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Olympic Theatre: history + exterior views

313 W. 8th St. Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

Also see: Olympic Theatre - interior views


Opened: Saturday April 2, 1927 as Bard's 8th St. Theatre with the Universal comedy "Oh, Baby" starring Madge Kennedy and Creighton Hale. The building is now used for retail. In the early 30s there was (very briefly) also an entrance at 757 S. Broadway. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Architect: Lewis A. Smith, who designed many theatres in the Los Angeles area including others for Lou Bard and a number of projects for West Coast Theatres. Charles O. Matcham did a remodel in 1942. Bard usually liked Egyptian interiors but this one had a Chinese flavor.

Seating: 600 originally. None now. The sloped auditorium floor was been replaced with a flat floor of wood frame construction when the building was converted to retail use.



An article about the opening that appeared in the April 1, 1927 L.A. Times. Lou Bard operated a number of other theatres including two nearby Hill Street theatres, the Town Theatre and the College Theatre. Bard's was the circuit that also built the Vista Theatre on Sunset Dr. in the Los Feliz area. Bard's Egyptian Theatre in Pasadena (later the Colorado) is still running as the Academy 6. Bard also had the Glen Theatre in Glendale, the West Adams Theatre and Alhambra's Garfield.

Bard's 8th Street was a remodeled building on a 50' x 130' lot previously occupied by Crillon Cafe. The building was constructed in 1917. Construction cost for the theatre conversion was advertised as $200,000. Total square footage, per Brigham Yen, is 9,835 split into three levels: basement 3,289 SF, ground floor 5,520 SF, mezzanine 1,026 SF.

Surviving until 2016 from the restaurant era was a set of skylights on the mezzanine. Some were still visible in the theatre lounge areas along the front of the building. Others remained but were obscured by the addition of a projection booth on the mezzanine. The back of the building has bricked-in windows from the building's days before it was a theatre.



A 1927 ad in the Times for the three Bard theatres downtown calling this one Bard's 8th and Broadway. "Rough House Rosie" was a May release. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad. 

The Broadway entrance: In 1930, Bard's added a second entrance through the north storefront of the Merritt Building at 8th & Broadway. This entrance probably was a bigger lobby than the original one on 8th. This new lobby didn't intersect with the original -- patrons came into the auditorium via a doorway in the house right wall at a crossaisle about a third of the way down from the back of the auditorium. The November 30, 1930 issue of the Los Angeles Times discussed the project:

"The ground floor of the Merritt Building, at the northwest corner of Broadway and Eighth streets, will be divided into two stores and a theater salon and lobby, as a result of a series of leases consummated through the W. Ross Campbell Company...The north section of the property will be converted into a theater salon and lobby which will provide a Broadway entrance to Bard's Eighth-street Theater. The lease was drawn for a term of sixteen years. The Windsor Corporation, owners of the Bard Theater Chain, are the lessees in this instance. Store fronts and interiors are being installed on the premises now." Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges for finding the article and posting it on the site's Majestic Theatre page.

At the beginning of the COS remodel in mid-2016, the plastered-over doorway (with an electrical box above for an exit sign) was still detectable on the side wall. It's unknown how long this entrance was used. Evidently not long. The Merritt Building, a design by the San Francisco-based firm Reid Brothers, dates from 1914.

Renaming: In 1931 Bard's became the Olympic Theatre, in honor of the 1932 games in Los Angeles. It was going under its new name in ads as early as June 1931.



A 1934 ad for the Olympic. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

In the 40s and 50s the theatre had a suggestion book in the lobby for patron suggestions and was known as the Olympic Request Theatre. Looking down from Broadway one of the vertical signs would say "Olympic" and the second one "Request."

Closing: For its last decades it was operated by Metropolitan Theatres, usually as a last moveover spot after films had played the Orpheum, State or Palace. It closed as a film house in 1997.

It was used for storage and retail after closing as a theatre. Most of the original "Oriental" decor was gone except for elaborate sidewall column capitols, a ceiling medallion from a 40s remodel, ornament around the proscenium and organ grilles, and the glass ceiling on the mezzanine. The late 90s renovation involved leveling the floor, removing the booth, redoing the stairs and gutting the storefront spaces on either side of the theatre entrance. See the interior views page for lots of photos.

New Owners: Curbed L.A. ran a May 2010 story by Dakota Smith about the building being for sale: "Downtown's Olympic Theatre Can be All Yours." At the time the asking price was $2.3 million. A listing on Loopnet indicated that the property had sold in September 2013. For a few years before the sale the theatre was a showroom for light fixtures and furniture with the store having an eternal "closing soon" sale. They finally cleared out at the end of 2013.

