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Mayan Theatre: history

1038 S. Hill St. Los Angeles, CA 90015 | map |

More Mayan Theatre pages:  vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | main lobby | balcony lobby | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth and attic | stage | basement |


Opened: August 15, 1927 as a legit theatre focused on musical comedies. The opening attraction was the Gershwin musical "Oh, Kay!" with Elsie Janis. The house was managed by Gerhold Davis and Edward Belasco, the same team that ran the Belasco Theatre next door. Fred J. Butler also had an interest in the operation. The Mayan has been a concert venue and nightclub since 1990. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

Phone: 213-746-4674   Website: www.themayan.com

Architects: Morgan, Walls & Clements. The firm also did the Belasco Theatre (1926) just to south of the Mayan. Other theatre work of note included the Music Box/Fonda Theatre, the Leimert/Vision Theatre and the buildings for the Wiltern and El Capitan theatres (but not the interiors). The custom tile work on the ticket lobby floor was done by Malibu Potteries.



A drawing of the proposed theatre from the architects. It's in the USC Digital Library collection. The site Public Art in L.A. has a list of the project's contractors and vendors taken from Architectural Digest volume VI, #4. The Public Art site also includes the Mayan in their Neon Signs section.



The sculpture on the facade as well as the inside sculpture and painted design work is by Francisco Cornejo. This image of a panel designed by Cornejo for the auditorium titled "The Offering" is included with his 17 page article "Description of Architecture and Decorations of the Mayan Theatre" in the April 1928 issue of Pacific Coast Architect.



Another image from the Pacific Coast Architect article. This panel is titled "Music." In addition to floorplans and Cornejo's discussion, the article includes fifteen photos from Mott Studios. Thanks to Mike Hume for finding it on Internet Archive. The Public Art in L.A. website has a tiny bio of Cornejo and a Mayan Theatre page with a bit about Cornejo's work on the project.



A detail from a 1950 Sanborn insurance map showing the Mayan and Belasco. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for posting the item on Flickr. The Mayan occupies a lot with 100' of frontage on Hill St. and 150' in depth. The project was reported to have cost $850,000.

The two theatres were owned by oil magnate Edward L. Doheny and a partner, retired investor Nathan W. Stowell. It was originally going to be called the Stowell Theatre according to an October 31, 1926 L.A. Times article about the Belasco that was located by Mike Hume. The Mayan and the Belasco were an attempt to get a new fashionable legit theatre district going west of Broadway. The Doheny estate ended up owning the buildings.

Seating: 1,491 -- with half on the main floor and half in the balcony. L.A. theatre historian Ed Kelsey comments that the seats were all red velvet. The main floor has been terraced and no longer has fixed seating. The original risers remain in the balcony but the seats have been removed. Want to sit? They'll give you a cushion.



A main floor plan. Note the deep stage and the two side stages. This version appears on the USC Digital Library website.



A balcony plan. The booth is up another level above this. The plans can also be seen in volume two of "American Theatres of Today" by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts. It was issued in two volumes in 1927 and 1930 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co, New York. It got a one volume reprint in 1977 and 1985 by the Vestal Press, New York. Theatre Historical Society did another reprint in 2009.  It's available on Amazon.

The July 31, 1927 L.A. Times described the new theatre:

"NEW THEATER COMPLETED - Mayan of Indian Design, Erected on Hill Street at Cost of $850,000, to open soon. The newest Los Angeles theater, the Mayan, erected at a cost of $850,000, is situated on Hill street between Tenth and Eleventh streets, next door to the Belasco, and is the first to follow the earliest-known American mode, the Mayan. The property, fronting 100 feet on Hill street, with depth of 150 feet, is a Class A reinforced concrete structure, and will be devoted solely to the presentation of musical comedies. The theater will have its premiere August 15, next. Gerhold O. Davis, who, with Edward Belasco and Fred Butler, is lessee of the new Belasco Theater, has leased the Mayan for twenty years from the owner, N.W. Stowell. The auditorium has a seating capacity of 1500, with 750 chairs on the main floor and 750 in the balcony. Offices are located on the second floor in front.

"INDIAN ARCHITECTURE - Into the structure, the architects have incorporated the most modern design and equipment architecturally. The exterior is in ornamental stone designed by a young Mexican artist, Francisco Cornejo, who in his interior design and color, has embodied the findings of his extensive research into earliest known American and Mexican art, with a predominance of blue, brown, red and gold tones. Doorways, proscenium arches and the ceilings are of ornamental stone in Mayan design. The selection of the Mayan motif by Gerhold O. Davis was the result of important archeological discoveries in Central America a year ago.

