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Million Dollar Theatre: history

307 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90013 | map |

More Million Dollar Theatre pages:  vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobbies | lobbies and lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth | stage | orchestra pit | basement areas |

The news: Secret Movie Club has been running a series of 35mm weekend film showings at the theatre. Information: www.secretmovieclub.com | Secret Movie Club on Facebook

Opened: February 1, 1918 by Sid Grauman as Grauman's Theatre (his first in Los Angeles) with a star-studded premiere of "The Silent Man" starring William S. Hart, who was there for the festivities. Other stars attending the opening included Lillian Gish, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Wallace Reid, Edna Purviance and Constance Talmadge. Directors attending included Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett. Photo: Bill Counter, taken the day of the theatre's 100th birthday.

While the signage just said "Grauman's," it was referred to in early ads as Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre. It had evidently cost something more than that sum for the land, the office building, the theatre, and the furnishings. The name "Million Dollar Theatre" had even appeared on the construction fence. As well, the name may have been a bit of a joke. The lobby floor covering at downtown's poshest hotel, the Alexandria, was referred to as the "Million Dollar Rug" due to the caliber of the clientele hanging out there and the size of the deals transacted. 

The Million Dollar was the first real movie palace on Broadway. And the Million Dollar also gets the prize as the first real Los Angeles movie palace built for that purpose. Although the Auditorium Theatre at 5th & Olive, when running as Clune's Auditorium, was operated in luxurious movie palace fashion it was originally built as a church. The Million Dollar was also noteworthy as the first theatre built as part of a "height limit" building and also had the first clear-span balcony in town in a major theatre - largely cast concrete. The building was listed on the National Register in 1978 and in 2019 became a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

The theatre is in need of a tenant. The theatre building and the adjoining Grand Central Market have been owned since late 2017 by Adam Daneshgar, president of Langdon Street Capital. He's been doing long-deferred improvements at the Market and is enthusiastic about the future of the theatre.

Phone: 213-617-3600  Filming and rental inquiries: www.grandcentralmarket.com/contact

Architects: Albert C. Martin (1879-1960) designed the 60,000 square foot building with the exterior in an opulent Churrigueresque style. William Lee Woollett designed the theatre. 
 
Martin had earlier designed the Wonderland/Jade Theatre (c.1908) and Liberty Theatre (1910), both on on Main St. Other theatre designs included the Adams Theatre (1914), the Town Theatre on Hill St. (1920) and the Boulevard Theatre on Washington Blvd. (1925). Martin's firm would be part of the team designing City Hall (1928) and also designed the Department of Water and Power Building (1965). The company is still in business as both architects and contractors with descendants of A.C. Martin running it. Their latest big project was the Wilshire Grand Center.
 
Woollett (1874-1955) was later the designer of Los Angeles' largest movie palace, the Metropolitan Theatre, also for Sid Grauman. In addition to lots of residential work he also did a 1919 remodel for Grauman of the Rialto Theatre, 812 S. Broadway. In 1919 he also designed at least the interior of the Hoyt's/Strand Theatre in Long Beach.
 
Most of the exterior sculpture was by Joseph Jacinto Mora (who had also worked with his father Domingo on the Palace) but some work at the theatre entrance was by Woollett. Burt W. Johnson of Claremont did two sculptures of a piping boy that were in front of the organ grille on each side of the auditorium. Johnson's brother-in-law was the famous sculptor Louis St. Gaudens.
 

Johnson working on one of the sculptures for in front of the organ grilles. Both were removed from the theatre at an early date and are now missing. Thanks to Steve Gerdes for locating the image on Wikimedia Commons. Steve notes that Johnson did all the sculpture for the Fine Arts Building on 7th St., both inside and out. See a photo of the house right organ grille with one of the sculptures in place that appeared in the May 1918 issue of Architect and Engineer.

The owner of the building was Homer Laughlin, Jr.'s Stability Building Co. Laughlin also owned the earlier Grand Central Market Building (originally known as the Homer Laughlin Building), just to the south. R.H. Arnold Co. was the contractor for the project.

Seating: Originally it was 2,345 with 1,400 on the main floor and 945 in the balcony. Currently it's 2,024 with 1,216 on the main floor and 808 in the balcony. A 1979 L.A. Times article about Metropolitan Theatres listed the capacity as 2,001.

Stage specifications: The proscenium is 39' 11" with a height at center of 47'. The stage depth is 32' 1" from the smoke pocket to face of backwall columns. See the stage page for more details.

Pipe Organ: The 1918 installation was a 2 manual 7 rank Wurlitzer which ended up getting moved to the Rialto. The replacement was a 2 manual 16 rank Wurlitzer. It's no longer in the building. 
 
 

Grauman and Chaplin playing around at the console. It's a photo taken by Stagg Photo Service in 1920. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for sharing this from his collection. Pay a visit to his site about that other Grauman theatre, the Chinese: www.GraumansChinese.org

The construction:  

 
A preliminary sketch for the building appearing in the L.A. Times issue of September 26, 1916. It's a find of Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire for his Noirish post #27774 which contains many interesting items about the building's early history. The caption for the illustration: 
 
"Preliminary sketch for theater and studio block to be erected by Stability Building Co. The drawing is one of a number of 'studies' prepared by Albert C. Martin, the architect, for submission to the projectors, and shows the big structure in the form of a limit-height studio and office building fronting on Broadway, with the theater portion at the rear, extending along Third street. This is only one of the schemes being considered."



The drawing from A.C. Martin of the final design for the office building and Million Dollar Theatre. It's in the Huntington Digital Library collection. The initial tenant of the office building was the Edison Co. From 1931 until 1963 the Metropolitan Water District was the primary tenant of the office building, which has a frontage of 115' on Broadway and 65' on W. 3rd. In addition, a wing of offices extends along the auditorium on the 3rd St. side at the 2nd floor level. While the office building was a conventional steel framed structure, the theatre portion was largely cast-in-place concrete.

A version of Martin's drawing appeared in the L.A. Times issue of March 18, 1917 under the heading "Upper Broadway's Magnificent New Picture Playhouse." They called it a "studio and theatre structure."  Martin's drawing appeared in the Times again on January 1, 1918, a month before the opening. The caption that time was "Stability Building Company Completes Handsome Structure. To House Grauman's $1,000,000 Theater."  They talked about the facade as being "Superbly predominant, with pinnacles rising high into the skyline..." The article noted that Sidney Grauman was general manager. The ten year lease on the building was not executed by Sid but rather by his father, David J. Grauman.

"Move to Check Southwest Migration in Los Angeles," an article in the November 22, 1916 issue of the publication Women's Wear, is another item located by Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire. The curious headline about migration makes you think it was about problems at the border -- but in fact the concern was about the movement of L.A.'s shopping district south and west. The Million Dollar / Edison Building (originally referred to as the Stability Building) was one attempt to halt that. The article:

"The foundations have been laid for the 12-story office building to be erected on the southwest corner of Broadway and Third street by the Stability Co., organized in an effort to anchor the retail business district of Los Angeles north of Fifth street. This is part of a movement to check the southward and westward removal of old established business houses and stores which have, for years, been located on Broadway between First and Fifth streets.

