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Olympic Theatre: history + exterior views

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

Also see: Olympic Theatre - interior views   

The news: It's vacant. The COS store that was in the building closed in June 2022

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

Architect: The building was constructed in 1917 as a restaurant, the Maison Marcell. Frank Meline was both architect and contractor for owner Joseph Marcel Annechini. The project was announced in the September 23, 1917 issue of the L.A. Times. A progress report and an updated rendering appeared in the November 11 issue. The L.A. Record issue of April 25, 1922 noted the sale of the restaurant to Eddie Brandstratter, who planned a renovation. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Gaylord Wilshire for posting the articles on Noirish post #57257. Additional material is on Odinthor's Noirish post #57258.   

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

Seating: 600 originally. None now. The sloped auditorium floor was 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 Friday 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, Bard's West Adams and the Garfield in Alhambra.

Prior to the Bard's 8th Street conversion, the building on the 50' x 130' lot was called Crillon Cafe. The 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.  

A 1927 ad for films from the Tunney-Dempsey fight. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a comment to a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

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.

A little fire incident in August 1944. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the article. Charring was still visible on the trusses in the attic during a 2016 visit.

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." The H&M brand COS (as in Collection of Style) signed a lease in 2016. Brigham, 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..."

A June 6, 2016 story on Racked L.A. included this rendering from LDA Design Group of Burbank. Demolition began in late 2016. The upper part of the facade got rehabbed with a new storefront installed on the ground level.

The marquee came off the building in February 2017. It was a version that had gone 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 sign was restored and re-lit. It 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. 

None of the remaining vintage interior elements survived the remodel. COS opened in late August 2017. Brigham Yen had a story and photos about the occasion on his blog DTLA Rising.

Status: The COS store was never a big hit. They closed in June 2022. Thanks to Brandon R. Guzman-Johnson for sharing the news in a post on the DTLA Development Facebook page.

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 - 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 taken by the Luckhaus Studio that ended up in the Ralph Morris collection. The street level of the Merritt Building on the corner was originally retail, then (as we see here) it was redone as a bank. 

1931 - A July 25 look toward the new Broadway entrance of Bard's 8th St. that used the north bay of the Merritt building. It's a photo by Joseph Carter of the Dick Whittington Studio. This is one of a set of ten images in the USC Digital Library collection taken during the May Company's Golden Jubilee. They were celebrating the founding of Hamburger's Department Store in 1881, originally called The People's Store. 

1931 - A detail from the Joseph Carter photo. The theatre was running "Born To Love," an April release with Constance Bennett. 

1931 - Another July 25 Golden Jubilee shot looking north. The Rialto was running "Shipmates," an April release with Robert Montgomery and Dorothy Jordan. The Tower Theatre is just beyond. Down in the 700 block the marquee of the President Theatre (now called the Globe) said "Nothing In This World Like It." This is another one in the USC Digital Library set of ten images taken by the Dick Whittington Studio's Joseph Carter. 

1931 - A detail from the previous photo by Joseph Carter. Note part of the vertical for Loew's State, down at the other end of the block at 7th St.

1931 - A great postcard showing the marquee of the Bard's Broadway entrance on the right. Thanks to Gerald DeLuca for sharing this card from his collection on Photobucket. That north bay in the Merritt Building was soon retail space again after it was abandoned as a theatre entrance. Later the entire ground floor of the building was remodeled to become a branch of Home Savings. Bard's 8th St. was renamed the Olympic Theatre in 1932.

This card also gives us a view of the Majestic Theatre vertical farther down the street on the right just before the greenish Eastern Columbia building. In the left foreground the marquee of the President / Globe Theatre is advertising the King Vidor film "Street Scene," a September release with Sylvia Sidney, William Collier Jr. and Estelle Taylor.

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 the now-vanished American Classic Images website 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.

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: | on Flickr | on Facebook

May 2021 - A view west on 8th St. Photo: Yasmin Elming 

May 2021 - A look up the vertical. Photo: Yasmin Elming. Thanks! 

June 2022 - The COS store closed in June 2022. Thanks to Brandon R. Guzman-Johnson for sharing the news along with his photo in a post on the DTLA Development Facebook page. 

June 2022 - Putting a coat of white paint on the newly installed plywood. Photo: Bill Counter - June 12

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.

A c.1965 look toward the Merritt Building when Home Savings was the ground floor tenant. Thanks to Sean Ault for finding the photo.

After restoration the building was being revealed in a slow striptease, one floor at a time. Photo: Bill Counter - April 2020

A closer view. Photo: Bill Counter - April 2020 

A column capitol detail. Photo: Bill Counter - April 2020 

The cleaned up building awaiting new tenants. Photo: Bill Counter - June 2022

The Olympic Theatre in the Movies:  

The theatre shows up 6:53 into 8 minutes of footage shot for background use in process shots. It's on YouTube from NASS as "1940s - Views of California..." It starts with suburban daytime Westwood Village shots before we get the tour at night going east on 8th St. In the block before we get to the Olympic there's a view of the signage of the Hotel Bristol and the Golden Gopher. The original non-colorized footage is on Internet Archive: segment 1 | segment 2 - 8th St. | segment 3
The Olympic was running "Champagne Waltz" (1937) with Fred MacMurray and Gladys Swarthout along with "The Young in Heart" (1938) starring Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Paulette Goddard. Thanks to Bruce Kimmel for spotting the theatre and determining that this program played there the week of March 4, 1942.

We get the signage of the Olympic in "Boston Blackie's Rendezvous" (Columbia, 1945). It's a crime drama starring Chester Morris as Blackie, Steve Cochrane as a guy who likes strangling women, and Nina Foch as a possible victim. The occasion for the shot was Blackie rushing to Danceland where Foch's character worked. Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges for spotting the Olympic in the film.

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. 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.

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 John McTiernan's "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 look at the set they built for the projection booth scenes plus views of the Tower Theatre, Globe and Long Beach's Terrace Theatre. The cinematography was by Dean Semler. Eugenio Zanetti was the production designer.

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.  

The marquee of the Olympic is seen behind Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz in this view west on 8th from Francis Lawrence's film "Constantine" (Warner Bros., 2005). The film also stars 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 Olympic shot as well as views of the Tower and Million Dollar theatres from the film.

The Olympic is one of seventeen theatres we see in Alex Holdridge's "In Search of a Midnight Kiss" (IFC First Take, 2008). Scoot McNairy and Sara Simmonds meet via a Craigslist ad and are wandering the city on New Year's Eve. Also featured are Brian McGuire, Kathleen Luong, Robert Murphy, Twink Caplan, Bret Roberts and Stephanie Feury. The cinematography was by Robert Murphy. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for thirty-two more shots of the theatres appearing in the film. 
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.
For a terrific pre-renovation interior tour of the Merritt Building see the 2016 photos from Hunter Kerhart. 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.

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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