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Belasco Theatre: history

1050 S. Hill St.  Los Angeles, CA 90015 | map |
More Belasco Theatre pages:  early exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies - lounges - ballroom | early auditorium views | recent auditorium views | backstage | basement support areas |

News: You can tour the theatre -- and get a drink and some food -- at the South Park Neighborhood Association's "A Night For Friends and Neighbors at the Belasco." It runs from 6:30 until 11 on Thursday, February 16. Tickets are $15 (plus $2.85 fee) in advance or $20 at the door, if they're not sold out. Details and tickets are on Eventbrite.

Opened: November 1, 1926 as the second theatre built in Los Angeles with the Belasco name. The opening attraction at this elaborate Hill St. venue was "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos and and her husband John Emerson.

The theatre was operated by Edward Belasco (a brother of the more famous producer David), local director and producer Fred J. Butler, and theatre financier Gerhold O. Davis. Butler directed the opening show. The same team would also operate the Mayan next door when it was completed in 1927. The earlier Belasco, later known as the Follies, was at 337 S. Main St. Another brother, Frederick, had operated that theatre.

The 1925 rendering of the proposed theatre is in the California State Library set #001496390 which also contains 5 construction views. The Library has over 80 early views of the theatre indexed somewhat haphazardly (and with many repeats) in six other sets: set # 001415568  - 16 auditorium photos | set # 001415683 - 17 photos | set # 001415656 - 16 photos | set # 001415584 - 10 photos | set # 01411639 - 3 ticket lobby photos | set # 001378567 - 16 exterior construction photos |

Phone: 213-746-5670   Website:

An October 17, 1926 L.A. Times article noted that the theatre was rapidly nearing completion and that "Notables" would be attending the premiere. They commented that the Belasco name on the theatre was not for Edward, one of the operators, but for David Belasco. Because of the family connection, the theatre would get all the successes of the famed New York producer. A dedication to the new theatre written by David Belasco was published in the October 24 issue.

A drawing of the new theatre by A. L. Ewing that appeared in the October 31 issue of the Times. An article in the same issue noted that the new theatre represented "the long arm of David Belasco reaching out from New York." They added that "the house is a compact, intimate affair, designed especially for talkative plays, farces and comedies."

The opening night ad in the L.A. Times. Thanks to Sven Kirsten for posting it as a comment on the LAHTF Facebook page in a thread about another Mayan-themed theatre, the Fisher in Detroit. A November 1 Times article noted that the list of the audience members expected to attend would read like a Blue Book of the social and filmland worlds. Scheduled to come were Anita Loos, Harry Langdon, Charlie Chaplin, Constance Talmadge, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Colleen Moore, Pola Negri, Bebe Daniels, John Barrymore, Norma Shearer and many more.

Edwin Shallert's review of the opening, calling the theatre "architecturally satisfying" and the play a "dazzling sunburst of mirth," appeared in the late edition of the November 2 Times and was reprinted in some November 3 editions. Thanks to Mike Hume for tracking down the Times articles. See the fine page about the Belasco on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

Architects: Morgan, Walls & Clements with Stiles O. Clements as the lead designer. This was an unusual design from a company that produced a number of great theatres, including the Mayan, built next door as soon as the Belasco was finished. It's Spanish and Moorish in theme with the entire auditorium covered by a huge gilded dome. Some of the auditorium wall surfaces are hard plaster but have the appearance of gathered draperies.

An October 31 L.A. Times article declared the "acoustics perfect," although their critic had yet to hear a show there. Noted acoustician Wallace Clement Sabine of Yale worked on the project, assisted by Vern Oliver Knudsen from Stanford. A separate article in the October 31 issue reported the cost of the project to be $1,250,000 including the land. They noted that P.J. Walker was the contractor and that, among its miracles, the theatre had a hydraulic orchestra pit lift.