"Coincident with the beginning of the construction of the Stability Building at Broadway and Third street, work has started on the new home of the Blackstone Dry Goods Co, at Broadway and Ninth street. This concern for many years has been one of the prominent upper Broadway stores, which have refused to join the migration southward."


A first floor plan of the building that appeared (along with several photos) in the August 1918 issue of the San Francisco based magazine The Architect. It's on Internet Archive. Note the layout of the original orchestra pit and the columns onstage for the set framing the screen. The bays south of the theatre's entrance that ended up as an open-air ticket lobby are seen on the plans as a retail space.

The support system for the theatre's balcony was poured-in-place concrete trusses, not steel girders. An article in the August 26, 1917 issue of the Los Angeles Times noted that as far as supporting the balcony was concerned, it was left to the architect to either use the untried technology of concrete trusses or use posts underneath for support:

 "...or to advise his clients to wait in patience for the eventual delivery of a steel truss. There was no other way out of it, for the projectors were determined that there should not be a post of any kind in the entire vast interior of the theatre to sustain the gallery [balcony]. It was a case of either a single span or no theater as far as they were concerned."



"Sectional view of gallery [the balcony] and supporting arch." An illustration detailing one of the concrete trusses that would support the balcony from the August 26, 1917 issue of the Times. The area below the bottom member of the truss that we see is the main floor seating area back under the balcony. The article with the illustration, "Writes New Chapter in Architectural History," noted:

"Hitherto-untried Engineering Embodied in Downtown Skyscraper. Necessity, the mother of invention, to adopt an old expression, has outdone herself in the designing of the $1,000,000 theater and office building being erected by the Stability Building Company at Third and Broadway. As a result, this great downtown structure will be completed at least a year sooner than the most optimistic projections...."



"The arch and suspended truss system as seen from behind gallery." It's another drawing from the August 26, 1917 Times. The little upper arch (above the main arch at the bottom of the illustration) is on the theatre's centerline and, below it, would be built the center vomitory out to the balcony's lower crossaisle. Our view is as if we were standing toward the house left side of the balcony lobby. The caption with the drawing:

"How A.C. Martin, architect and engineer of the $1,000,000 Edison building at Third and Broadway, solved the problem created by the fact that it would take a year and a half to get the steel trusses ordinarily used for this purpose. He has substituted for them the 100 foot concrete arch shown in the drawings and photographs. These, made during the past week, give a somewhat inadequate idea of the tremendous mass and character of the load and the enormous structural responsibility imposed upon the arch which carries it. The ultimate load is estimated at 3,000,000 pounds." 

Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire for posting the Times article (and many other items) on his Noirish post #27774.

An article in the September 1919 issue of Popular Mechanics, "Mammoth Concrete Arch in Costly Theater," described the wonders of the Million Dollar and included some construction photos. Thanks to theatre historian Ed Kelsey for sharing the items from his collection. The article commented:

"Notable not only as one of the most beautiful and expensive structures of its kind in the country, but as one in which for the first time a concrete arch, such as is used in bridge construction, supports the balcony of a theater, a 12-story office and theater building recently constructed in Los Angeles, Calif., at a cost of $1,000,000. There are no posts in the theater because of the arch, for which concrete was used when it was found impossible to obtain steel. The weight of the span is 9,000,000 lb. It is 12 ft. wide and 110 ft. long, and contains 180 steel rods. In pouring concrete into the forms for the arch, chutes made of steel concrete floor forms, overlapping in clapboard fashion, were used. This form of chute is said to be original with the Los Angeles builders.  
 
"Extremely elaborate are the decorations of the theater, both interior and exterior. Carved wood is conspicuous in the interior decoration scheme. Another feature is the projection room, in which are placed the moving-picture machines and spotlights. This is built of concrete, and placed so as not to obstruct the view of any person sitting back of it. Steel and asbestos doors to this room lessen the fire danger. Steel was used in the construction of the office building. One of the features of the theater is a great jeweled dome, so placed in the ceiling as to appear to be suspended in the air. Hidden lights, playing on the dome, produce a gorgeous effect. Due to the careful planning of the architects, the acoustics are nearly perfect."


Formwork for the balcony as seen in a photo from the Popular Mechanics article. The caption reads: 

"Form into Which 1,620,000 Pounds of Concrete was Poured to Make the Self-Supporting Balcony of the Los Angeles Theater: An Idea of the Amount of Steel Used for Reinforcing the Great Arch can be Obtained by Studying the Interior of the Form. Completed, the Balcony Weighed 9,000,000 Pounds. So Far As is Known, This Is The First Use of a Reinforced-Concrete Arch of Such Size in Building Construction."


"This Picture Shows One of the Concrete Chutes Used to fill a Mammoth Arch Form in Constructing a Los Angeles Theater Building." The roof is not in place yet. That would happen after the balcony was poured. We're looking down from the office building onto the curve that will be the front of the balcony. The photo is from the September 1919 Popular Mechanics article.


Truss construction for the auditorium roof. It's a photo from the Popular Mechanics issue of September 1919. The caption reads: 

"How the Roof of the Million-Dollar Theater was Erected: The Lower Girder of This Steel Roof Member is 108 Feet long. Cut in Half, It was Laid on Three Half-inch Steel Cables, Strung between Concrete Pillars, and Then Joined into a Solid Piece. Afterwards the Upper Parts of the Support were Fastened on Top of the Girder, Making a Construction Strong Enough to Hold the Roof." 



A construction photo taken on the main floor looking up at the concrete trusses for the balcony and the slab for the balcony risers above. It's on Internet Archive from the August 1918 issue of The Architect.


A view across the unfinished main floor from The Architect. At the left is part of the wall separating the back of the lobby from the retail spaces. It appears that the workers have hung up their overalls on it. For a sense of the scale, note the cluster of workers at the bottom of the photo right of center.

Three photos of the theatre were included in the Architectural Digest 1922 survey issue of noteworthy southern California buildings. It's on Google Books from the Stanford Library. The page also listed some of the suppliers for the building: Metal lathing construction - Benjamin Schonfeld Co., Plastering - Fred E. Potts, Heating system - Illinois Engineering Co., Plumbing fixtures - Crane Co., Reinforced composition roofing - Pioneer Paper Co., Metal doors - California Fire-Proof Door Co., Brick - L.A. Brick Co., Venetian screens - Western Blind and Screen Co., Floor coverings and office furniture - Barker Bros., Grauman's Theatre - complete furnishings by Barker Bros., Face brick & hollow tile - L.A. Pressed Brick Co.

The opening: "Grauman's Theater Nearing Completion" was the headline of a story in the January 18, 1918 issue of the L.A. Times. They reported: 

"Sid Grauman's new million-dollar theater at Third and Broadway will be opened and dedicated Friday evening, January 25. William S. Hart, beloved of California and the Golden West, will introduce to Los Angeles her newest and finest home of the photoplay in 'The Silent Man,' his latest Artcraft picture, just completed under the supervision of Thomas H. Ince... Declared by architectural experts to be one of the most notable motion picture theaters in America, Grauman's will add new luster to Broadway's radiance. Conceived as a temple of the cinema art, and constructed in faithfulness to this ideal, the playhouse sets a new standard of luxury and magnificence. 
 
