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Cameo Theatre: history

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

More Cameo Theatre pages:  exterior views | interior views


Opened: October 10, 1910 as Clune's Broadway. It got renamed the Cameo Theatre in 1924. The photo is a detail from a 1939 Dick Whittington Studio image in the USC Digital Library collection. At the time of the photo they were running "Trade Winds" and "Algiers," both 1938 releases. The theatre got a new marquee in 1941 after this one fell of the building.

Clune's neighbor to the south was the Pantages (now called the Arcade Theatre), which had opened earlier in 1910. The lot to the north was redeveloped in 1914 with the construction of the Superba Theatre. After a spell as a restaurant that building was demolished in 1931 for construction of the Roxie Theatre. 

Lease and filming inquiries: Downtown Management Co., 213-688-1100

Architect: Alfred F. Rosenheim, a leading Los Angeles architect who became the first president of the L.A. chapter of the American Institute of Architects. He had earlier done the Arrow Theatre on the fifth floor of Hamburger's Department Store at 8th & Broadway. Later he would design the Morosco / Globe Theatre in association with Morgan, Walls & Morgan who did its office building.

Seating: 900 originally, without a balcony. Seating was down to 600 in later years. The July 10, 1915 Moving Picture World noted that 200 were loge seats at the back "raised well above the remainder of the house." They were amused by the idea that you could charge more for seats at the back of the house:

"There are several points about the Broadway that will interest the Easterner. In the first place, these loges command the top price of admission in spite of the fact that they are furthest from the screen -- and that price is 20 cents. In the second place, the minimum admission, 10 cents, admits to the front 15 rows. In the center section the price is 15 cents. In the loges are regular chairs, upholstered; and they are comfortable." The full article is on Internet Archive.

Proscenium size: 21 x 28 feet. The projection throw is about 110 feet.

The theatre was built on a lot owned by Eva Fenyes, a Pasadena resident with fingers in a number of theatrical interests, including once having D.W. Griffith shoot a film on her estate. A July 17, 1910 Los Angeles Sunday Times article described the merits of the proposed theatre:

"Handsome Picture Playhouse for South Broadway - Playhouse to Be Elaborate - Large Picture Theater for Broadway Site - Auditorium Will Seat Over Nine Hundred - Ornate Design and Lighting Scheme Features. A.F. Rosenheim, architect of Clune's new Broadway Theater, has awarded the general contract for the construction of that structure to John F. Jacobs & Son. The theater, which will be one of the most elaborate Playhouses of its kind in the country, will stand on the east side of Broadway, between Fifth and Sixth streets, at Nos. 526 to 530. It will cost, with its furnishings, about $50,000.

"The site is 60 x 160 feet in size, and will permit of a sixty-foot clear passageway at the rear, where two exits will open onto a twelve-foot alley. The structure will be ready for occupancy about October 1. The main lobby will be twenty-four feet in width and ornately treated in white marble and stucco. The ceiling will be vaulted. The entrance is to be protected by a marquee of steel and copper. Two eight-foot passages will flank the ticket office and a ladies' retiring room.

"The auditorium will be 57 x 100 feet in size and thirty feet high, with beams and paneled ceilings and a large skylight over the center. The seating capacity will be 900. The ventilation and heating facilities will be perfect. The proscenium opening, which will be 21 x 28 feet in dimensions, will permit the exhibition of pictures much larger than the ordinary. Musicians' rooms and drawing rooms will be under the stage. The lighting scheme is quite elaborate."



A facade illustration from the Times article. 



An interior drawing by the architect. Thanks to Cheryl Peters for finding the Times article. It's included with "Mrs. Feynes and the Movies," a four part 2013 Hometown Pasadena story that has a fine discussion of the theatre as well as the other interests of Mrs. Feynes.

William H. (Billy) Clune  was a pioneer exhibitor and filmmaker. The Clune Studios in Hollywood at Melrose and Bronson still exists, known today as the Raleigh Studios. At various times Billy Clune also operated many other theatres. See the exhibition timeline lower on this page.



