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Arcade Theatre: history

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

More Arcade Theatre pages:  vintage exterior views | recent exterior views | lobby areas | auditorium | stage | basement | office building |

Opened: September 26, 1910 as the Pantages Theatre. Opening several weeks later next door was Clune's Broadway (later renamed the Cameo). These two, plus the opening of the Orpheum in 1911 (now called the Palace), put Broadway on the map as the new entertainment street in Los Angeles. In 1914 Quinn's Superba (now the site of the Roxie) was added to the block. The 1972 photo by William Reagh is in the California State Library collection.

The theatre was built for vaudeville magnate Alexander Pantages by developer William Garland. Three years later he would build the Morosco Theatre (now the Globe) down the street for Oliver Morosco to operate. 

The opening bill at the Pantages featured Barnold’s Dog and Monkey Actors in "A Hot Time in Dogville," singer and comedienne Sophie Tucker, character-singing comedian Maurice Burkhart, MacLean and Bryant with their "17-20 on the Black" gambling sketch, a comedy musical sketch with the Lelliott Brothers, and novelty whirlwind dancers the Yalto Duo.

Status: The theatre was vacated in 2018 and the office portion of the building is being rehabbed as creative office space. For decades there had been retail in the lobby with the quite intact auditorium used for storage. The theatre got a new roof in 2018. The building is owned, along with the Cameo and Roxie Theatres to the north and the Arcade Building to the south, by Downtown Management Co., a firm headed by Michael Hellen with Greg Martin as VP. The company had been owned by Michael's father, Joe Hellen, an Australian real estate investor who died in November 2019. He had purchased the theatres in the early 90s.

Management phone: 213-688-1100   Website: www.downtownfilming.com/ArcadeTheater.html

Architect: Morgan & Walls designed this vaudeville theatre to resemble an English music hall. The firm, already with deep roots in theatre work, later added Stiles Clements to the partnership and went on to design many other theatres including the Mayan, the Belasco (1926 version), and the El Capitan and Wiltern office buildings.

The Arcade Theatre is built on a lot 60' wide x 160' deep. In addition, the basement also extends under the Broadway sidewalk. The stagehouse (32' 9" deep on the outside) is the full 60' wide. The auditorium and office building portions of the structure are 50' wide, leaving a 5' exit passageway to Broadway on either side of the building.


The 1909 main floor plan by Morgan & Walls. Thanks to William Cervera for providing it. 

Seating: 1,400 originally. At some point the six upper level proscenium boxes got removed. Later the seating capacity was down to 800. There are currently no seats on either the main floor or in the balcony. The orchestra pit got covered at some point in the distant past but the main floor has not been leveled.



A September 19, 1911 ad for the Pantages featuring the Three Marx Bros. on the bill. No idea what that Pantagescope was all about. Thanks to Michael Dobkins for finding the ad. Wikipedia has a nice history of the Marx Bros. 



The cover of a 1911 program at the Pantages that's in the collection of Danni Bayles-Yeager's Online Archive of the Performing Arts. In some 1912 ads Pantages was listing the location as "Broadway near Mercantile," a reference to Mercantile Place, the shopping alley that's now the site of the Arcade Building.

Matt Lambros reports on an After the Final Curtain post about the theatre that on Christmas Day 1913, the theatre hosted an on-stage "wedding" with Napoleon, a vaudeville-performing and film-starring chimpanzee, getting hitched to Sally, another chimpanzee later with the E&R Jungle Zoo.



In October 1915 the theatre had an electric scoreboard installed so they could relay World Series results to patrons. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad. 

The Pantages vaudeville shows moved to 7th & Hill when Alexander Pantages opened his new Pantages Theatre (in 1929 renamed the Warner) on August 17, 1920. After the move he still kept the old theatre as the Broadway Pantages, a venue running musical revues. Sid Grauman discussed with his partners the possibility of taking over the house but nothing came of it.



An August 31, 1920 ad with the "New Pantages" running vaudeville + films and the "Broadway Pantages" playing a musical revue plus a Corinne Griffith film. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



An October 11, 1920 Times ad for both Pantages houses. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on Photos of Los Angeles. An organ-like instrument called a Photoplayer was installed in December 1921 to accompany films. In the 1921 city directory it's listed as the Broadway Pantages Theatre. Pantages continued to run both houses until 1922.

The theatre was taken over in March 1922 by the Dalton Brothers (Pete, Roy and Frank), a team later called "the Minskys of L.A." The brothers also operated the Follies Theatre at 337 S. Main St. It became Dalton's Theatre or, as the revamped vertical signs said, "Dalton's Broadway." They ran revues and stock company shows, sometimes along with feature films. The initial stock company was the Dalton's Broadway Musical Comedy Company. "Second Hand Rose," their first production, received a good review in the Times on March 14.