"Thousands who have watched the growth of the building daily as they passed and have caught an occasional glimpse of the riches within, are awaiting opening night to pay tribute to the genius which has converted the dull stone into a marvel of beauty. Color effects both weird and inspiring and new methods of lighting by subdued, indirect rays have been combined to create an atmosphere of supreme comfort and rest that encompasses mind as well as body. In this respect, Grauman has reached the goal of the designers hopes - the most ideal surroundings for the presentation of the motion picture. 

"Music will form one of the most attractive features. Orchestra, organ, pictures and myriads of lights will be combined in spectacular effects never before attempted on the Coast. A thirty-piece symphony orchestra has been gathered together from members of the Los Angeles symphony among leading musicians of the city, under the baton of Rudolph G. Kopp. Mme. Lina Reggiani, coloratura soprano, and former star of the La Scala Grand Opera Company, has been engaged as soloist, and Jesse Crawford will be the organist."
 
Well, that projected opening date of January 25 didn't happen. The Times, in a January 21 story by Grace Kingsley headed "Opening Postponed," had these comments: 
 
"Whether the naming of Friday as the day set for the opening... had the usual unlucky effect is not known. Sid Grauman yesterday was mussing his marcelle wave all up as he announced his handsome new theater won't be ready to open after all until February 1, due to the fact that certain necessary furniture and accessories have not arrived from the East... Monumental tasks in completion of the magnificent new structure have been accomplished in the last two weeks. Scores of carpet layers, painters, polishers and decorators are engaged in the final activities which within a few days will bring the playhouse, from orchestra pit to main entrance, to the completed state, terminating the labors of more than a year. 
 
"The ninety-foot cyclorama for the stage settings, the largest ever painted for a theater in America, will be in position early this week, and delayed electrical equipment will be the last detail finished before Grauman's stands ready for the opening.  Orchestra rehearsals by Director Kopp's symphony organization of thirty pieces will be commenced this week. Lighting effects in the main auditorium and the picture's unreeling will be in play at the same time, during several hours daily, in order that a perfect harmony of film, colors and music may be achieved. Those who have been permitted to view the new theater, state that for comfort, convenience and beauty, it has no peer anywhere."
 
Jesse Lasky of Famous Players-Lasky (later to become Paramount) was part of the financial backing that helped the Graumans equip the theatre and support its operation. Sid and his father David had a close relationship with the firm after years of exhibiting their product in the Grauman Bay Area theatres. They also had a long relationship with Lasky personally. He had even performed once at Grauman's Unique Theatre. Certainly the Graumans were helped in their move south by the cash infusion provided by Famous Players when that firm took over their Strand Theatre (later called the St. Francis) and the Imperial Theatre (later renamed the United Artists), both on Market St. in San Francisco. 
 
While the Million Dollar was their first theatre operation in Los Angeles, the Graumans had earlier theatrical adventures in the city including being the bookers for the vaudeville acts playing the Broadway Theatre when it opened in 1903. At the time, their circuit numbered 12 theatres in San Francisco, San Jose and other cities. Grauman touring shows that played Los Angeles included "A Night at the World's Fair" in 1915 and "Midnight Frisco" in 1916.
 
 
 
"Carvings that tell a tale. Beautiful artistry develops the theme of Ruskin's fanciful story of the Golden River, reviving an almost lost art of decoration realized." Sid and his father David J. Grauman are in the lower left of this illustration of "The Artistic Features of the New Theatre" by L.A. Times artist Barndollar that appeared in their January 27, 1918 issue. "Fan's Dreams Come True in Grauman's Theatre" was the accompanying article by Grace Kingsley: 
 
"Hear ye film fans and your best girls! You are not to be kept in suspense a moment longer. Sid Grauman positively announces his new million-dollar theater at Third and Broadway will open next Friday night. The star who will look out at you from the screen is none other than William S. Hart, in 'The Silent Man,' his latest Artcraft release. And as if this were not enough, besides his celluloid double, Hart will be there to greet you in person! It's getting so nowadays when a friend asks you to go and see a picture, you take it for granted the invitation includes a lot of other things. There's a concert by a symphony orchestra, a loitering trip through long vistas of gallery fitted up with pictures and statuary, a smoke (if you wish) and a bit of a flirtation in the luxurious lounging parlor, even a nice 'dish' of lady-like tea if you desire. 
 
"Remember the picture houses we used to attend only for short years ago? Dark, smelly little holes in the wall, most of them, at the door of which a mechanical orchestrion ground out a dreary round of tunes which didn't pretend to have any relation whatever to the picture or its theme... and where seats on the sawdust-covered aisle were much sought by the tobacco-chewing fraternity. Then somebody built a theater and advertised a 'real orchestra of five pieces,' plush chairs and nice, clean, uniformed ushers, and we fell over ourselves to get in. The management of each new picture house built these days claims his theater 'is no different.' Certainly Sid Grauman's theater is impressively and gorgeously beautiful and contains all the comforts, luxuries and conveniences enumerated above, while some innovations include the announcement of an opera or concert singer each week as part of the programme, a system of indirect lighting brought about by the play of a sort of searchlight, and a scheme of decoration as novel as it is effective. 
 
"The moment you step out of the work-a-day world into the outer foyer the charm of the place is upon you. There, lining either side wall, are two immense mural paintings in pastel shades but of heroic design. Then there's the handsome lobby, from which lead wide stairways to the mezzanine, which is heavily carpeted and which yields visions of tapestries, statuary and mural painting in bold and brilliant design. Ah, but it is the long vista of Gothic arched galleries which will charm you into some age-old dream.  And as surely as you have imagination, this dim, beautiful vista, whose somewhat severe beauty is relieved only by the classic sweep of its arches, the soft carpets and half a dozen niched bronze statues, will carry you back to some feudal castle of long ago, and you'll forget that butter has gone up and that street assessments are due. 

"It's all very artful, the arrangement of ornament and lighting effects. Once inside the theater itself, there bursts on your view and opulent richness of color, light and design, yet all so arranged that the eye is somehow led to the screen and not away from it. The telling of a fairy story in stone - an antediluvian fine art, by the way - has been revived in the Grauman Theater. Woven into the decorative art of the theater is a quaint and delightful story, which gives a romantic quality to the whole decorative scheme, and gives artistic unity and an inspirational theme in the development of carvings, murals and statuary. No happier choice for such a theme could have been chosen by the designers than John Ruskin's exquisite little tale 'The King of the Golden River.' Of charming memory is this story of the three brothers who live in Happy Valley - Hans and Schwartz, the ugly, cruel men, and Gluck, the good little boy. How the King of the Golden River, rising out of the Golden Goblet that the poor little boy was forced by his brothers to melt up to provide money for their roisterings, visited condign punishment on the greedy and heartless ones, and how the King led Gluck to the River of Gold and a life happy ever after, is all told in numberless paintings and carvings. 
 
"Over the proscenium arch, there has been placed a great winged figure, another interpretation of the King, which is carried out in a Byzantine mood. On both sides of the main auditorium, the spreading organ screen repeats the pretty story in myriad tiny figures, showing the good little boy, the two bad men, the mug from the King, sprung as it melted in the fierce furnace; the southwest wind that laid waste the land of the cruel brothers when they refused him shelter. 
 