Other than this one opening day ad in the L.A. Times, the theatre didn't seem to do any advertising in the paper in its early days.  An article in the November 9, 1910 trade publication New York Dramatic Mirror located by Cezar Del Valle noted: "Clune's new picture house, Los Angeles, Cal., seating 900 people and costing over $50,000, was opened to the public at 10, 15, and 20 cent prices Oct. 10."

Other publications seemed confused about the opening date. Cezar also found a brief item from the trade publication New York Clipper of November 5, 1910 that suggested a late October opening date: "The opening of Clune's Broadway Theatre, last week, added a most attractive moving picture show house to the many now established in Los Angeles, CA. It has a seating capacity of nine hundred and is strictly up-to-date. Manager Wm. H. Clune is now operating three first class places in this city." An item in the November 12, 1910 Moving Picture World noted that Clune's "has been completed and will open within a day or two."

The February 11, 1911 Moving Picture World had an article headed "Clune's Theatre -- Los Angeles, Cal. - One of the Handsomest Theatres in the West" that featured three photos and gave an extensive description of the theatre:

"Clune's Broadway Theater, Los Angeles, situated between Fifth and Sixth streets, on Broadway, in the heart of the retail district, is claimed by the owner and manager, Mr. W. H. Clune to be, without exception, the finest and best equipped moving picture theater in the country. The theater is a two-story structure of brick and steel construction 70 x 140, and has a seating capacity of 900.



"The front of the theater is of tile construction, topping which is the most elaborate and largest moving picture electric sign in the world. The sign contains 2000 Tungsten lamps. The lights in the ellipse, and columns, are colored globes of different colors harmoniously arranged so as to give the sign the appearance of an immense jewel, whose many facets at night flash forth in a dazzling burst of light. Topping the columns are red globes arranged in the form of a torch. Entwining the two columns and outlined in colored lights are the words: 'Comedy;' 'History;' 'Zoology;' 'Aeronautics;' 'Drama;' 'Naval;' 'Military;' and 'Agriculture.'

"Within the ellipse the word 'Clune's' is slowly spelled in fire, and reaching the end of the word, 'Broadway' is flashed forth. The two words glow for a moment, then go dark only to repeat the process. Outlining the front of the building, and on the upper cornice, are several hundred small lights in frosted globes. Mr. H.D. Brown, with the Clune Company, is the designer and builder of the sign.



"The lobby [ i.e. the ticket lobby] is flanked by two store rooms, extending to the theater auditorium, and containing offices on the second floor. The lobby and the boxoffice is wainscoted in white marble to a height of ten feet. On the sides of the lobby are panel mirrors. The floor of the lobby is of colored tile, with a colored fleur-de-lis design inlaid. On the base of the wainscoting is a ten inch strip of black marble. The ceiling of the lobby is decorated with cream colored stucco, with white and gold trimming.

"The spacious auditorium seats 900. The chairs are of the best, being upholstered in leather, and of comfortable proportions. The ceiling is beamed in stucco and decorated in the general color scheme of white and gold. The ceiling skylight is a beautiful art glass. At the rear of the auditorium are six rows of loge seats. The woodwork of the auditorium is of stained oak with green burlap paneling. At the rear of the auditorium between the entrance and and exit lobbys is a ladies retiring room with a maid in attendance.



"The proscenium width of the stage is twenty four feet wide [other sources say 28] and flanking it on both side are singing booths. The orchestra is of eight pieces, including violin, piano, base, flute, cornet, drums, clarinet and cello. An orchestral feature is a $10,000 set of chimes. The operator's room is furnished with the latest apparatus, including three Edengraph projectoscopes, and two stereopticons. The theater is warmed in winter by a hot air system, and cooled in summer by a cold air system using the same apparatus.

