Proposed Spring Street Hotel Adds Parking." Curbed L.A. also had a January 2017 story "26-story hotel once called 'Lizard In'..." The schedule was for groundbreaking in the 2nd quarter of 2017. But that didn't happen. They were hoping to open in 2019. We'll see.

A site plan for the skinny hotel from Urbanize L.A

A Spring St. view to the rear of the Palace from the October 2015 Urbanize story.

The Palace Theatre pages: back to top - history | vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | backstage | basement support areas | office building |

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