A detail from a 1950 Sanborn insurance map showing the Belasco and Mayan. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for photographing it for a post on Flickr

Seating: 1,061 is the capacity listed in the 1949 ATPAM Theatre, Arena & Auditorium Guide with 656 seats on the main floor and 405 in the balcony. The main floor seating was removed and the floor leveled sometime between 1998 and 2000. The balcony was re-terraced c.2010 and now has banquettes and tables. The theatre currently has a capacity of 1,500 standing or 900 seated. In addition to the auditorium, the building has an upstairs ballroom (with a separate entrance) that can hold 400.

Stage Specifications: See the page about backstage.

History: The Belasco was intended primarily as a house for straight plays, while the Mayan was designed for musicals. The two theatres were owned by oil magnate Edward L. Doheny and a partner, retired investor Nathan W. Stowell. 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. An October 17, 1926 L.A. Times article noted that it was originally going to be called the Doheny Theatre.

The venue was a hotspot for Hollywood performers and directors checking out the latest dramas. In addition to offerings from David Belasco, many of the productions were offered in conjunction with the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. A number of attractions first appearing in Los Angeles at the Belasco were subsequently made into movies. 

The first film showing at the theatre was the German film "Maedchen in Uniform," running for nearly a month beginning November 28, 1932. This Times ad appeared November 26. Thanks to theatre historian Ed Kelsey for mentioning the booking.

For the decade that Edward Belasco and partners were managing the theatre, the format was generally legit plays on two week runs. He had a knack for getting Hollywood talent with legit theatre roots to appear in his productions. A 1931 program in Danni Bayles-Yeager's Performing Arts Archive listed the management as Los Angeles Theatres, Inc. with Edward as president. He died in 1937. The Montreal Gazette (on Google News) had an obit:

"EDWARD BELASCO DIES - West Coast Theatre Producer Succumbs at Age 63. San Francisco, October 10 (AP) -- Edward Belasco, West Coast theatrical producer and brother of the late David Belasco, died Saturday night. He had been ill for several years. He was 63. Mr. Belasco operated theatres in san Francisco and Los Angeles at the height of his career several years ago. He brought to the West Coast many Broadway actors and actresses who eventually became screen stars, among them Edward G. Robinson, Fredrick [sic] March, Helen Gahagan, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold and Boris Karloff."

Performers appearing at the Belasco included Fay Bainter, Tallulah Bankhead, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Bennett, Richard Bennett, Billie Burke, Ruth Chatterton, Ina Claire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Glenda Farrell, James Gleason, Betty Grable, Helen Hayes, Hedda Hopper, Leslie Howard, Gertrude Lawrence, Edmund Lowe, Alan Mowbray, Ken Murray, Edward G. Robinson, May Robson, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, C. Aubrey Smith, Sidney Toler, Fredric March and Warren William.

The WPA Federal Theatre project at the Belasco: Starting around 1937, the Belasco was used for several WPA Federal Theatre Project productions.

A poster for the Federal Theatre Project production of "Bird of Paradise" at the Belasco in 1938. It's in the Library of Congress collection.

A poster for "Festival of American Dance" in 1938 at the Belasco, dubbed a "Federal Music Theatre." It's in the Library of Congress collection. Also in the collection are posters for Maxwell Anderson's "High Tor" (1939) and "Day is Darkness, " an anti-Nazi play by George Fess (1939).

For other WPA materials see the Federal Theatre Project collection at George Mason University where you can browse by date, title or theatre name. They also have a poster for "High Tor."

A January 1939 ad enlisting Uncle Sam to promote Federal Theatre Project shows at the Hollywood Playhouse, Mayan and Belasco. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it. 

The September 24, 1939 L.A. Times announced that the Mutschler Producing Co. would be doing a season of stock company productions for two-week runs. The first two shows were "The Best People" and "Just Married."

The Belasco in the 40s:  

A "Special Rate Ticket" good for half-off until January 18, 1942 for "To Live Again. It was a find by Sean Ault.

