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RKO Hillstreet Theatre

801 S. Hill St. Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

Opened: March 20, 1922 by the Orpheum circuit as the Hillstreet Theatre. The movie portion of the opening bill was "Why Announce Your Marriage?" with Elaine Hammerstein. After Orpheum was rolled into the combine of RKO, it became the RKO Theatre in 1929, later rebranded as the RKO Hillstreet. This photo shows off the third version of the marquee during the run of "Gunfighters," a July 1947 release. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo.

Architect: G. Albert Lansburgh, who designed many theatres for Orpheum, including the 1911 Orpheum Theatre on Broadway (now called the Palace) and the 1926 replacement Orpheum Theatre. Also opening in 1922 was Lansburgh's very similar Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco, also a "Junior Orpheum" house. That term meant that instead of two-a-day vaudeville (and no movies), this theatre would offer alternating films and vaudeville presentations throughout the day.

This ground floor plan for the Hillstreet was included with "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect," an article in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer. It's on Internet Archive. That's Hill St. on the left side with 175' of frontage and 8th St. at the bottom with 159' of frontage. The lot was 27,825 s.f. Note the asymmetrical layout and lack of lobby space. While the exterior ticket lobby was impressive, the interior lobby spaces were minimal. The goal was to get as many seats in as possible.

Seating: 2,916. This was the second largest movie theatre constructed in the L.A. area. Only the Metropolitan was larger. 2,752 was the number used in a 1963 L.A. Times article.

Stage: Proscenium width: 51'   Stage depth stage left @ proscenium: 34'   Depth stage right @ proscenium: 44'   Stage wall-to-wall halfway upstage: 88'   Dimmerboard location: off right

Pipe organ: The theatre opened with a Moller 3/13 (opus #3128) and then in 1928 installed a Wurlitzer (opus #1972) style 240. Thanks to Bill Gabel for the data.

Rigging: The counterweight system was a Peter Clark installation. The theatre was listed as "Orpheum - Los Angeles" in a 1923 Peter Clark ad in Motion Picture News. This was evidently the first counterweight system installation in the Los Angeles area. 

We get a rare look offstage right at the Peter Clark counterweight system in this ad that appeared in the June 2, 1922 issue of Southwest Builder and Contractor.

An auditorium view was featured in this June 30, 1922 ad in Southwest Builder and Contractor. It's on Google Books. Thanks to Bob Foreman for finding the Peter Clark ads. Visit his site Vintage Theatre Catalogs for a wealth of historic tech data. 

History: This was initially on a "Junior Orpheum" policy with 5 act vaudeville shows and films continuous throughout the day. It might have been called the Hill-8th St. Theatre. Martin Beck, general manager of the circuit, discussed his theatre naming philosophy in an article on page 29 of the April 9, 1920 issue of the L.A. Evening Express:

"In naming the theaters that are to make up the Junior Orpheum circuit, we intend calling them after the intersecting streets on which they are located. Thus, in Kansas City we have named that theater the Fourteenth-Main, and the one in Minneapolis has been called the Ninth-Hennepin. The Los Angeles theater will be known as the Hill and the name of the other street on which it will be situated. It is impossible to give the exact location of the Los Angeles theater at the present time, as the full title of the property has not been acquired."

Thanks to Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett for locating the article. It's included in a post about Junior Orpheum on her site Another name that was entertained by circuit was the Hill Theatre. The barricade around the construction site said "Site of the new Hill Theatre."
The project was given more detail in "To Start Work on New Theatre - Junior Orpheum to Cost Million and Half," an article located by Mike Hume in the November 21, 1920 issue of the L.A. Times. 