"The cyclorama, said to be the largest ever built - it is ninety feet long by fifty feet high - which decorates the stage, gives an effect of almost infinite distance. Wave on wave of smashing, solid color has been applied by the artist to picture a sandstorm formation, trembling and vibrant in a pulsating sunlight, such a vision as the sons of the desert learn to love, a sky of joyous blue-green, purple cliffs edging to deep somber tones, orange sunlight and Italian blue shadows, but all in pastel shades - this will serve as a setting for the photoplay on the screen. 

"Every comfort and convenience has been provided for the patrons of the new theater. Two restrooms and a retiring-room for women, with all the conveniences dear to the feminine heart, are located on the mezzanine floor. A smoking room for the men is provided off the main lobby, down stairs. Special music, arranged in rehearsals of orchestra, organ and film will be the complement of every picture shown in the new theater... At the close of the opening night's program, a reception will be given to afford the guests an opportunity to inspect the entire theater. Following the week of Hart's appearance, Manager Grauman willl present a series of Paramount-Artcraft pictures including Douglas Fairbanks and others who hold a high place in the public's favor."
 
 

The theatre entrance before the opening. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. Popular Mechanics commented on the entrance in their September 1919 article: 

"One of the Costliest Theater Entrances Ever Built, Photographed in Los Angeles a Few Days Before the New Playhouse was Opened to the Public: The Money Value Is in the Neighborhood of $10,000, and Dozens of Artists and Workmen Labored for Two Years to Produce This Result." 
 

The ad that appeared in the L.A. Times on opening day, February 1.

"Magnificent" was the single word above the headline for the Times' lengthy February 2 review of the opening. They titled the story "Opening's Brilliant of Million-Dollar Theater." A portion of their text:

"Grauman's Makes Its Bow to a Huge and Distinguished Audience. A line of men and women four abreast, extending along Broadway from Third street to Fifth and beyond. A crowd of man, women and children, thousands upon thousands of them, curiously watching the long straight line from the east side of Broadway, jammed together like sardines in a box, and overflowing into the street and on the other sidewalk. This was the site, unusual even for Los Angeles, that continued from 5 o'clock to 8:30 last night. Grauman's new $1,000,000 theater slowly swallowed up the human line more than two blocks long, but capacious as its entrance is it was two hours and a half before the feat was accomplished. 

"The handsomest motion-picture theater in the world, and also the most costly ever, was having its grand opening and was making its best big bow to a handful of the vast multitudes that will flock to it night after night through the coming months and years... Last night's audience itself, which included many famous picture stars, divided interest with the picture. The spectator who sat between Charlie Chaplin on the one hand and Charles Ray on the other would have felt entertained enough even though there hadn't been that remarkably fascinating program. For the most part the actors and actresses and directors who attended were in evening dress, which lent a brilliant metropolitan air to the assemblage. 

"Among the stars and lesser picture lights who brightened the occasion were, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Mary Pickford, George Beban, Mr. and Mrs. Sessue Hayakawa, Roscoe Arbuckle, Edna Purviance, Wallace Reid, Dorothy Davenport, Earl Williams, Toto, Charles Ray, Dorothy Dalton, J. Warren Kerrigan, Bessie Barriscale, Winnifred Kingston, Anita King, Constance Talmadge, Mary Miles Minter, Mae Murray, Henry Walthall, Franklyn Farnum, Dorothy Phillips, William Farnum, Viola Dana, Edith Storey, Bryant Washburn, Dustin Farnum, Crane Wilbur, William Desmond, Maude George, Ruth Roland, Texas Guinan, Lois Wilson, Charlie Murray, Louise Fazenda, Hal Cooley, Frank Keenan, Lillian Gish, Dorothy Gish, Robert Barron, Florence Vicor, Gladys Brockwell, William Stowell, Harry Carey, Douglas Gerhard, Louise Glenn, Rhea Mitchell and scores of others. 

"A famous directorial constellation was present, including D.W. Griffith, Jesse Lasky, Cecil De Mille, Mack Sennett, Thomas H. Ince, E.D. Horkheimer, Henry MacRae, Lois Weber, Phillips Smalley, Chet Withey and others. Society Event. The opening was likewise a brilliant society event, recalling the eclat of the first night of grand opera, the socially elect being there by special invitation of the management. And it was a critical assemblage of society folk, mingling with another crowd of artistes, equally as critical, who were there last night for the opening which marked the most magnificent event of the kind in the history of Los Angeles theaters. In the loges, and all over the immense auditorium, hundreds of richly-gowned society women beamed their approval on the opening offering. Most of the ladies wore demi-toilettes of velvets, brocades and rich silks. A number were noticed in smart street dress and a few were in full evening dress..."
 
 

 An article about the opening that appeared on page 1066 of the February 23, 1918 issue of
 Moving Picture World. Thanks to Steve Gerdes for locating this on Internet Archive.
 
 
 
The ad appearing in the Times on February 3, two days after the grand opening.
 
Early operating history: 

 
"The Most Beautiful and Elaborate Moving Picture Theatre in the World." It's an ad from the L.A. Pressed Brick Co. in the August 1918 issue of The Architect. Also included in the issue were proscenium and organ grille photos and a rear auditorium view. It's on Internet Archive.
 


The program for the week beginning September 9, 1918 at the "Beautiful Temple of the Cinema Art" with the feature film being the William S. Hart epic "Riddle Gawne." Thanks to Sharon Hofstra Haugen for finding the image.



In 1919 Adolph Zukor became one of the partners in the operation. With his partner Jesse Lasky already in for a share, this presumably left Sid and his father with 50 percent. This April 1919 telegram from Sid to Zukor cemented their partnership. As a result of these relationships the Million Dollar ran a lot of Famous Players-Lasky / Paramount product. Presumably the "immediate construction of new theatre" referred to the Metropolitan. The telegram was a find by Michelle Gerdes in the AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library collection.

In an October 1919 telegram in the AMPAS collection Grauman tries to set up a partnership with Famous Players in a San Diego house. Which didn't happen -- it sounds like it was promised to Sid but they decided to go with someone else. There's mention of the remodel of Quinn's Rialto, soon "to be the prettiest little house in America."

Also mentioned in the telegram is the possibility of acquiring a theatre they refer to as the Mercantile Place Theatre. This was undoubtedly the Pantages (now the Arcade Theatre), next door to the Mercantile Place shopping area, later the site of the Arcade Building. The theatre was up for grabs as Alexander Pantages was moving to his new theatre at 7th & Hill. This acquisition didn't happen.



Soon Grauman's became known for Sid's extravagant "prologues" prior to the feature films as well as lavish premieres. This 1920 ad was for the "Great Fashion Pageant" prologue and the Paramount feature "His House in Order" with Elsie Ferguson. If this is just the ad, imagine what splendors were presented in the show itself.

Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the ad on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. David Saffer commented: "'Models Representing Rarest Flowers of Girlhood'? Can't you get arrested for that now?" The ad plus another full page story about this particular production appears on pages 212 and 213 of Ben Hall's "The Best Remaining Seats" (Clarkson N. Potter, 1966).