"The program consists of five full reels of first run Licensed pictures, two illustrated songs, and one song specialty, making a program lasting one hour and thirty minutes. The theater employs young lady ushers to seat their patroons. Shaded floor lights are placed at intervals about the auditorium. The prices of admission range from ten cents for the front section to the twenty-cent loge seats in the rear. The loge seats are of a special design of tufted leather bodies and backs, and of steel standards instead of wood. The loge seats are enclosed in brass rails, hung with draperies, and elevated several feet from the auditorium proper, the arrangement permitting of an unobstructed view of the auditorium and stage.

"A.F. Rosenheim, of Los Angeles, is the architect, and superintended the construction of the building. The theater employs twenty-five people. The daily performances run from 1:45 to 5 P.M. and from 6:45 to 11 P.M. excepting Saturdays and Sundays, when the run is continuous from 1:45 to 11 P.M. The theater opened November 10 [sic], and has played to excellent business ever since with frequent use of the 'S.R.O' sign at the night performances."

Also see a ticket lobby postcard from the from the Cezar Del Valle collection and an auditorium postcard from the Brian Michael McCray collection. Both were based on the photos with the Moving Picture World article.



A Clune's Broadway lantern slide. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for spotting it on eBay.

The December 23, 1911 Moving Picture World had two photos and a discussion about the theatre's projection booth. It's on Internet Archive. See the page of interior views here on this site for more about the projection booth.

A 1912 ad for Clune's that was located by Sheryl Peters boasted "When one speaks of low-priced theater attractions the name Clune comes first to the mind because it is an uncontested fact that the Clune Theaters in Los Angeles and Pasadena set the pace in these popular public attractions."

An article in the July 10, 1915 Moving Picture World headlined "One of the Popular Photoplay Houses of Los Angeles" noted: "...The Broadway has been doing business for over four years. An excellent orchestra of ten pieces accompanies the pictures. At each side of the screen is a small balcony for a singer...."



A photo of Clune's manager, Jas W. Anderson, from the July 1915 Moving Picture World Article. 

The roof sign got even more elaborate with the addition of a digital clock. An article in the July 15, 1916 Moving Picture World talked about the venue: "Clune's Broadway...is now considered one of the finest motion picture houses on the Pacific coast. This theatre also has a magnificent electric sign. It is 30 feet high and 50 feet wide and contains about 3,000 lamps controlled by a seven-story electric flasher. It announces 'Clune's Broadway - The Time and the Place.' The time is written every minute in three-foot electric figures simultaneously on the sign and in the house. This Clune's clock is a real feature and is remembered by people all over the country."



The 1921 New Years' Day ad for Clune's. Thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for finding the photo as a contribution to the page about the Cameo on Cinema Treasures



A trade magazine photo showing a stunt with a stagecoach for promoting "Pioneer Trails," a November 1923 release. Cullen Davis, the film's star, is the driver with co-stars Bertram Grassby, Otis Harlan and Alice Calhoun along for the ride. It's another addition to the page about the Cameo on Cinema Treasures from their contributor Dallas Movie Theaters.

A new name and a new operator: Clune sold his theatres in 1924 with the Broadway then coming under the management of O.D. Cloakey. The July 4, 1924 edition of Southwest Builder and Contractor noted that A. Godfrey Bailey was the architect for the remodel for William Cutts that involved "removing toilets and enlarging foyer." Cutts was the contractor for the project. Nick Bradshaw did some research and located a July 20, 1924 article in the L.A. Times:

"'The best and most luxuriously appointed 'small' theater on Broadway when the renovations are completed. That’s the promise of O.D. Cloakey, manager of the Cameo Theater, the newly named film playhouse, which takes the place of the old Clune’s Broadway. A half-hundred carpenters, electricians, decorators and upholsterers are in possession of the place now. The auditorium is a chaos of wreckage, but out of this chaos William Cutts is devising a new orderliness from which will rise a new theater adequately equipped to take its place alongside Broadway’s best.