According to the Times, this was the "first authentic picture" of the projected theatre. The article noted: 

"Plans for the new Orpheum Theater, to be erected at the southwest corner of Eighth and Hill streets have been completed, the general contracts for the work have been awarded and the construction of the building will be started in the near future, according to a statement made yeaterday by G. Albert Landsburgh [sic] of San Francisco, architect for the structure... It will be an eight-story office and loft building of class A construction, and the arrangement of the upper floors will be planned so as to suit the convenience of the tenants. On the first floor there will be ten stores, five on the Hill-street frontage, and five on Eighth street, and the main lobby will be accessible from the corner, at the base of the tower.

"This lobby, 40 x 80 feet, and finished in polychrome terra cotta, will lead to an interior foyer, through which access will be had to the auditorium and to the mezzanine floor, which will contain the ladies' parlors, children's playroom, smoking rooms and other conveniences for the use of patrons. Modern Equipment - The auditorium, stated Mr. Lansburgh, will be finished in a novel manner, the entire architectural plan, both exterior and interior, following the Spanish plateresque style. A modern air-cooling and heating system will be installed, and a fine pipe organ has been ordered by Martin Beck, president of the Orpheum circuit, for installation as soon as the building is completed. 

"The general contract for the building has been awarded to McDonald and Kahn, and the contract for the steel has been let to the Llewellyn Iron Works. All of the other materials to be used in the construction of the building will be purchased from local dealers... The property, purchased several months ago by Martin Beck and associates, has a frontage of 175 feet on Hill street and 159 feet on Eighth street... Other properties in the vicinity of the new Orpheum Theater have been leased by Mr. Beck, and improvements are now being planned for these sites..."

Selling mortgage bonds to finance the new theatre in a November 24, 1920 L.A. Times ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

An assurance from the Times financial columnist in 1920 that the Orpheum bonds were a good investment, bearing "the unconditional the Orpheum Theater and Realty Company which has been successfully operating for twenty-five years..." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the item. 

This construction view of the "Los Angeles Junior Orpheum Theatre" was featured in an ad for the L.A. Pressed Brick Co. It appeared in the Architectural Digest 1922 survey issue of noteworthy Southern California buildings. It's from the Stanford Library and on Google Books.

The March 19, 1922 L.A. Times had a story about the opening: 

"Junior House To Open - Tomorrow afternoon the new Hillstreet Theater of the Junior Orpheum Circuit at Eighth and Hill will open its doors to the public without any formal ceremonies. The new theater is a model of the most advanced ideas in theater construction, and embodies many new features for the comfort and pleasure of the patrons. Continuous vaudeville and exclusive photoplay showings will comprise the entertainment offered, with excellent musical programs rendered by a large orchestra, with Allen Hall directing and Charles Hayes O'Haver presiding at the mammoth three-manual Moller organ.

"The opening bill gives an excellent idea of the class of the attractions to be offered at the Hillstreet Theater and is sure to appeal to every taste. Gladys Buckridge and Billy Casey, the Ziegfeld stars, with one of the season’s most elaborate productions entitled 'Ornamental Song Hits,' hold the headline position. They will be assisted by the clever Trado Twins, dancers, and Jack Thomas at the piano." 

Thanks to Cinema Treasures researcher Jeff Bridges for finding the article.

The March 20 opening day ad of "The Pride of Los Angeles." Thanks to Mr. Comfortably Cool for posting the ad on Cinema Treasures
Edwin Schallert, the L.A. Times drama and film critic, discussed the "really different kind of theater opening" in this article in the March 21, 1922 issue of the L.A. Times:

Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article. 

A 1923 ad for Houdini. Thanks to Mike for locating it.

In 1927 the Orpheum circuit (with theatres mostly in the west) merged with the Keith-Albee circuit in the east forming KAO, the Keith-Albee-Orpheum circuit.

Some performers evidently didn't think much of the orchestra at the Hillstreet. Katherine Beals, in her book book "Vaudeville Days," quotes a letter she wrote home in March 1927 about dancers rehearsing and killing time between shows in LA at the Hillstreet:

"Fortunately there was plenty of room. That was about the only thing in favor of the Hill Street Theatre, which had the world's worse orchestra. To make matters worse, the theatre was having a birthday celebration -- 100 years of vaudeville. On Sunday night, March 21, just one week after we arrived in Los Angeles, there were a lot of personalities present and we weren't out until midnight. The final Sunday show all the old troupers were in the boxes and in the audience. They were introduced one by one and I recognized a few names." 