A 1920 program for "Excuse My Dust" with Wallace Reid. 



The reverse side of the "Excuse My Dust" program. Thanks to Bill Givens for posting this on Facebook. The film was a March release.



The cover for a late December 1920 edition of Grauman's Weekly. At the Rialto that week they were running "Helioptrope." Thanks to Allegra Garcia for sharing this. It comes from the collection of her great aunt Beatrice Dominguez, a dancer and actress perhaps best known for her appearance in the tango scene in the Rudolph Valentino film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (Metro, 1921). 
 
In 1922 the theatre installed a seat indicator system manufactured by the Hansen Vacant Seat Indicator Co., a firm that conveniently had its offices across the street in the Bradbury Building. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating this March 23 ad in the L.A. Times:
 


Many theatres, such as the Los Angeles, had systems so that ushers could punch buttons and indicator lights on a main panel in the lobby would advise the house manager how many seats were available in each section. But this system at the Million Dollar had each seat wired with a switch that controlled a separate indicator light. The California Theatre on Main St. got a similar system in 1923. See a photo of their display panel

The Million Dollar was noteworthy for its orchestra pit that extended half way upstage to showcase the players. On July 3, 1922 a pit fire occurred during a prologue (there were no injuries) and the pit was later rebuilt along more standard lines.


The cover for the "Grauman's Theater and Grauman's Rialto Magazine" for January 7, 1923 from the Woody Wise collection. It was an issue of thirty one pages promoting the films "Outcast," "To Have and to Hold" and "Robin Hood." Woody had the cover as a post on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

Sid leaves downtown: In addition to running the Million Dollar and Rialto theatres on Broadway, he had opened the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood in October 1922 and in January 1923 the biggest of them all, the Metropolitan Theatre at 6th and Hill, a house later renamed the Paramount. Zukor and Lasky already had personal money in the operation of the three downtown theatres and in mid-1923 had Paramount acquire an option on Sid's 50 percent interest in the houses as well. The plan was revealed in "Grauman Gives Options On Theaters To Paramount," a July 14, 1923 Times article: 

"Owner of Notable Downtown Houses to Sell Them and Build Others in Near-by Cities. Contracts have been signed and preliminary payments, in the form of option money, have been made by the Paramount Pictures Corporation for the entire Grauman motion-picture theater interests. The Metropolitan, Grauman's Million Dollar Theater at Third street and Broadway and the Rialto on South Broadway are the houses involved. The sale of the houses and new construction which is to follow immediately, involve a total of $4,845,000. The transactions contemplated are among the most important ever recorded in the United States relative to theater property. 

"Grauman Confirms Deal. Confirmation of the deal involving his interests, 50 per cent of the total ownership, was given last night by Sid Grauman. A total of $1,045,000 is to be paid to Mr. Grauman by the Paramount interests. As part of the transaction Mr. Grauman is to remain in direct charge of the houses for the next six months. Coincident with the confirmation of the sale of his properties, which does not in any way involve his theater in Hollywood, Mr. Grauman announced the completion of tentative plans for the erection of another theater devoted entirely to the photodramatic art in Hollywood. This house is expected to cost $1,500,000, the plans calling for its completion and dedication in approximately seven months. At the same time Mr. Grauman will also have under construction in Hollywood a third theater, which is to combine legitimate productions and motion pictures, and which is to cost approximately $800,000. 

"Plans Are Comprehensive. The new picture theatre for Hollywood is to be constructed on Hollywood Boulevard on a piece of ground 160 by 258 feet and is to incorporate, Mr. Grauman said, a score of massive features which will mark another tremendous advance in picture presentation. The site for the combination house also has been chosen but the transfer of the property has not yet been effected. Pending the conclusion of the entire transaction the Paramount interests are having plans prepared for the erection of several additional stories to the present Metropolitan Theater Building, the estimated cost of these latter improvements being $1,500,000. While nothing beyond the preliminary steps has been done, Mr. Grauman also announced that there has been initiated a general plan for the erection and operation of Grauman houses in Long Beach, Pasadena and San Diego...."

The article continued at length with a discussion of more detailed plans for the new Hollywood theatres, which didn't happen at that time. Nothing came along until the Chinese in 1927. The added upper stories mentioned for the Metropolitan didn't happen either. Nor did the Grauman houses planned for three other cities. Sid also talked about a project that was then under construction and would continue to completion, the Broadway entrance of the Metropolitan, located just north of 6th St.

A Times article later in 1923 appeared when the deal with Famous Players-Lasky / Paramount was finalized: 
 
 
Sid was focusing on his future in Hollywood. It's unknown what happened to the proposed payment of over a million dollars to Grauman. Here it's mentioned that he was just going to get stock. The shutdown of the Lasky studios mentioned in the article happened in October 1923 in order to conserve cash to finance the completion of Cecil B. DeMille's bloated production of "The Ten Commandments." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the article.  
 
In 1925, the three downtown theatres started advertising themselves as Publix theatres, a name Famous Players-Lasky started using that year for their theatres after their acquisition of Chicago based exhibitor Balaban & Katz.

The Million Dollar was initially on a ten year lease from owner Homer Laughlin. In 1925 A.C. Blumenthal purchased the building for approximately $1 million. In 1923 he had purchased the Metropolitan Theatre's building. A May 23, 1925 L.A. Times story headed "Edison Building Sold" commented:

"A.C. Blumenthal, Los Angeles real estate man, celebrated his recovery from a recent illness by purchasing yesterday the Edison Building, housing Grauman's Million Dollar Theater... Mr. Blumenthal would make no statement as to what he intends to do with the property further than to say that he bought it as an investment and that the present tenants will not be distrubed.. The design of the theater is still considered one of the best in the country from the point of view of beauty, comfort, accoustics, ventilation and lighting. The theater at present is leased by the Famous-Players Lasky Corporation..."

In 1927 West Coast Theatres took over the actual operation of the Publix theatres in Los Angeles and the ads for the Million Dollar and Metropolitan appeared as part of the regular West Coast ads. At some point prior to 1927 the Rialto had drifted off and became an independent operation. In August 1927 West Coast pulled a permit for a new boxoffice at the Million Dollar.

The Million Dollar News for August 26, 1927 with Vilma Banky on the cover, appearing in "The Magic Flame." Note the Publix logo on the program. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality who found the magazine on eBay and included it in his Noirish post #17525. He has an inside page and several short articles as well. Also see a photo with "The Magic Flame" on the marquee.

In West Coast's ads in the L.A. Times early in 1928 we were told, in small print "In association with Publix." By April 1928 they were saying "In association with Publix-Loew." It's unknown what the Loew's ownership stake was. Or maybe that was just a reference to Loew's State, which West Coast also operated. In May 1928 West Coast pulled a permit for a new marquee on the Million Dollar. 

For reasons unknown, West Coast and Publix closed the theatre in June 1928. The last day of operation was June 6 with "The Street of Sin" with Emil Jannings as the final film. The L.A. Times that day had no story about the closing and the ad only said "Ends Today" and "Hurry, Hurry." The Motion Picture News issue of October 20, 1928 reported that the government wasn't happy with West Coast having the western Publix houses and forcefully suggested that they be divested from West Coast Theatres control. By this time the only theatre Publix had in Los Angeles was the Metropolitan. The fall 1928 listings in the L.A. Times noted that the Million Dollar was "closed for alterations." 
 