The new owners had to sit on it quite a while until the right tenant emerged. Brigham Yen announced the availability in a 2014 DTLA Rising post: "Unique Flagship Retail Opportunity."

Status: The H&M brand COS (as in Collection of Style) signed a lease in 2016. They opened in late August 2017. Brigham Yen, who was the listing agent, had a March 2016 story on DTLA Rising about leasing the building: "Dilapidated Olympic Theatre... to be brought back to life..."  Demolition began in late 2016. The marquee came off the building in February 2017.



A June 6, 2016 story on Racked L.A. included this rendering from LDA Design Group of Burbank. The upper part of the facade got rehabbed with a new storefront installed on the ground level. The vertical sign was restored and re-lit. Neither the marquee nor any of the remaining vintage interior elements survived the remodel. Brigham Yen had a story and photos on his blog DTLA Rising when the store opened.

The marquee that was on the building went up sometime in the 1960s. The old one was still on the building as late as 1958 -- we see a bit of it in a USC Dodgers parade photo. The first photo we have of the new one is with Charlton Heston arriving at the theatre in "The Omega Man," a 1971 release.

The vertical got its present configuration and current centered location sometime between 1947 and 1951. As late as 1947 there were still two verticals on the building, neither looking like the present one. Our first look at the new sign is in a 1951 Los Angeles Public Library photo. We also see it in "The War of The Worlds," a 1953 release.


The Olympic Theatre in the Movies: 


We get the signage of the Olympic Theatre in "Boston Blackie's Rendezvous" (1945). The screenshot is on Flickr from Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges.

We get a glimpse of the Olympic in the Rita Hayworth film "Down To Earth" (Columbia, 1947). But it's only via a process shot -- we see tantalizing downtown L.A. footage out the rear window of a taxi Rita is riding in.



It's much more interesting to look directly at the footage they shot downtown for the film. It's on Internet Archive as Downtown L.A. streets - 1946. It's an 11 minute tour giving us glimpses of what seems like a vanished world -- including of lots of theatres and upscale storefronts. The RKO Hillstreet is in the distance with the Olympic on the right.



Another look at the Olympic marquee in the "Down To Earth" footage shot in 1946 -- a much flashier confection than the one on the building in the 70s and beyond. On the tour we get night vistas of 7th and 8th streets as well as (at the end) a look at all the theatres on the east side of Broadway. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for some closer shots of the RKO Hillstreet.



We get a quick drive-by in a squad car to look at the theatre's wildly flashing marquee in "He Walked by Night" (Eagle-Lion Films, 1948). The film stars Richard Basehart as a quirky killer the LAPD is trying to catch. The ending features a terrific chase through L.A.'s storm drains. On the hunt are Scott Brady, Roy Roberts and Jack Webb. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Mason Theatre's stagehouse from the Hill St. tunnel we see earlier in the film.



As the Martians get close to the city we get this shot east on 8th St. in "The War of the Worlds" (Paramount, 1953). That's the Hillstreet vertical on the right and the Olympic down in the block between Hill St. and Broadway.



A closer look at the theatre's new vertical in "War of the Worlds." Previously there were two (one on each edge of the facade) and quite different in style. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for another shot looking south on Hill St. with a view of the Mason Theatre stagehouse.



Charlton Heston pulling up in front of the Olympic in Boris Sagal's "The Omega Man" (Warner Bros., 1971).



Heston leaving the Olympic after watching a reel of "Woodstock" in "The Omega Man." We also get a booth view -- he had to thread up the film and strike up the Magnarc (with the door open!) as well as an auditorium shot (done elsewhere). In addition, there are several views down 8th that include the Tower Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for those shots.



We're supposedly in New York City in this sequence from "Last Action Hero" (Columbia, 1993). Yet Arnold and his young friend are in a rainy night traffic jam chasing the bad guy (Charles Dance) on 8th St. in front of the Olympic. Lots of scenes for "Last Action Hero" were shot in the Orpheum Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for those shots as well as a couple of the set they built for the projection booth scenes.



Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter have a scene in front of the Olympic in David Fincher's "Fight Club" (20th Century Fox, 1999). On the marquee is "Seven Years in Tibet," a Brad Pitt film from 1997. Pitt is, of course, also in "Fight Club." See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post on for another shot on 8th St. showing the Tower Theatre as well as shots of a scene filmed in the booth at the Los Angeles.



Near the beginning of Mark Steven Johnson's "Daredevil" (20th Century Fox, 2003) we see the Olympic dressed up as a New York City boxing arena. Note that that the brick walls on either side of the main entrance are just set dressing.



At the end of "Daredevil" we pan down to the Olympic as a rose falls from above. We're pretending it's in New York with the matte work buildings beyond. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a shot with the vertical's neon lit as well as a production shot on the roof of the Arcade Theatre.