Ms. Beals was a dancer in her 20s at the time. Thanks to Danni Bayles-Yeager, curator of the Performing Arts Archive for spotting the account.

The theatre got a page in the 1928 Memphis Orpheum opening night program using a 1926 photo. The program is online from Historic Memphis. The copy noted:

"No expense was spared to make the Hillstreet the most beautiful and up-to-date on the Pacific Coast, as well as one of the largest. It has been operating with a popular price policy, alternating vaudeville and feature photoplays from noon until 11 p.m. The theatre has a modern ventilating plant and is operated twelve months a year. It has a capacity of 3,000. The Hillstreet is part of a large building owned by the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit, whose offices are among the most eagerly sought in Los Angeles.

"In addition to the land on which the Hillstreet stands the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit owns a large adjoining plot of land on Olive Street. As in many other instances the erection of the Hillstreet Theatre stimulated property development in this vicinity. Since the ground was broken for the Hillstreet Theatre millions of dollars of improvements have been added in this district."
The Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit got swallowed up in an October 1928 merger by David Sarnoff of RCA and Joe Kennedy of the Film Booking Office (FBO) creating RKO. Joe knew that talking films were the future. Keith Albee and Orpheum had the old theatres, RCA had the ability to manufacture sound systems and with FBO and Pathé, he had the production capability.

An article in the December 19, 1928 issue of the L.A. Times about RCA Photophone and introducing the new phrase "sound track."

An ad for the December 1928 premiere of Photophone at the Hillstreet. "Captain Swagger" was an October release with a music and effects track on the film. No records. Unlike Vitaphone, Photophone was a sound-on-film process. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the ad. 

It became the RKO Theatre in 1929. And vaudeville was out in favor of stage revues between the films. "Theater To Change Name," an August 28 L.A. Times article located by Mike Hume, had the news about a redecoration and new policy:

"Hillstreet Will be Redecorated, Called New RKO and Stage Revue Policy Adopted - With the announcement last night by theater officials of plans for the rebirth and reopening of the Hillstreet Theater on the evening of September 11, from which time the playhouse will be known as the New RKO Theater, it was also stated that following the closing of the house for four days it will open with a special premiere of the new Radio picture, "Street Girl." This complete change of policy for the downtown house comes as a result of rapid advancement of talking pictures in the entertainment world. 

"New Furnishings - The Eighth and Hill-street house will be furnished and redecorated during the four days prior to its reopening, and though already regarded as one of the city's most beautiful places of entertainment, it is planned to make it one of the outstanding houses of the West. The entire appearance of the theater will be altered and a complete change in its stage dress will be effected, the policy of the new house being to present stage revues.

"The resources of the Radio-Keith-Orpheum circuit will be brought into play to produce these stage shows. Under the direction of Marlin Magley, who will arrive shortly from New York, where he has long held a place as a producer of stage spectacles, a new type of stage entertainment will be inaugurated. Outstanding stars of the stage and screen will be presented weekly. The new RKO Theater will be the home of Radio Pictures... Following the opening-night performance it is the plan of RKO officials to maintain a continuous policy at the new house with popular prices prevailing..."

Although the RKO became a revue house in September 1929, vaudeville continued at the circuit's Orpheum Theatre on Broadway. But not for long. In 1930 the Orpheum went to a film-only policy and the vaudeville shows moved to the RKO.

A 1930 ad for a film-only policy at the Orpheum and a "9 Feature Show" including RKO vaudeville at the RKO. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting this on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

In mid-1930 and early 1931 the Hillstreet was advertising "the only RKO vaudeville in Southern California." RKO put vaudeville back into the Orpheum for a spell in 1932 before shutting the theatre down at the end of the year.