While closed, presumably for a general refurbishing, the previously chandelier-less auditorium dome got the fixture formerly in the Broadway lobby of the Metropolitan Theatre. In January 1929 a permit was issued for more marquee work. In February 1929 the theatre reopened after a lease deal was made with Simon Lazarus. His Lazarus Corp. tried second run bookings, some first run Universal product, and even some elaborate prologues before the features. It was sometimes advertised as the Lazarus Million Dollar.
 
 
 
A February 1929 L.A. Times ad for "The Last Warning," a December 1928 Universal release with Laura LaPlante and Montagu Love. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.   
 
Speakeasy time in the basement: A venue called The Catacombs was operating in the north side of the office building basement, along 3rd St. The entrance was a stairway, mostly surviving, that was constructed in a shallow space that had been a newsstand just east of the stairs coming down from the theatre's balcony. An opening date isn't known but it appears that the stairs were added sometime after the building's opening. There's not really anything remaining of the venue in the basement other than a bit of wallpaper, several plain looking rooms and the remains of plumbing for restrooms added for the establishment.

It's now filled in but there was a tunnel connecting the Edison Building basement with the Bradbury across the street. Although the basement is about 20' deep, the tunnel went down deeper. All that remains is a roughly filled-in hole in the floor slab near the line of the Broadway facade above and about 30' south of 3rd St. The basement continues under the sidewalk but the hole isn't that far east. The word is that it was a shallow tunnel -- you went down a few steps from basement level and you had to sort of hunch down to clear your head as you went through. Thanks to David Ortega, the building's long-time maintenance man and explorer, for the research.
 
The theatre in the 30s and 40s: 
 

An ad for the theatre that appeared in the Times issue of December 27, 1931. By late 1932 Lazarus was gone and the Million Dollar was listed in ads as a Fox West Coast operation. Fox had been added to the name when William Fox bought control of the circuit in 1929. 

 

A 1933 ticket for a giveaway of a refrigerator in a promotion with the May Co. Thanks to Sean Ault for the photo of the ticket.



The ticket's reverse reveals that the film at the theatre that week was "Jennie Gerhardt," a film of Theodore Dreiser's novel with Sylvia Sydney. It was a bad day at the print shop. They got both the title and author's first name spelled wrong.

In 1935 the theatre came under the management of Harry Popkin's Circle Theatres, who had purchased the building. The policy was stage shows and second run films. 
 

"Harlem's a Poppin" on the great stage plus that big hit "Gang Smashers" on the screen -- and the stars of the film at every show! It's a 1938 ad appearing in the Eastside Journal. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. In another Journal ad they announced "Free $500 Cash - Keno every Mon. Thurs. Fri." And there was a Jitterbug Contest  every Wednesday night. And, as if that wasn't enough, there was free parking after 4 pm.

In May 1939 Popkin was issued a permit to alter the marquee by rounding the corners of the frame as well as installing new readerboards and neon. In June 1939 Popkin & Ringer got a permit to install a new boxoffice.

This listing in the 1947 Film Daily Yearbook showed the extent of Harry Popkin's theatre holdings. All the theatres listed, other than the Million Dollar and the Hollywood houses, were located on Main St. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting the listing. In the 1940s, the Million Dollar was a home to many jazz and big band shows. Performers included Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday and Artie Shaw.

In 1945 Metropolitan Theatres leased the theatre from Harry Popkin Enterprises for a 15 year term. It's unknown what happened to Harry's partner, Mr. Ringer. Metropolitan had been running vaudeville at the Orpheum and decided to just do first run films there and have their stage shows at the Million Dollar. In 1946 they renovated the lobby, which involved installing a dropped ceiling and other modernizations. The murals in the balcony lobby dome were spared in these 1946 renovations. They survived until the 90s when a church tenant got out a big bucket of white paint. 
 
As a Spanish language house: Beginning in 1950 the Million Dollar got sub-leased to Frank Fouce and began a long run as a Spanish language film house and Mexican vaudeville theatre. "Gala Premiere Reopens Million Dollar Theatre" was the August 31, 1950 article in the Times. The film for the reopening was "Puerta, Joven" with Cantinflas. 
 
 

A 1952 ad for one of the big Mexican vaudeville shows at the theatre. Frank Fouce was also operating the Mason and Mayan. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad. 
 
Fouce died in 1962 but the policy continued under his son Frank Fouce, Jr. In 1969 Frank Jr. purchased the building from the Popkin interests for $2 million. In a March 15, 1970 Times story headlined "Million Dollar Theater Remodeling Planned," he announced that he had already spent $300,000 as a start to renovate the theatre, office space and store areas. In "Old Movie Palace in L.A. Still Lives," an October 4, 1971 Times story, Frank Del Olmo noted that the office building above the theatre was empty and called the decor of the theatre itself "painfully outdated by the gleaming glass skyline that looms around it." He noted that the theatre was running first-run films daily plus Mexican vaudeville shows once a month. Olmo added that Fouce was still doing renovation work and expected the total project to cost $1 million. 
 
In December 1973 Fouce got a permit to turn a large area of the basement at the Broadway end of the building into a restaurant. The Fouce family was also at various times involved with the California Theatre, the Mason Theatre, the Mayan Theatre and other venues. Frank Jr. died in 2013. In his September 28 obituary, "Frank L. Fouce Dies at 85," the Times noted his contributions to the spread of Latino culture in Los Angeles. Metropolitan Theatres eventually came back as operator in 1974 and ran the theatre into the 90s with a policy of Spanish language films and Mexican vaudeville acts.

Redevelopment in the 90s: The theatre building had been sold for $6.5 million in 1989 to Ira Yellin of the Yellin Co. who announced plans to turn the building into (again) an upscale office complex. A February 10 Times article noted that Metropolitan Theatres had the theatre on a 25 year lease that would expire in 2009. The project eventually morphed into the Grand Central Square Apartments, a 1994 project creating apartments in the former office spaces above the theatre as well as in the adjacent Grand Central Market building. One of the penthouses includes the former office of William Mulholland, of Department of Water and Power fame. A parking garage was added on the southeast corner of 3rd and Hill, replacing the Fay Building that had been on the site. Brenda Levin was the project architect.

Closing and attempts at revitalization: The theatre closed as a film house in 1993 and became a church under a sub-lease from Metropolitan Theatres. When the church group moved to the State Theatre in 1998 there was another attempt at Mexican live shows and movies by Metropolitan Theatres in 1999 but that soon ended. 
 
 
 
Showgirls ready to perform at the theatre in July 1999. It's a Gary Leonard photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 
 
A second church group was a tenant in 2000. The L.A. Times ran a story on building owner Ira Yellin when he died in 2002. His widow Adele took over operation of the company.