"Entrance to the theater is through a large outer lobby, 18 x 32 feet, into the downstairs foyer. This and the mezzanine foyer, running the full width of the building, are decorated and furnished for the comfort of patrons during intermission, and smoking will be permitted in them as a result of the recent removal by the City Council of the ban on smoking in such places. Retiring rooms open off the mezzanine lounge. Auditorium illumination is by an indirect system. The large figure of the Mayan sun rays, from whose circumference the entire ceiling is lighted in white and amber tones, is in turn lighted by green and blue lights from a pendant fixture.

"FIRST CONNECTING STAGE - Of exceptional interest because it is the first time in America such practice has been followed, is the use of a twelve-foot connecting stage, on each side of the main stage, which is thirty-eight feet deep and has a width of forty-two feet. Space for fifty musicians is provided in the orchestra pit, which is 10 x 38 feet. From this two stairways lead below stage, to the musicians' room, which is 35 x 11 feet. An interesting innovation in stage lighting is the use of a balcony fifteen feet above stage level for the switchboard panel.

"With the exception of the de luxe star quarters just above the stage level, equipped with a suite of three rooms, and a star room on the stage level, all dressing-rooms open off the green room below, which is 45 x 25 feet. These include two star dressing-rooms, three dressing-rooms accommodating three persons each, five chorus rooms-two accommodating twenty-three each, two accommodating eight and one for six persons. On this level are also the wardrobe room and ventilating system. All downstairs rooms are well ventilated. Shower rooms for the convenience of the players are also in the basement. Ground was broken for the Mayan Theater last August, and the general contract awarded to the Scofield Engineering Company."  Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges for finding the article.



A drawing of the theatre that appeared in the August 14, 1927 issue of the Times. It was accompanied by a lengthy article about the new playhouse by Edwin Schallert, the paper's theatre critic. The Mayan team, who also ran the Belasco next door, made the point of noting their belief that a cluster of theatres is helpful to all of them, especially when they have a diversity of attractions. 



An August 15, 1927 opening day ad. Thanks to Mike Rivest for posting it on the Cinema Treasures page about the Mayan.

The talkies come to the Mayan: 


The theatre continued as a legit house until a little experiment with movies in mid-1929. Thanks to Mike Rivest for this ad for the premiere of "Marianne" with Marion Davies. An August 16, 1929 article in the L.A. Times discussed the engagement:

"MAYAN CHANGES FROM DRAMA TO TALKING FILMS - The Mayan Theater has gone talkie. Commencing Thursday evening, September 5, the Eleventh and Hill street playhouse, hitherto devoted to spoken plays, will inaugurate a policy of talking pictures to be shown twice daily. The opening attraction will be 'Marianne,' a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer screen musical comedy. Gerhold O. Davis, manager of the Mayan, believes that the best entertainment of the future is to be in the form of talking pictures, and he is installing the finest equipment for reproduction, including a new device which he declares to be sensational in its improvement over the present devices. 'I am thoroughly convinced that the public has taken the up-to-date talking, singing and dancing picture to its heart and prefers it to all other forms of entertainment,' declared Davis last night. 'For that reason I am going to a great expense to equip my theater.' Mr. Davis announces that he will present only the best talkies available. Arrangements are being made for a typical gala premiere." 

"Marianne" got a 5 1/2 week run. Then it was back to legit. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding the Times article.



"Journey's End" was a film that played the Mayan in 1930. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



An ad for the architects appearing in the 1931 L.A. Times Annual Midwinter rotogravure issue. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for spotting it on the site Ad Sausage where it appears with many other ads from that edition.

Grauman and Pantages come to the Mayan: Sid Grauman was involved in the Mayan in 1931 not as a film presenter but as a legit producer. Starting in January 1931 he presented the west coast company of the George S. Kauffman - Moss Hart satire of Hollywood "Once in a Lifetime."



Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. Of course in some of the ads it was "Sid Grauman's Once in a Lifetime."



A ticket for "Once in a Lifetime." Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding it. Kurt researches all things Sid Grauman but especially items about the more famous Grauman enterprise, the Chinese. Visit his exhaustively researched site GraumansChinese.org.