More exterior views: 


1927 - A view looking west on 8th St. from Broadway. The photo from the Automobile Club of Southern California is in the USC Digital Library collection.



1927 - A detail of the theatre's entrance from the USC photo above.



1927 - Another look at the corner from the Automobile Club of Southern California that's in the USC Digital Library collection. As usual, the poor theatre is on the margin.



c.1928 - An early view of the Merritt Building on the corner of 8th and Broadway. Take a look down 8th Street and you can catch a glimpse of the Bard's vertical signs. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.  It was taken by the Luckhaus Studio and later was in the Ralph Morris collection.

The Library dates the photo as 1931 but it's evidently earlier as we don't see the new Broadway entrance for Bard's Theatre through the Merritt building. The first floor was originally retail, then (as we see here) it was redone as a bank. Later it was (briefly) a theatre lobby and retail space. Later it was again a bank, Home Savings.



1931 - This great postcard shows the marquee of the Bard's Broadway entrance in the classical white Merritt Building at right. The card is in the collection of Gerald DeLuca on Photobucket. Mr. DeLuca has an interesting collection of theatre photos. Check out his Cinemas Album and others.

This postcard is the only view to surface so far showing the theatre's short-lived entrance on Broadway. There's also a view of the Majestic Theatre vertical farther down the street on the right just before the greenish Eastern Columbia building. The marquee in the left foreground is the President Theatre, later to become the Globe.



c.1938 - A look east on 8th St. from Hill with a glimpse of the Olympic (15 cents admission) on the left. Down at 8th & Broadway we see the Tower Theatre. That's the May Co. on the right. It's a Herman Schultheis photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



c.1939 - A Dick Whittington Studio photo looking toward Broadway. It's in the USC Digital Library collection.



c.1939 - A detail from the Dick Whittington Studio photo above.



1940s - Well it's not much, but here's a view down 8th St. with the Olympic's sign visible on the right hand side of the street. The RKO Hillstreet is on the left a block away. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.




1947 - It's a Frasher Foto postcard looking west down 8th St. The two Olympic vertical signs saying "Olympic" and "Request" are visible on the right. The theatre had a request book in the lobby. Down a block at Hill St., we get the RKO on the left. The photo can be seen on the Online Archive of California and on the Pomona Public Library website.



1951 - 8th and Broadway. The Olympic is on the left side of the photo. The theatre has a new vertical sign at the center of the facade, replacing the two earlier signs. Note that the theatre's facade hasn't yet been covered up. Or that of the Merritt Building's second floor for that matter either. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



1957 - An Examiner photo in the USC Digital Library collection gives us a sliver of the theatre at the far left.



1957 - A slice from the far left side of the image above. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for sending it along. That nice curved canopy this side of the theatre is the entrance to the upper floors of the Merritt Building. Even though the theatre has a new vertical sign, the marquee at this point is still the version from the 30s.



1958 - At the left we get an oblique detail of the metalwork and neon on top of the Olympic's old marquee. It's a 1958 Dodgers parade shot looking east toward Broadway and the Tower theatre. The photo is in the USC Digital Library collection.



1958 - A wonderful view looking west on 8th St. from Broadway. We've got the Olympic Theatre on the right and, down at 8th & Hill, the RKO Hillstreet. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for sharing the photo from his collection.



1980 - A photo from American Classic Images of the theatre in its Spanish language days. The vertical had been red when it was installed sometime between 1947 and 1951. When the new marquee went up they painted it to match.



1981 - The signage gone yellow. With that ladder in place maybe they were still working on it. Thanks to American Classic Images for the photo.



1983 - The theatre at night in a photo from the American Classic Images collection.



1983 - We get a closer view from the east thanks to American Classic Images. Also see a 1983 datyime view on the site.



1988 - A Gary Graver photo. Over several decades he took many photos of theatres in Los Angeles and Portland, OR. Many can be seen in two compilations on YouTube: "Second Run - Part 1" and "Second Run - Part 2." Thanks to Sean Graver for use of the photo.



1992 - "Supercop" with Jackie Chan and "Terminator 2" with Arnold. The next year we'd get a shot of Arnold in front of the theatre in "Last Action Hero." Thanks to the legendary Ken McIntyre for the photo on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles. The theatre would close in 1997.



2004 - The tarps are up as interior renovations are underway. Work at this time included replacing the sloped auditorium floor with a flat one, clearing out lobby area construction, removing the projection booth from the mezzanine, and adding new stair access up to that level. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing his photo. 