Former nightclub operator Robert Voskanian leased the theatre in 2005 and gave it a million dollar cleanup and repair. It re-opened in February 2008 for concerts, events and occasional films. There had been gossip about the proscenium being in need of a seismic retrofit but evidently all was stable enough for occupancy. Much seismic retrofitting had been done when the office portion of the building was converted into apartments. There's bracing visible up in the stagehouse, for example, and shear walls evident in the basement. The blog Franklin Avenue had a 2008 story "The Million-Dollar Million Dollar Theatre Gamble."

In early 2010 Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation reported that the City's Bringing Back Broadway committee was working with the building owner and the then-operator Voskanian to help address some of the building's current problems including poor loading access, insufficient restrooms, and lack of a decent HVAC plant. Those items are still problems. Voskanian had hoped to install a cafe in the lobby and planned to continue renovation work in the theatre as funds came in. Business was spotty and bookings were scarce.

Much good work was done but the operation turned out to be not financially viable. Voskanian terminated his lease with Yellin in July 2012. After Voskanian left, the Million Dollar was open occasionally for special events such as film screenings sponsored by the Grand Central Market, Cinespia and the L.A. Conservancy. There were other rentals for filming use. In March 2014 the Million Dollar received a facade lighting improvement grant from the City of Los Angeles for $138,587 to illuminate the decorative arch above the marquee, spotlight the third floor statues, and light tile panels on 3rd Street. The grant was part of a $750,000 package awarded to thirteen Broadway properties. The new lighting debuted in October 2017.

The Million Dollar got a new tenant in late 2017, a five year $6.5 million lease negotiated by the Yellin Co. with CoBird, a new social networking platform. Their now-vanished website, Cobird.com, once had the slogan "Connecting to the world through culture." The word when they took over was that the company would be using the theatre as a performance venue with some of their own shows plus whatever other rentals come along. The lease also included the basement and the storefronts. The Real Deal had a November 8 story titled "The fate of a historic DTLA theater..." discussing the new tenant.

A new owner: Until late 2017 the building was still owned by The Yellin Co. headed by Adele Yellin, the widow of Ira. The company also owned the Grand Central Market and the parking garage at 3rd and Hill, both connected to the twelve-story theatre building. The Market celebrated its 100th anniversary in October 2017. The building dates from 1897 with the Hill St. portion added in 1905. The tenant until 1917 had been the Ville de Paris department store.

The theatre building, the Grand Central Market, and the garage were all sold in late 2017 to Beverly Hills investor Adam Daneshgar, president of Langdon Street Capital. He said at the time "We are not looking to go in and change or overhaul anything." As far as the Market is concerned, Daneshgar announced plans to spend several million on deferred maintenance such as painting and cleaning, along with possibly adding several more stalls. Roger Vincent had the story November 1 story in the L.A. Times: "Downtown's historic Grand Central Market is sold..."

In the theatre, nothing materialized with CoBird. They installed new lobby carpeting in January 2018 and the theatre was open with shows all day during that month's "Night on Broadway." Later there were several other rentals but no serious attempt at bookings or other improvements. Elan Shore had an August 2018 post about the possible end of the brief CoBird era on the Facebook page DTLA Development. Their tenancy lingered but they were officially out at the end of May 2019 due to non-payment of rent.

Bookings, minimal before the CoBird deal, have also been very sparse since then. After being dark for nearly a year, Street Food Cinema had a film screening on March 29, 2019. The L.A. Times month-long Food Bowl event had their kickoff in the theatre at the end of April. The L.A. Conservancy's 2019 Last Remaining Seats film series had two shows at the theatre on June 8. In December 2019 the fashion firm Entireworld used a storefront for a pop-up up shop in conjunction with several week's worth of film screenings of "Groundhog Day," "Less Than Zero," and other titles. And there hasn't been much else. 

The success of the Million Dollar is crucial to the Broadway revitalization efforts. Currently the only other theatres regularly open on Broadway are the Orpheum, Globe and United Artists. The Palace got a million dollar restoration in 2011 but bookings remain infrequent. The Los Angeles gets an occasional concert or special event. Perhaps the State Theatre will eventually come back to life now that its church tenant of 20 years is gone.

The main lobby in the Million Dollar had been stripped of its decor over the years but there is hope of restoring a ceiling dome hiding above a dropped ceiling. The murals in the balcony lobby could be recreated from photos and drawings that exist. The auditorium decor is quite intact but in need of cleaning and repair. In July 2019 the city council voted unanimously to make the theatre a Historic-Cultural Landmark, a designation supported by the building's owner.

Status: It's in need of a deep pocketed tenant but in the meantime available for short term rentals. We'll see what the next chapter brings.


The Million Dollar in the Movies:


We get a glimpse of the top of the Million Dollar in "Safety Last!" with Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis (Hal Roach Studios, 1923). The finale sequence was partially filmed atop the Washington Bldg. at 3rd & Spring. The most famous shot from the film is of Harold hanging from the hands of a clock with the Majestic Theatre and Tally's Broadway in the background. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for that shot as well as a number of links to articles about how the stunts were done.

Scenes using Fanchon & Marco dancers were shot inside the Million Dollar for "Take Me Home" (Paramount, 1928) starring Bebe Daniels. The theatre was dark at the time of the summer 1928 shooting. No prints of the film are known to exist.



We get a brief glimpse of the flashing marquee of the Million Dollar in "Footlight Parade" with Jimmy Cagney (Warner Bros., 1933) as we speed by on the bus to put on a Chester Kent prologue in a New York City theatre. Hillsman Wright of the LAHTF notes that had we been there we might have seen a similar scene with Grauman busing his prologue casts back and forth between the Million Dollar and the Rialto. "Footlight Parade" also gives us a quick look at the Central Theatre, 314 S. Broadway. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for that shot.



Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A." (United Artists, 1950) starts in San Francisco but about an hour into it we come to L.A. and get a ride down Broadway. Later we pay a visit to the Bradbury Building and get this shot of the Million Dollar. The theatre is running "The Big Wheel" starring Mickey Rooney as a race car driver. Our star Edmond O'Brien is trying to track down the guy who gave him a lethal dose of radium. "D.O.A." was produced by Harry Popkin's Cardinal Pictures. Popkin owned the Million Dollar building at the time. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Tower and Orpheum as well as other information about the film.



We get this nice view north on the 300 block of Broadway in "Between Midnight and Dawn" (Columbia, 1950) starring Edmond O'Brien and Gale Storm. On the left it's the vertical sign for the Million Dollar with that for the Grand Central Market in front of it. On the right it's the Cozy and Central theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a closer view of those two.



In Steve McQueen's last film "The Hunter" (Rastar/Paramount, 1980) we get a shot up 3rd St. along the side of the Million Dollar.



In Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" (Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 1982) we have a number of shots of the marquee as lots of the action was filmed across the street in the Bradbury Building. The columns we see looking out from the Bradbury Building were added by the for the film by the production designer. The film stars Harrison Ford, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah and Rutger Hauer. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more shots showing the Million Dollar.



We get a look at the Million Dollar in a big cruise down Broadway during the opening credits of Dennis Hopper's "Colors" (Orion, 1988). For architecture buffs anyway, the rest of the film (with Sean Penn and Robert Duvall) is less than compelling. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the State and Palace Theatres from the credit sequence.