The rear of the ticket with a warning from Sid to get there on time. Later the production traveled north to the Curran Theatre in San Francisco, opening there April 20, 1931. Homer Curran, the San Francisco theatre owner and producer, also sent some of his shows south to the Mayan in the early 30s, according to Ed Kelsey.

On April 9 Sid opened a production of Elmer Rice's "Street Scene" at the Mayan that ran until mid-May. Next was "Mrs. Bumpstead-Leigh," a comedy starring Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske. "The Man in Possession" starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. opened June 19 and closed July 21, 1931.



 An ad for "The Man in Possession" at the Mayan in 1931. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it. Note that Sid is offering "Summer Prices." This was Grauman's last show at the theatre. After this the Mayan went dark for awhile. 
 
 

Rodney Pantages, son of Alexander, tried his hand at producing "Lucky Day" at the Mayan in 1932. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad in the California Eagle, a newspaper covering the African American community in Los Angeles. Ken added this as a comment to a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

The WPA Federal Theatre project at the Mayan: From 1936 until at least 1939 the Mayan was used for WPA Federal Theatre Project productions such as "The Weavers, " "Follow the Parade," "Volpone" and many more. 



A 1937 ad for Federal Theatre productions at the Hollywood Playhouse, Mayan and Mason theatres. The project also used the Beaux Arts and Musart theatres. Ken McIntyre found the ad for a post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles



A poster for the Federal Theatre Project production of Gerhart Hauptmann's "The Weavers," at the Mayan. It's in the Library of Congress collection without a date assigned to it.



A 1937 poster in the Library of Congress collection for "Green Grow the Lilacs" at the Mayan. Other items in the LOC collection include: "Allison's House" - c.36-38 | "Noah" - undated, "Censored" - 1936 | "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" - 1938 |  "Alien Corn" - 1938 | "The Sun Rises in the West" - undated. Also see a list of Mayan Theatre items in the collection and the Library's "New Deal Stage" index page.

For more Federal Theatre Project materials see the Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection items at George Mason University, where you can search their collection by theatre name or name of the production. Their collection includes: "Follow the Parade" - 1936 | "Parade" - telegram from Gershwin | "Blind Alley" - 1937 | "The World We Live In" - 1937 | free shows flyer - 1937 | another free shows flyer - 1937 | "It Can't Happen Here" - 1937 | "The Weavers" - 1937 | "Run, Little Chillun" - 1938 | "The Sun Rises in the West" - 1938 | "Alison's House" - c.1938 | "Judgement Day" - 1938 |

The Los Angeles Public Library collection has a look at the stage taken by Herman Schultheis during a scene from "Run, Little Chillun" in 1938.



A pass to get into the "lusty" 1939 production of "Desire Under The Elms." It's from the collection of Walnut Park based historian Wally Shidler. Thanks to Wally and also to Michelle Gerdes for photographing the item and sending it our way.

The Mayan in the 40s: Duke Ellington's "Jump for Joy" with Dorothy Dandridge and Ivie Anderson was one of the more interesting shows to play the theatre. It ran for 101 performances beginning July 10, 1941 to integrated audiences and caused quite a stir at a time when many downtown venues were still segregated.



The cover of the program for "Jump For Joy."



An illustration of the fun ahead in "Jump For Joy." See the "Jump For Joy" page for some additional pages from the program. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the program on Photos of Los Angeles. The production is discussed at length on page 33 of R.J. Smith's "The Great Black Way: L.A. in the 40s," Public Affairs, 2006.



A scene from Duke Ellington's production "Jump For Joy" at the Mayan in 1941. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A publicity shot of Duke Ellington at the Mayan. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. Also see a photo of Louise Franklin & Duke Ellington from "Jump For Joy."



Bill Robinson and a cast of 50 were in the revue "Born Happy" that opened at the Mayan June 21, 1943. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the the ad for the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The show had played the Alcazar in San Francisco in April and then did two weeks at the Biltmore beginning May 27 with Sid Grauman as the producer. For the Mayan run Sid wasn't involved. Later it got cut down to an hour to run between films at the Orpheum. Kurt Wahlner found a review of the Orpheum version in the August 28, 1943 issue of Billboard. It's on Google Books.



An ad in a 1944 issue of Playgoer magazine for Dorothy Dandridge in "Sweet 'n Hot," an "All Star Colored Musical Revue." The ad is from the Collection of Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr. See his great Paper Ephemera album for many more treasures. Thanks, Eric!