"Its old seating capacity of 800 will be slightly increased by the new space arrangement. A larger orchestra pit is being made to make room for the sixteen players who will be directed by Theodore Henkel, newly appointed musical director. The projection-room will be widened. A suite of drawing and sitting-rooms is being fitted out in luxurious style on the second floor, where women patrons will find quiet, comfort and opportunity for rest."

The reopening was August 1, 1924 with a Wallace Beery feature "The Signal Tower."  A story on page A7 of the August 2 L.A. Times noted that "the theater has been freshened up considerably inside and out, alterations have been made in the auditorium and the lobby has been entirely changed. It now stands forth as one of the most up-to-date small theaters in town."



An August 5, 1924 L.A. Times ad for the newly reopened theatre. In a small August 9 story on page A7 the L.A. Times commented on the efficacy of the theatre's new ice cooling plant.

Later operators: H.L. Gumbiner took over the operation sometime around 1926. He also had acquired the Garrick Theatre at 8th and Broadway. That house would be demolished for the construction of the Tower Theatre in 1927. Gumbiner would later go on to build the Los Angeles Theatre, opening in 1931. That extravagance plunged him into bankruptcy.

In the early 30s, the Cameo was operated by Fox West Coast. Later operators included Pacific Theatres and, finally, Metropolitan Theatres. For its last few decades it was a quadruple feature grind house.

Closing: It closed as a theatre in 1991.

Status: Currently there's retail in the lobby. The auditorium has had the seats removed and is being used for storage by the electronics firm using the lobby space. The 1910 decor is pretty much intact. The building (along with the Roxie Theatre, Arcade Theatre and the adjacent Arcade Building) has been owned since the early 90s by Joseph Hellen. His company, Downtown Management (also known as Mideb) also has a number of other properties in the area. Ryan Vaillancourt had a nice 2010 story in LA Downtown News about Mr. Hellen: "The Survivor."

The Cameo in the Movies:


A look south on Broadway at the Roxie, Cameo and Arcade theatres from Kent MacKenzie's "The Exiles" (1961). It's a film about a group of Native Americans trying to survive in downtown L.A. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots from the film.



In Arthur Hiller's "W.C. Fields & Me" (Universal, 1976) we see a number of downtown theatres including the Los Angeles, the Cameo and the Arcade. The film stars Rod Steiger and Vallerie Perrine. Thanks to the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation executive director Escott O. Norton for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for another shot from the film.

The lot behind the theatre: Over the years Mr. Hellen had floated various proposals to build a parking garage and hi-rise housing complex behind the Roxie, Cameo and Arcade. It's a move that could limit the future usefulness of the three theatres by restricting access to the rear of the buildings. After several designs that were rejected by the city, the word as of February 2016 was that there would be no new project behind the theatres. At least for now. The latest incarnation unveiled in March 2015 involved a 40 story tower. There were disagreements with the city over the lack of a historic feel to the proposed building. As for the theatres? The future for them depends on whether any viable tenants emerge.

More information on the Cameo: The Cinema Treasures page on the Cameo has lots of photos and interesting facts related to this historic theatre. Cinema Tour has a few exterior photos.

Billy Clune's exhibition timeline:

255 S. Main -- The Nickel Theatre is opened by C.M Bockhaven. Clune soon joins him as a partner and in 1907 their firm is incorporated as Southwest Amusement Co. The venue later was known as the Union Theatre.

349 N. Main -- The Playo Theatre opens in 1907 as the second storefront theatre of Southwest Amusement Co.

508 S. Broadway -- In 1907 Southwest Amusement Co. opens the La Petite Theatre as their third house. Many more theatres follow including other locations for the La Petite brand on Main St. and in Santa Monica.

1908 -- Southwest Amusement Co. is dissolved and the partners go their separate ways. The firm's many theatres are sold off to other operators anbd in most cases renamed.

5th & Main -- In 1909 Clune's Theatre opened on the NW corner. It was razed for the Rosslyn Hotel building which opened in 1915.

729 S. Main -- It's unknown whether this was offices, a shop, a developing lab or what. All we know is that Clune had it around 1909 and 1910. It may have been a theatre.