A Dalton's ad for their "Birds of Paradise" revue along with a feature film.  


 
Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this 1926 Times article about the Daltons overworking their chorus girls.  
 
On April 30, 1927 Dalton's reopened as a film house called the Arcade Theatre, a name chosen to capitalize on the popularity of the Arcade Building next door. The venue was then under the management of Principal Theatres. The company, also known as Principal Pictures Corp., was headed by Sol Lesser and Mike Rosenberg. 
 
In 1928 the firm would be one of the participants in taking over the Palace from the Orpheum circuit. In 1933 they were one of the partners in the reopening of the Orpheum. Lesser was also involved with West Coast Theatres. Cinema Treasures has a list of 34 theatres once operated by Principal. The last remaining theatre in the circuit is the Music Box/Fonda, now owned by Leslie Blumberg, Mike's daughter.
 
 
 
An article about the Arcade's first attraction, "The Red Kimono," that appeared in the Times on April 28, 1927.  The film, also known as "The Red Kimona," had been completed in the fall of 1925 with a release date of November 1925 listed by IMDb. But it had not received a run in Los Angeles until this engagement.
 
 
 
 "Cool Comfort." This ad appeared in the L.A. Times on April 29. 
 
 

An image of Priscilla Bonner, the star of the film, appeared in the Times on opening day, April 30.
 

 
Dorothy Davenport (aka Mrs. Wallace Reid) poses with an unidentified gentleman (perhaps the theatre manager) at the reopening of theatre as the Arcade. She was the producer of "The Red Kimono." Note the signage at the top of the image: "Does White Slavery Really Exist?" This and a shot with Priscilla Bonner, the film's star, were commissioned by PR man Art Wenzel. Thanks to Escott O. Norton for locating these Dick Whittington Studios photos in the USC Digital Library collection. 
 
 

The Times coverage of the opening. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a thread about the theatre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 
 
 
 
 
"A Daring Subject Delicately Handled." The theatre's ad in the Times on May 2, 1927. In a review in the same issue that was titled "Arcade opening Film Is Daring," the Times noted that the program also included "Grandpa's Boy," a comedy from Educational Pictures, as well as a Kinograms newsreel. A short organ program by Maurice B. Streeter rounded out the bill. 

The theatre was wired for sound in 1930 and ran its first talkie engagement on February 21 that year.


By the end of July 1932 the Arcade was offering burlesque. This ad appeared in the L.A. Times on August 2, 1932. Evidently they had union issues. The August 1 Times had reported: "Struck by an exploding stench bomb which was hurled at the stage of the Arcade Theater, 534 S. Broadway, while she was dancing, Miss Henrietta Peterson, 21, was undergoing treatment at the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital for severe cuts and other injuries. The bomb was thrown by an unidentified man late Saturday night." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the report.

Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall and Marc Wanamaker, the authors of the Arcadia book "Theatres in Los Angeles," comment: "In the early 1930s, theatre bombings spread across the country. Although the theatre denied labor friction, the unknown assailant who hurled a stench bomb at a burlesque dancer was probably not a crazed moralist but a unionist making a violent point."

The current marquee on the building dates from 1935 when S. Charles Lee did a facade renovation as well as interior work. There was more work in 1938. After a brief closure, beginning in mid-July the theatre was being advertised as the New Arcade.



The Times ad on August 22, 1941 when the theatre became the Telenews. The August 19 issue of the Times had a story about an Associated Press teletype machine the Times was installing so patrons could see the latest dispatches. They'd be pinned up on a big world map. The newsreel experiment was not a big success and by mid-November 1941 they were back to running features using the Arcade name. Although back to the old name, it's listed as the Telenews in the 1942 city directory.

Closing: The Arcade closed in 1992. In its final decades the theatre was a triple feature grindhouse operated by Metropolitan Theatres.

 The Arcade Theatre in the Movies: 


A look north on Broadway at the Arcade, Cameo and Roxie 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.



The Arcade Theatre (with the Cameo beyond) appears in Arthur Hiller's "W.C. Fields & Me" (Universal, 1976). The Los Angeles also makes an appearance. The film stars Rod Steiger and Vallerie Perrine. Thanks to Escott Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A.Theatres In Movies post for another shot from the film.



 
The Arcade is used for exterior shots as a Broadway theatre in the John Cassavetes film "Opening Night" (Faces Distribution, 1977). The film stars Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, Paul Stewart and Zohra Lampert in a tale of a troubled show headed to New York. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more views of the Arcade as well as shots of the Pasadena Civic (used for the New York theatre interiors) and the Fox Ritz (used as a New Haven tryout house).    