Another half-off deal, this one for a performance of "Maid In The Ozarks" in 1943. It was another find by Sean Ault. 

An ad for "Abie's Irish Rose" appearing in a 1944 issue of Playgoer magazine for the Biltmore. Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler for finding it. He's got it in his terrific Vintage Paper Ephemera collection on Flickr.

A December 1947 / January 1948 attraction was "Mary Had a Little" starring Edmund Lowe and "America's Most Beautiful Girls." A January 1948 booking was "Deep Are The Roots," which a Times ad noted had spent "Two smash years on Broadway."

The theatre was sold in late 1948. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding the December 9, 1948 newspaper mention: "Belasco Theater has been purchased from the Doheny Estate by Belco Properties, Inc., whose officers are Sidney Pink, Paul P. Schreibman and Monroe Goldstein. On Christmas Day, Pink will bring in the first of his new foreign film-stage show bills. Initial stage attraction will be 'Wally Vernon’s Big Game Hunt.' The Belasco seats 1000 persons."

Jeff notes that later in the article the title is referred to as "Big Dame Hunt." Vernon had made a short released in January 1948 called "A-Hunting They Did Go," about two guys on a hunting party who go to their cabin only to find two pretty girls had taken up residence there. We can assume that pretty girls somehow figured in the Belasco production. A December 25 article located by Jeff noted:

"BELASCO OPENS TODAY WITH NEW STAGE OFFERING - The newly refurbished Belasco Theater will open today with Wally Vernon’s “Big Dame Hunt” written by Eddie Maxwell. The theater has been given a scrubbing and repainted from stem to stern. Backstage, the dressing rooms and the Green Room have been renovated. Switchboard has been enlarged to handle special lighting effects and rigging and flies augmented in order to facilitate changing of scenes. New movie equipment has been installed."

In the late 40s the theatre ran lots of films. Sometimes with a stage show, sometimes not. In January 1949 it was "The Garter Girls" (with Viviene Lee, Genii Young, Frank Scannell, Joe De Rita and Mary Miller) along with Danielle Darrieux in her film "Club de Femmes." The Times reviewed the live portion of the program in their January 29 issue.

An April 1, 1949 ad in the Times that was located by Ken McIntyre. Another April 1949 bill included "She Returned at Dawn," a 1938 French film starring Daneille Darrieux, and a musical stage show, "Silk Stocking Revue."

"Wild Weed," a July 1949 film capitalizing on Robert Mitchum's 1948 drug bust played the Belasco with the star, Lila Leeds, making an appearance. It's all detailed in Noirish Los Angeles contributor 2940dxer's Noirish post #5919. Also see "A Quick Detour Into the Exciting World of Exploitation Film..." a post on the site This Book is for You. The film was later retitled "She Shoulda Said No." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.

Other film titles of the late 40s to play the theatre included "Fric-Frac," "Kiss of Fire," "Human Beast," "Bride’s Delight," "Lysistrata," "Venus of Paris" and "Streets of Shadow." Thanks to Jeff Bridges on Cinema Treasures for digging many of these titles out of the L.A. Times. He notes: "Apparently, the Belasco went from legit dramatic and musical theater to a program of burlesque with a movie following the performance by the end of 1948....The numerous movies tend to be French or drug propaganda type films."

Thanks to Chris Nichols for researching some titles to play the Belasco in the first half of 1950: "Lovelife of a Gorilla" with "Savage Woman" and "Crouching Beast," a triple bill. "French Nudists" was paired with "He Was The Virgin Man." "Merchant of Slaves" was on a bill with "Lost Youth." A fine triple bill consisted of "Valley of the Nude," "Escort Girl" and "The March of Crime."