We get several views of the top of the building housing the Million Dollar during the opening credits of Stephen Frears' "The Grifters" (Cineplex Odeon Films/Miramax, 1991). We also get a shot of the top of the vertical sign at the former Warner Hollywood/Hollywood Pacific. It's based on a Jim Thompson novel and stars John Cusak, Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston. A dark and bloody adventure.
 

We get this fine view of Teresa Russell in front of the Bradbury with the Million Dollar in the background in Ken Russell's "Whore" (Trimark, 1991). This was supposedly his answer to the glamorous life portrayed in "Pretty Woman." The film also stars Benjamin Mouton, Antonio Fargas and Elizabeth Morehead. Amir Mokri was the cinematographer. Thanks to Eric Schaefer for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Cameo, Arcade and Century Plaza theatres from the film.


We get this fine look at the theatre in Marc Rocco's film "Murder in the First" (Warner Bros., 1995). Christian Slater is crossing the street to go into the Bradbury Building where his brother, played by Brad Dourif, has offices. The film is set in San Francisco c.1941 and Slater plays a public defender on the case of Alcatraz inmate Kevin Bacon, accused of killing another prisoner.



Mira Sorvino has an office across from the Million Dollar on 3rd in Antoine Fuqua's "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998). All hell breaks loose when Chow Yun-Fat comes to see her about getting some forged papers. Here's some carnage about to happen on the fire escape. See the Theatres in Movies post for another shot showing the Million Dollar building as well as lots of action at the Mayan, Tower and Orpheum.



Catherine Keener lives in the apartments above the Million Dollar in "Being John Malkovich" (USA Films, 1999). She's heading to floor 7 1/2 of the New York office building where she and work buddy John Cusak have a line of customers waiting to go through a portal leading to John Malkovick's brain for a 15 minute adventure. The film was directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Million Dollar shot as well as three views of a scene at the Belasco.


 
We get this nice shot of the Million Dollar in "Paparazzi" (20th Century Fox, 2004). A young star played by Cole Hauser tries to get even over an incident with four overly zealous photographers. The guys work for a sleezy tabloid called "L.A. Paparazzi." That's one of their racks in the lower right. Paul Abascal directed the film that also features Robin Tunney and Dennis Farina. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three shots of a premiere at the Pantages at the end of the film. 
 

We get a look at the Million Dollar in this shot looking south on Broadway from Francis Lawrence's film "Constantine" (Warner Bros., 2005). The film stars Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Tilda Swinton and Djimon Hounsou. Rachel is a detective who needs the help of the "demonologist" played by Keanu to prove that the death of her sister wasn't a suicide. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another Million Dollar shot as well as views of the Tower and Olympic theatres from the film.

The interior of the Million Dollar is lovingly shown in glorious black and white in Alex Holdridge's "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (2008). We see the exterior of the Orpheum but it's the Million Dollar when we go inside.


 
Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are outside the Million Dollar after seeing the film "Vagiant" ("part vampire - part giant") in Marc Webb's "(500) Days of Summer" (Fox Searchlight, 2009).  See the Theatres in Movies post for two more views outside the theatre as well as a night shot of the Palace.
 

We get a quick look at the front of the theatre before a skit called "The Porno Review" in "InAPPropriate Comedy" (Freestyle Releasing, 2013). Direction was by Vince Offer with cinematography by Ken Barrows. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of Michelle Rodriguez, Rob Schneider and Jonathan Spencer sitting in theatre seats reviewing porno films Siskel and Ebert style. Performers in other not-very-funny skits include Lindsay Lohan and Adrien Brody.  

The Million Dollar on TV:


 
The theatre is nicely dressed up as the Montclair with a NYC cab in front for some TV production in 2013. At least there weren't any letters on the marquee saying "Million Dollar" that they needed to take down or disguise. Thanks to Larry Harnisch for his photo, appearing on his blog The Daily Mirror as a post titled "L.A. Becomes N.Y."
 

Thanks to Escott O. Norton for this screenshot from "Them" (Amazon, 2021). He comments: "This was a surprise! I’m watching the first episode and about 10 minutes in there is a quick driveby of an unnamed theatre. Looks like they took a shot of the Million Dollar, flipped it, and added a CG marquee that looks nothing like any of the historic marquees! A lot of work for a quick shot!"

The Million Dollar on Video: For some nice views of the theatre check out Haeyong Moon's "The Show Starts on Broadway" on YouTube.

Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation's Hillsman Wright with one of the murals hiding above the lobby's dropped ceiling. It's a shot from Haeyong Moon's lovely "Million Dollar Theater: The Hidden Layers." The three parts of the video take you on a fascinating tour up above the current ceiling. On YouTube: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Also see the 3 minute 2010 clip with Hillsman Wright: "Ally Quest Los Angeles, 1940s Part II: Million Dollar Theatre" and Don Solosan's fine "Insiders Peek #10," about the wonders explored during the 2013 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building.

More information: The Cinema Treasures page on the Million Dollar has a nice history by Ken Roe and Howard B. Haas plus lots of recollections about various performances at the theatre. The Cinema Tour page has some interesting comments regarding the inspiration for the ornamentation as well some exterior photos. 

Doves2Day has a 2010 photo essay on the Million Dollar featuring many fine photos. There is a Facebook page for the Million Dollar but it's not associated with any current operations at the theatre. It's unknown who's running it. Stephen Friday has a fine fifteen photo set from 2008 on Flickr. 

You won't want to miss the Flickr album of 340 photos of the Million Dollar taken by Michelle Gerdes. Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret article details her adventures at the 2013 LAHTF "all-about" tour with many wonderful photos. Mike Hume has a terrific page about the Million Dollar on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

L.A. Observed had an article about a 2013 LAHTF tour. The Los Angeles Public Library website's 2017 article "How Spanish-Language Entertainment Revived the Broadway Theatres" by Christina Rice discusses the Million Dollar, Globe and United Artists. The 2008 reopening by Robert Voskanian had received lots of press including the April 12 L.A. Times story "A Million Dollar Dream." Wikipedia has an article on the Million Dollar.

The Million Dollar's application for City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument status is available on LA City Clerk Connect: https://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2019/19-0547_misc_1_05-23-2019.pdf.

More on Sid Grauman: The definitive book on the career of Sid Grauman has yet to be written. The best we have so far is Charles Beardsley's "Sid Grauman: Hollywood's Master Showman" (Cornwall Books, 1983). It's available on Amazon. Wikipedia also has a biographical article on Sid Grauman.

Sid had sold his interest in the Egyptian shortly after opening the Chinese in 1927. In 1929 he turned that operation over to Fox West Coast and planned to retire. At least for a couple of years. "Sid Grauman Retires Today" was a June 16 L.A. Times story detailing his plans. In 1931 he was back producing a season of legit shows at the Mayan, some of which traveled to San Francisco.

Soon he was back at the Chinese working for Fox West Coast and in October 1932 had their operations at the newly reopened United Artists and Pantages under his "personal direction." In the 40s he was a partner with Charles Toberman in the Hollywood Playhouse. His affiliation with the Chinese lasted until his death. The obituary in the Times titled "Sid Grauman, Theater Man, Dies at 70" ran on May 6, 1950. They noted that he had "originated many traditions."

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