We get this fine view of the Arcade in Ken Russell's "Whore" (Trimark, 1991). The film stars Teresa Russell, Benjamin Mouton, Antonio Fargas and Elizabeth Morehead. Amir Mokri was the cinematographer. This was supposedly his answer to the glamorous life portrayed in "Pretty Woman." On the left side of the marquee Ken has "Crimes of Passion," his 1984 film with Kathleen Turner, who played the China Blue character. Thanks to Eric Schaefer for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Million Dollar, Cameo and Century Plaza theatres from the film.


In this shot from the featurette about the making of Mark Steven Johnson's "Daredevil" (Fox, 2003) we see a night setup on the roof of the Arcade Theatre. Across the bottom of the photo are (from left) the Roxie Theatre (with stagehouse visible), the flat-roofed Cameo, the Arcade Theatre (with fake water tower on the stage roof) and the Arcade Building. The film has lots of rooftop action with Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and others in what is supposed to be New York. Much of that was done on Broadway. See the Historic L.A.Theatres in Movies post for several views of the Olympic Theatre from the film.

We get a quick look at the exterior in "Summertime" (Good Deed Entertainment, 2021). Carlos Lopez Estrada directed the story of 27 young Angelenos and how their lives intersect on a hot summer day. Much of the material for the "spoken word poetry musical" was written by the young stars of the film. The cinematography is by John Schmidt. The Chinese, United Artists, Los Angeles and Vista theatres are also seen. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several shots from the film.

The future of the three theatres: There have been numerous proposals for reactivating the three theatres but so far a tenant has not appeared with both a viable plan as well as the financing to execute it. If a theatre tenant is not found, they could become retail spaces.

There was a club venture discussed in 2011. A possible revival of the house as a legit venue named after Chita Rivera came along several years later. The Cameo would have become badly needed lobby and support space. It's unknown what would have become of the Roxie in that scenario. The word was that substantial funding had been located toward the cost of what was estimated as a $30 million project.

A 2015 report was that the three theatres would be turned into a multiplex / restaurant complex by a startup company called Fusion Multiplex. The Cameo might have been the lobby, the Roxie carved up into multiple screens (perhaps with more on an added floor) and the Arcade possibly would have been a restaurant. Fusion had no operating locations at the time but promised "a distinctive concept, ground-breaking technology, and exemplary service..."

The company's principals, Virgil M. Hollins and Andre D. Giles, had assembled a team of industry veterans to book and operate the venture. A firm called Lucid Global Partners was supposedly involved in fundraising for Fusion. Hollins noted in early 2017 that planning was still underway and they were still hoping to put a project together. We'll see.

More information: See the After the Final Curtain post about the Arcade by Matt Lambros for six 2017 interior photos as well as a fine history of the building. Nick Bradshaw has some 2007 interior views in his "Dead Cinemas, downtown Los Angeles" album on Flickr.

The Cinema Tour page about the Arcade has some 2003 photos (including interiors) by Adam Martin. Cinema Treasures has additional photos as well as lots of discussion about the history of the theatre.



A photo of Joe Hellen in the Arcade Building taken by Gary Leonard. It appeared with "The Survivor," Ryan Vaillancourt's 2010 profile of the late theatre owner in LA Downtown News. Villancourt also had a 2012 story about Hellen: "Developer Opens One Historic Core Apartment Complex and Plans Another." Among the firm's many downtown properties are the Chester Morris Building and the Jewelry Trades Building, both at 5th and Broadway. Mr. Hellen died in November 2019.

The project behind the Roxie, Cameo and Arcade: Included in the Hellen family's holdings are the lots on Spring St. directly behind the three theatres. Over the years Joe Hellen had floated a number of plans for construction there but none have proceeded. All the plans have raised concerns about their impact on the future viability of the three buildings as possible live performance venues. Whatever was built behind might obstruct exiting and loading access. Ideally, easy access to Spring St. would be desirable. Of course, how much access is needed in that direction depends on the ultimate use of the theatres.

The current narrow alley behind the theatres dead ends at the Arcade Building on the south. As one goes north it takes a turn to the west  a building beyond the Roxie and becomes an exit onto Broadway just south of the Jewelry Trades Building. There's no possibility of truck access that way. The page of recent Roxie exterior views has alley photos down near the bottom.

An L.A. Downtown News story from July 2011, "Spring Street Garage Plans Filed," discussed Hellen's plans at that time to build a small parking garage facing Spring St. Ryan Vaillancourt had a story in LA Downtown News in 2012 about plans for a garage plus six or seven stories of housing on top, for a building height of about twelve stories. The story, "Developer Opens One Historic Core Apartment Complex...," also talks about the company's renovation of the nearby Chester Williams building.