The Belasco gets churched: The theatre closed in mid-1950 as a regular theatrical venue. Thanks (again) to Jeff Bridges for finding the June 7, 1950 L.A. Times article, reading in part:

"BELASCO THEATER TO BECOME CHURCH - The Belasco Theater, scene of many a dramatic triumph in the boom days just before talking pictures arrived, was sold yesterday to be converted into a church. The Immanuel Gospel Temple bought it for $200,000. The church will dedicate it at 11 a.m. Sunday. Down will come the signs of the last motion-picture double bill: 'French Nudists' and 'Girls for Sale.' These marked the lurid end of a dramatic trail which began in the heyday of the legitimate stage in Los Angeles. The Belasco was built by the Doheny interests at 1050 S Hill St. and opened Nov. 1, 1926, with a glittering premiere of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'..."

It was in use as a church until 1984. Following the exit of the last church group it got somewhat of a renovation but only saw occasional film shoots and other rentals.

A multi-million dollar renovation: It got all spruced up for renewed use as a bar, dance club and restaurant in 2011 with a reopening on March 19. Christina and John Kim put almost $10 million into restoration and improvements to the structure after securing a long term lease from building owner Mehdi Bolour.  The Times noted the reopening in their March 25 story "Belasco Theater mixes it up in downtown L.A."

After the renovation by the Kims the basement included a separate club space (in purple) in the area formerly a plenum under the auditorium.

The main floor at one time included a wine bar called Vintage 10-Fifty in the south storefront (in orange), new kitchen space (in blue) in a single story building south of the theatre, and a patio out back (in green).

The 2nd floor dance studio space (in yellow), the Kims called the Ballroom, used for events separate from the main theatre space. There's a street level entrance on the south side of the facade. The plans appeared on the Belasco website at the time.

The reopening of the theatre had been awaited for years. Ryan Vaillancourt of the Downtown Los Angeles News ran a story in August 2010 "Bringing Back the Belasco" about the Kims' struggles with the City of Los Angeles and next-door neighbor the Mayan about the re-opening of the theatre. There had been concerns about noise, congestion and drug use with a doubling of crowds on the block with two theatres running. Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation noted at the time that this was precisely the kind of action the buildings were designed for.

Status: Live Nation took over the operation on a long-term lease in 2020. The deal was announced in "Live Nation Takes Over Belasco Theater," a January 22 Downtown L.A. News story.

The Belasco in the Movies:

The Belasco shows up in this shot taken during the filming of "The Saturday Night Kid" (Paramount, 1929). The film featured sound recording in a PE streetcar as Clara Bow went to her job. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for the article that accompanied the photo in the September 1929 issue of the Pacific Electric company magazine. Thanks to transit historian Sean Ault for finding the story.

We get this fine proscenium view in the 1933 Paramount musical "Too Much Harmony," starring Bing Crosby and Jack Oakie. The Belasco is standing in for a theatre in New York. Thanks to Marc Chevalier for posting the shot on the LAHTF Facebook page. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for seven additional shots from scenes at the Belasco.

The Belasco is seen in "Midnight Frolics," also known as "Midnight Follies" (Roadshow Attractions, 1949). It's a filmed performance of burlesque and comedy sketches. Lillian Hunt directed a cast that includes Sunny Knight, Mickey "Ginger" Jones, Wauneta Bates, Helen Cogan, George Rose and Annette Warren. The lobby card is one of three from that appear on IMDb.

Peter Hyams' "End of Days" (Universal, 1999) with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne is largely set in New York but we spend a lot of time in L.A. Locations, sometimes with strange geography. We enter a door at the Tower Theatre and find ourselves, as shown here, in the Belasco lobby. We continue on from here into the Tower auditorium. See the Historic L.A.Theatres In Movies post for ten more screenshots from the film including a visit to the Pope, who lives at the Los Angeles Theatre.

John Malkovich is rehearsing a speech from "Richard III" in "Being John Malkovich" (USA Films, 1999). At the time of the filming the theatre still had seats on both the main floor and in the balcony. Note the sidewall arches cut open as windows, a modification done by the church that had been in the building. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of Catherine Keener at the back of the main floor as well as two views of the outside of the Million Dollar. The film, directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, is set in New York where Keener and work buddy John Cusak have a side business selling access to a portal leading inside Malkovich's brain.