2007 - The building in its "Downtown Design Center" days. Photo: Bill Counter



2007 - A peek at the Olympic's original facade hiding behind the "modern" metal cladding. Photo: Bill Counter



January 2010 - An early morning view looking east toward the Tower Theatre a half block away on Broadway. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010



February 2010 - Removal of the metal cladding had begun. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2010 - A detail of the upper part of the facade. Photo: Bill Counter



March 2010 - The exterior all spruced up and ready to remove the scaffolding. Thanks to Hillsman Wright for his photo on the on the LAHTF Facebook page.



May 2010 - The cleaned up facade. The metal cladding formerly obscuring the facade was removed. The exterior was cleaned and painted in preparation for selling the building. It took a while to find a buyer. Photo: Bill Counter



May 2010 - Another view of the newly cleaned up facade. Photo: Bill Counter 



May 2010 - A detail of the facade ornamentation. The little gold sprigs of foliage were a new touch. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - The rear of the building (gray). Note the bricked-in windows from the former use as a restaurant. Most of the back of the building is hidden behind behind the pinkish building on the left. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - The Merritt Building at 8th and Broadway, once the site of a Broadway entrance for the Olympic. The theatre is just behind with its vertical peeking up above the traffic light. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - No sign of the theatre entrance that used this space beginning in 1930. Well, it's been 80+ years. The Merritt Building's Broadway storefronts are 757, 759 and 761 S. Broadway. The theatre entrance was in this north storefront at 757. Photo: Bill Counter



A peek into the storefront that had once been the Olympic's Broadway lobby. Photo: Bill Counter



2013 - East toward the Merritt Building and Broadway. Photo: Bill Counter



2013 - West toward Hill St. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for his photo, a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



November 2013 - A look down on the Olympic -- with the eternal "Everything Must Go" sale. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



February 2017 - Thanks to Dion Noravian on the DTLA Development Facebook page for his photo of the building shortly after removal of the marquee. In a comment to Dion's post, Mars Bravo of the Los Angeles Sign Company noted that his firm got the contract for work on the vertical sign.




March 2017 - The vertical sign is scaffolded for restoration work. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



March 2017 - The first glimpse of the new colors for the vertical -- blue with bright yellow letters. It had all been painted black -- including the tubing. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



March 2017 - A look at the facade's condition after the removal of the marquee. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



March 2017 - A bit of long-concealed ornament revealed behind the vertical's support. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



April 2017 - A look west after removal of the scaffolding for the sign. Thanks to Marty Culbert for his photo. See his post on the DTLA Development Facebook page for three more views. 



April 2017 - The newly restored vertical sign. Thanks to James Lin for his photo.



April 2017 - Sign work completed but lots to do on the rest of the facade. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



April 2017 - A view from across the street. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



April 2017 - A view from the west. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



August 2017 - The Olympic vertical lit again. Thanks to Bao Le for his photo on the DTLA Development Facebook page.



August 2017 - The vertical from below. Thanks to Paul Wright for his photo, one of three views of the building on a post on the Facebook page DTLA Development.   



August 2017 - The facade unveiled after the COS renovations. Thanks to Nicholas Libert for his photo on the DTLA Development Facebook page.



August 2017 - The COS store almost ready for shoppers. Photo: Hunter Kerhart



September 2017 - The store at night. Photo Hunter Kerhart. Keep up with Hunter's recent explorations: HunterKerhart.com | on Flickr | on Facebook


More Information: There's lots of Olympic Theatre history on the Cinema Treasures page. Jeff Bridges (aka vokoban) and others have been busy unearthing the secrets of this theatre.


More on the Hulett C. Merritt Building: The building at 8th & Broadway is a design of the San Francisco based firm Reid Brothers. It was begun in 1914 and opened in 1915. Originally the first floor was retail.



The Merritt Building in October 1916. This was before the building that was to become the theatre was constructed just to the west. Here an earlier building on the site is visible. It's a photo by G. Haven Bishop from the Huntington Digital Library collection.

See "Downtown's historic office buildings, once abandoned, are again drawing tenants," an October 2017 L.A. Times story by Roger Vincent that discusses the Merritt Building renovations, including facade restoration.

For a terrific pre-renovation interior tour see the 2016 photos from Hunter Kerhart. You Are Here has a nice view of the Merritt Building. Blogdowntown had a story on the history of the building in 2006.

The USC Digital Library has a 1939 Dick Whittington photo of the Merritt as we look north on Broadway. The Los Angeles Public Library has a view from 1957 when Millard Sheets did a redesign to make it a branch of Home Savings. Also there's a much earlier undated view of the Broadway facade in the LAPL collection. The Pacific Coast Architecture Database has a page on the Merritt. 


The Olympic Theatre pages:  back to top - history + exterior views | interior views |

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