In 2013 the project grew to 40 stories. In "Veteran Developer Planning 40-Story Tower for Historic Core," Donna Evans discussed the new plans in an L.A. Downtown News story.



This rendering of the new design by Steinberg Architects and TSK Architects appeared with a March 2015 story by Chris Loos on Urbanize LA: "New Design Unveiled for Historic Core Skyscraper."  That's the Spring St. side of the Arcade Building on the left.

The article noted: "Hellen's firm Downtown Management is currently exploring options for the usage of these theaters [the Roxie, Cameo & Arcade] including live entertainment as well as retail spaces... The tower will feature 360 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, all built to condominium level specifications. At ground level, plans call for approximately 9,400 square feet of retail space." The rendering popped up again in a confused August 2017 story on Archinect. They had mistakenly grabbed this rendering from the 2015 Urbanize story when discussing a newer design.



The site plan from Steinberg Architects and TSK Architects. Broadway (with the three theatres in purple) is at the top. Spring (with the proposed tower in turquoise) is at the bottom.



A ground floor plan for the tower as it was envisioned in early 2015. The three theatres are at the left. The drawings are courtesy of Steinberg Architects. Curbed L.A.'s Bianca Barragan also had a March 2015 story about plans: "New Plan For 40-story Historic Core Tower..."

Eddie Kim ran a March 2015 story in the L.A. Downtown News: "Housing Plan Envisions Revival of Broadway Theaters." Regarding the theatres, he noted:

"Hellen purchased the 1910 Arcade, the 1931 Roxie and the 1910 Cameo decades ago, with plans to demolish the structures and build a retail complex in their place. He announced a $55 million project in 1992, but was met with fierce opposition from the Community Redevelopment Agency and preservation groups. He eventually scrapped the plan. 'We paid through the nose for the theaters thinking we could demolish them,' Martin [Greg Martin, Hellen's VP] said. 'Big mistake.'

"The theaters for years have mostly held swap meet vendors. Downtown Management’s renovation would refurbish the facades and signage and upgrade the interiors. Martin imagines the venues hosting live entertainment, and said the plan has sparked some early flickers of interest from potential tenant-operators. Still, he added, the tight confines make it a tricky sell.

"'I’ve heard that the theaters are too small to be profitable, and that any entertainment use would need corporate sponsorship, and that there’s no appetite for that now,' Martin said. 'It seems the people with vision have no money, and the people with money have no vision.' Another option, said Martin, is a retail conversion of the theaters, similar to what Urban Outfitters did with the 1917 Rialto Theater at 810 S. Broadway. Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway Initiative has sought to activate the street’s collection of historic movie palaces."

The word in February 2016 was that, after years of planning, the then-latest version of the project had been shelved. Downtown Los Angeles News reported in a February story that plans for a tower had "stalled following disagreements" between owner Joe Hellen and the city on the high-rise's design. Simon Ha noted that the tower's modern look was an issue. He's a principal at Steinberg Architects, the firm that had been working on the design.

Hellen evidently had balked at the changes that would have been required to give this one the historic features the city's Office of Historic Resources was after. One concern with this version, as with earlier plans, was that it would limit the future viability of the theatres due to limited access. That would have been fixable, of course.

The project rose again in 2017 as a shimmering blue-glass design by ASAP/Adam Sokol Architecture Practice. Urbanize L.A. had an August 2017 story about it by Steven Sharp: "Downtown Developer Considers Reviving Spring Street Tower." Sharp noted that the design "envisions a 45-story tower on the property at 525 S. Spring Street, featuring 360 residential units, 25,000 square feet of street-fronting commercial space and a below-grade parking garage. Renderings portray the approximately 500-foot building with an angular form that shifts to create open space along the property lines. The exterior is composed of varying shades of blue glass that gradually lighten moving up the tower."



A rendering looking along Spring St., one of four appearing with the 2017 Urbanize L.A. article. There is no mention of the future of the three theatres. Sharp posted a link to his story on the DTLA Development Facebook page where it attracted many comments. Stay tuned for the next chapter. With Joe Hellen's death in 2019 whatever was underway will not be proceeding.



The rear of the (left to right) Arcade, Cameo and Roxie theatres in 2007. It looks the same over a decade later. There never have been any loading or patron exit provisions through the rear of the Arcade. The ramp you see at the left is a new-ish entrance to the parking garage in the basement of the Arcade Building. Photo: Bill Counter

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2 comments:

  1. Max Factor had his theatrical wig and makeup shop in the Pantages in 1915, on the 5th floor in #501.

    ReplyDelete