The Los Angeles Public Library has several photos from the "Sweet 'n Hot" production: backstage party | Marie Bryant - "scorches the patrons with her 'Hot Muchacha' number in 'Sweet 'N Hot.'" | Bryant onstage | Paul White and Marie Bryant |
 

Martha Raye appearing in "Fun Time." It's a March 1945 ad located by Ken McIntyre for a Photos of Los Angeles post.


A 1946 film booking. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 



Ed Kelsey notes that post-war, the theatre tried a bit of everything to see what would bring in an audience. There were occasional forays into foreign film, adult "artie" films and burlesque revues. Film titles in late 1947 included "Daughter of Ra – Life Among the Nudists (Adults Only)" and "The Strange Story of Man’s Way with Woman (Swedish Film)." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this 1948 ad.



A great program in May 1948. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.



A 1948 Times ad for "She Lost It in Campeche" and "Confessions of a Newlywed."



Another fine program in 1948. Again thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad. 

Frank Fouce takes over: The Mayan then went to Spanish language films (and occasional stage shows) with the acquisition of the building in 1948 by Frank Fouce. He also also exhibited Spanish language product at the California, the Mason and the Million Dollar. In Spanish-language media the theatre was advertised as the Maya.



The Times announces the purchase from Howard Ahmanson in 1948. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article. 



Senoritas onstage at the Mayan in a Frank Fouce produced show in 1949. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



A November 1950 ad. Thanks to Gerald DeLuca for locating it for a post on Cinema Treasures

Porno time at the Mayan: In 1968 the Fouce family leased the building to Carlos Tobalina. It then became billed as the "Fabulous Mayan," a porno operation. He painted the facade colorfully that same year.



Tobalina triplexed the Mayan in 1969, work that fortunately has been undone. Thanks to Mike Rivest for this March 14, 1969 ad.



How can you resist? A short wait in line plus three color adult cartoons! It's a September 1969 ad from Roger Delfont's articles on the site Ad Sausage that analyze the film ads that appeared in the Los Angeles Free Press.



Tobalina bought the building from the Fouce family in 1969. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this November 9 article in the L.A. Times, which nicely omits the detail that all those foreign films being shown were porno.

Ed Kelsey tells stories of the L.A. Conservancy booking one of their "Last Remaining Seats" screenings at the Mayan in 1988. Members were on their hands and knees cleaning the theatre beforehand -- while the theatre was open and running porno.

The Mayan becomes a music venue: 


This was the invitation to an October 14, 1988 preview of the new club, initially to be called Lost City. The inside of the invitation promised that it was to be "Los Angeles's most exciting new Night Club Project." At the time of the preview, the theatre was still operating as a film house. Thanks to Daniel B. Sullivan, one of the partners with Sammy Chao in the nightclub conversion, for sharing the item from his collection. He added it as a comment to a post on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page and noted that he experienced first-hand the dismal condition of the theatre during its years as a porno operation.

It closed as a film house on June 11, 1989 with "Passion" as the last film screened. The Tobalina family leased the building to Chao and Sullivan to turn the theatre into the dance and music club that's now called the Club Mayan. A June 11 L.A. Times article headed "Renovation to Begin - Old Mayan Theatre May Retrieve Glory" noted that talks about the nightclub conversion had started about a year earlier. They quoted Jay Rounds of the L.A. Conservancy: "From our point of view a lot more people are going to enjoy the architecture as a nightclub than are going to enjoy that as a porno house...We think it would be a positive step." Gloria Nakamura, a stepdaughter of Carlos Tobalina, reported that the theatre was still making a profit at the end of its 21 year run as a porno house.

The partners cleaned it up, terraced the main floor, did other remodel work and reopened in 1990. A March 4, 1990 L.A. Times item in a "Save the Date" column noted: "Friday, March 9 - New Club - ...Mayan Theatre (restored to pre-Columbian originality, designated a cultural-historic monument by the City Council) to open as a nightclub with "Rock Among the Ruins" party to benefit Los Angeles Conservancy..." Thanks to Mike Hume for finding these Times items. See the fine page about the Mayan Theatre on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

Status: The Mayan Theatre is still thriving as a nightclub 25+ years later. Mr. Chao still runs the operation. Linda Tobalina currently owns the building.