730 S. Grand -- Sometime around 1910 Clune was operating this venue as Clune's Grand Street Theatre. By 1912 it was under different management as the Mozart Threatre.

528 S. Broadway -- In 1910 Clune's Broadway opens. After 1924 it's known as the Cameo Theatre and now used for retail.

Ocean Park -- In December, 1910 the magazine Nickelodeon reported that "A large theatre will be erected on Fraser's Million Dollar Pier for W. H. Clune and Associates, who have secured exclusive rights to the vaudeville and moving picture privileges. The auditorium will have a seating capacity of 1,000 persons." Perhaps this was the Starland Theatre. It's unknown how long Clune was involved with the pier -- if at all.

Pasadena -- In 1911 Clune's Pasadena opens. The venue was later operated by Fox West Coast. It's now a Gap and Crate & Barrel.

110 S. Main St. -- In 1912 Clune is operating the Grand Opera House as Clune's Grand. He's out of there prior to 1916.

547 S . Broadway -- In 1914, Clune was exhibiting films here suitable for women and families and calling the theatre Clune's Exclusive. Later, as the Shell Theatre, it was a bargain house operated by Clune. The building also housed his offices. The building still stands, with retail on the ground floor.

5th & Olive -- From 1914 until 1920 Clune operated the Auditorium as Clune's Auditorium, also known as Clune's Theatre Beautiful. After he left, the Philharmonic moved in and renamed it Philharmonic Auditorium.

Santa Ana -- Clune operated a theatre there according to a 1916 article in Moving Picture World.

More about Billy Clune: 


A 1920 photo of Clune (on the right) with a bear. It comes from the Boise State University collection.

This brief biography of Mr. Clune appears on a page about the Polar Palace, an ice rink at 613 N. Van Ness (between Melrose and Clinton) where numerous shows were staged.:

"...Clune was born in Hannibal, Missouri, in 1862. He came to Los Angeles in 1887 and began with a pushcart on Main Street. He eventually built one of the first Los Angeles nickelodeons. His success and faith in director D.W. Griffith got him involved in 'Birth of a Nation,' which held its world premiere at his Clune's Auditorium (later the Philharmonic Auditorium on Olive and 5th Street, home for years of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera). Clune also had motion picture palaces on Broadway between 5th and 6th, in Pasadena, Santa Ana and San Diego.

"Clune built one of the first soundstages in Los Angeles and produced a film of the play about California, 'Ramona,' and it was the first motion picture to bear the legend, 'Made in Los Angeles.' The forty-acre property was later occupied by United Artists, followed by Columbia Pictures, Inspiration Pictures, Lillian & Dorothy Gish Productions, among others, as well as, of course, Polar Palace. There were rumors around the rink in the 1950s that Polar's ice surface was built for Sonja Henie, and was originally part of the adjoining motion picture lot, but it wasn't true. Fox built Sonja her own rink on its home lot on Pico Boulevard.

"William Clune died in his apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club on October 21, 1927 at the age of 65. The Los Angeles Times reported that Clune left his considerable fortune to his son J. W. Clune. He was also survived by a sister, Mary. Presumably, this fortune formed the basis of the Clune Memorial Trust, which still owned the land when Polar Palace burned in 1963. Because of permafrost, which extended 40 feet into the ground (Polar Palace never melted down its ice in the summer, as the Palais de Glace and most eastern rinks did), the site was unbuildable for many years and held Walter Allen Plant Rentals, a greens service for the Hollywood studios. It now houses Raleigh Studios."

For additional data see Allen Ellenberger's Hollywoodland article "Unsung film pioneer: William H. Clune: theater and film producer." Clune gets a fine chapter titled "William H. Clune -- From the Nickel to the Auditorium" beginning on page 123 of Jan Olsson's 2008 book "Los Angeles Before Hollywood - Journalism and American Film Culture, 1905-1915." The book is available as a pdf from the National Library of Sweden.

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