We have a lot of fun downtown in Dominic Sena's "Swordfish" (Warner Bros., 2001) including this look backstage with John Travolta and Hugh Jackman. The counter-terrorist thriller also stars Halle Berry and Don Cheadle. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for seven more views at the Belasco as well as a brief look at the Warner Downtown and a shot of a restaurant built up against the south side of the Los Angeles Theatre.

Britney Spears' big audition scene at the end of "Crossroads" (Paramount, 2002) is at the Belasco. The film also stars Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning, Anson Mount and Dan Aykroyd. Shonda Rhimes wrote the script and Tamra Davis directed. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more Belasco interior views, two earlier shots showing the Chinese and views of a club scene at the Variety Theatre in West Adams.

The theatre is seen as a dance hall in Kyoto in "Memoirs of a Geisha" (Sony Pictures, 2005). The Rob Marshall film stars Suzuka Ohgo, Samantha Futerman, Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe and Michelle Yeoh. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for three more shots from the scene.

In Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" (Touchstone/Warner Bros, 2006) with Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine we get several interior views of the Belasco. It's functioning as the (very cluttered) workshop for Jackman's final illusion. Here Michael Caine is looking in from the side of the balcony. The film also spends lots of time in the Tower, Los Angeles and Palace theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more screenshots from the film.

Paul Rudd stages a Graham Parker concert at the theatre in Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" (Universal, 2012). The film also stars Leslie Mann, Iris and Maude Apatow, Jason Segel, Megan Fox, Michael Ian Black, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and Charlyne Yi. The cinematography was by Phedon Papamichael. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more views of the Belasco as well as an exterior shot of the Variety Theatre in West Adams. 

We're in Jersey but a club there somehow has a lobby identical to the Belasco's in Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys" (Warner Bros., 2014). The film features Christopher Walken, here with his back to us. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for two more lobby shots, an auditorium view, and views of the Palace and Orpheum as seen in the film.

Also: IMDb has a page listing films that have been shot at the Belasco.

The Belasco on Video: 

We get a lovely tracking shot starting on stage and ending out in the street in David LaChapelle's 2002 video of Christina Aguilera singing "The Voice Within."  It's on YouTube. Thanks to Steven Lepore for sending it our way. See the post on Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies for two additional shots.

Also on YouTube see Don Solosan's terrific "Belasco Theatre Construction Montage," a one minute thirteen second tour via construction photos taken by the George Adair Photo Service.

More Information:  See the Cinema Tour page on the Belasco for some photos, including some nice interior shots by Bob Meza. The Cinema Treasures page has lots of historical lore. Jeff Bridges (aka vokoban) did the research on the Belasco's days as a movie theatre that finally got the venue a page on the site. Also see the Mayan Theatre page on Cinema Treasures for lots of discussion about the Belasco that went on before the theatre got its own page.

Fine photos by Elizabeth Daniels accompany Dakota Smith's March 2011 Curbed L.A. story about the Belasco rebirth: "After 26 years, downtown's Belasco Theatre reopening." Visit Mike Hume's fine page about the Belasco on his Historic Theatre Photography site.

See Steve Shriver's 2011 "Belasco Theatre & Downtown Walkabout" photo set for some nice views taken at the 2011 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building. Also see the photo sets on Flickr by Jeff Bridges, Al Domasin and Eric Lynxwiler for many interesting views.

The south storefront got a new restaurant tenant in 2017. Eater L.A. had the story about Les Coulisses moving in. It didn't last long. Thanks to Sandi Hemmerlein for spotting the story.

The Belasco Theatre pages:  back to top - history | early exterior views | recent exterior views | ticket lobby | lobbies - lounges - ballroom | early auditorium views | recent auditorium views | backstage | basement support areas |

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