The Mayan in the Movies:

 
The Mayan makes its first of many movie appearances in "It Couldn't Have Happened (But it Did)" (Invincible Pictures Corp., 1936). The comedy romance features Reginald Denny as a playwright who is accused of murdering the two producers who were putting on his play in a New York theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots of the action at the Mayan. 
 

Harvey Keitel makes a phone call from the lobby of the Mayan in Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (Warner Bros., 1973). The film, set in New York's Little Italy, also stars Robert De Niro, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Cesare Danova and Richard Romanus. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another shot from the scene.


In "Save The Tiger" (Paramount, 1973) Jack Lemmon and Jack Gilford are business owners in trouble having a meeting in the balcony of the Mayan with their friendly neighborhood arsonist. See the Theatres In Movies post for nine more shots of the sequence at the Mayan plus a drive by the El Capitan.



Heading to a premiere at the Mayan in Michael Winner's "Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood" (Paramount, 1976). See the Theatres In Movies post for a view of the Mayan auditorium during the show as well as a shot of the Chinese Theatre forecourt from the beginning of the film.



In "Rock and Roll High School" (New World, 1979) the Mayan becomes the Rockatorium where we get scenes using the exterior of the theatre with people are lining up for a Ramones concert. The interior scenes for the concert were done elsewhere. See the Theatres in Movies post for three more shots at the Mayan.



Kevin Costner is in the Mayan lobby worrying about his client Whitney Huston who is there for an evening of clubbing in Mick Jackson's "The Bodyguard" (Warner Bros., 1992). See the Theatres In Movies post for two more Mayan views as well as shots of the Pantages from the film.



We get a nice walkabout on the main floor of the Mayan during the opening credits of Antoine Fuqua's "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998). It ends with some mayhem featuring Chow Yun-Fat. The film also gives us Tower and Million Dollar exterior shots as well as a long visit inside the Orpheum. See the Theatres In Movies post for another Mayan shot as well as views of the other theatres seen in the film.



We spend a bit of time at the Mayan with Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe in Willard Carroll's "Playing by Heart" (Miramax, 1998). See the Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the Mayan sequence as well as views of the Geffen Theatre in Westwood and the Sunset 5.



The Mayan is used for interior shots of the Roxbury, a legendary night club Chris Kattan and Will Farrell visit in "A Night at the Roxbury" (Paramount, 1998). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for four additional shots from the scenes at the Mayan.



Pimped out in red, Vince Vaughn has a violent evening in the parking lot across the street from the Mayan in F. Gary Gray's "Be Cool" (MGM, 2005). We also have scenes inside, mostly onstage, and don't get much of a tour. "Be Cool" also visits the Shrine and the Chinese. See the Theatres in Movies post for shots from those scenes.

IMDb has a page on films shot at the Mayan.

The Mayan in music videos: The theatre, inside and out, is featured in the Pointer Sisters 1983 video "Neutron Dance." It's on YouTube. Thanks to Marc Edward Hueck for spotting the theatre.

More Information: The Cinema Treasures page on the Mayan has lots more historical information about the theatre and many photos, mostly exterior views. Cinema Tour has some photos of the Mayan (mostly exteriors) on their page.

Charles Beardsley's "Hollywood's Master Showman - The Legendary Sid Grauman" (Cornwall Books, 1983) discusses Sid's legit presentations at the Mayan. See the Mayan Theatre album of Jeff Bridges on Flickr for 40 views of the theatre taken in 2008.

The Mayan is included in "Great American Movie Theaters, A National Trust Guide" by David Naylor (Preservation Press, Washington, D.C., 1987). The coverage includes a vintage ceiling view from the Theatre Historical Society/Terry Helgesen Collection. Visit Mike Hume's great page about the Mayan on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

See "Mayan Theatre in the 80's," an 8 1/2 minute video on YouTube from the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. Eric Lynxwiler has a lovely 123 photo 2008 "Lucha Va Voom!" album on Flickr. There are also many views of the Mayan in Eric's nearly 500 photo album of Los Angeles Theatres.

The Mayan gets covered in "Movie Palaces, Survivors of an Elegant Era" by Ave Pildas and Lucinda Smith (Clarkston N. Potter, New York, 1980; Hennessey + Ingalls, Santa Monica, 2000). Included is a c.1980 photo from up in the balcony.

The Mayan Theatre pages:  back to top - history | vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | main lobby | balcony lobby | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | booth and attic | stage | basement |

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