A 1931 billboard for the theatre. The Dick Whittington Studio photo is in the USC Digital Library collection.  

Another policy change came along in 1933. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating this in a June issue of the L.A. Times. The once-big vaudeville shows were down to "several acts."

By 1934 the stage shows were gone and they were calling the venue the RKO Hillstreet. A Times article in September spotted by Mike Hume had the headline "New Screen Policy Told." They noted:

"Two Theaters Schedule 'British Agent' - Inaugurating a new policy whereby the cream of the combined picture product of Warner Brothers and the R.-K.-O. studios will be shown simultaneously at Warner Brothers Hollywood and the R.-K.-O.-Hillstreet theaters. 'British Agent,' co-starring Kay Francis and Leslie Howard, has been announced as the screen attraction beginning Friday at the two houses..."

A section of a 1935 insurance map from the Los Angeles Public Library showing the theatre, here identified as the RKO Theatre. Note the back wall of the stage at an angle to the proscenium. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for photo of the map.

The first three-strip technicolor feature at the Hillstreet, booking day-and-date with the Warner Hollywood. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the July 10, 1935 L.A. Times ad. 

A 1937 L.A. Times article noting that the theatre was running at a loss. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the item. 

A May 9, 1941 L.A. Times ad for Orson Welles' RKO film "Citizen Kane" at the El Capitan and the Hillstreet. The premiere at the El Capitan had been the night before. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a Photos of Los Angeles post.

An item appearing in the Times on December 13, 1941. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this and the ad below for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page that included other ads from that day's issue. 

The theatre's ad in the Times on December 13, 1941.  By this time the Hillstreet had moved away from booking in conjunction with the Warner Hollywood and had done a deal to book day-and-date with the Pantages. RKO didn't actually take over operation of the Pantages until 1949.

The theatre's entrance and some other areas got a remodeling in 1947. Cinema Treasures researcher Joe Vogel reports that the work was reported in the April 26, 1947 issue of Boxoffice. The design was by the Anthony Heinsbergen Co. Thanks to Bill Gabel for tracking down the article describing the renovation:

"The primary aims in remodeling the front and lobby of the RKO Hillstreet Theatre in Los Angeles were two: 1) to eliminate the gothic architecture in the lobby and 2) to open the lobby to the street, so as actually to bring the theatre entrance into the street. The first part was accomplished by designing a dome containing a spiral indirect-lighting cove starting from the center of the dome to the outer rim and continuing at the center down a structural column. The design looks very simple but required extensive study to make it work. The second part was accomplished by demolishing the two side box offices and stripping the column at the entrance down to a minimum, with the result that there is now 60 feet with clear opening from street to lobby against 45 feet before modernization.

"The box office is anchored to the center column and its location is ideal from the standpoint of design and efficient operation. The wall surfaces are polished terrazzo with display frames and mirrors so arranged to get maximum efficiency for displays in keeping with good taste. The ceiling is kept at the same level as the marquee to carry out the idea of bringing the lobby into the street. The lighting of the lobby is accomplished with floodlights recessed into the ceiling showing just sufficient source of light to show an interesting pattern of this lighting.

"The floor is non-slip terrazzo designed in a pattern indicating traffic lanes from sidewalk to entrance doors. Entrance pilasters are streamlined, each containing two standard display frames in simple but effective stainless steel frames. All display frames are illuminated indirectly. Large wall frames are exceptionally deep to permit three dimensional displays. All trim was dispensed with leaving terrazzo returns into the display. This arrangement focuses attention to the display proper. On the opposite side of the large wall frame (20 feet long by 6 feet high) is a wall mirror showing the reflection of the large frame. The large frames are equipped with sectional sliding plate-glass doors.

"Entrance doors are simulating a glass screen giving maximum vision to the inner lobby. The doors are heavy polished plate glass set in narrow nonferrous frames. This type of door screen is known as the Wanhein screen. The inner lobby was recently streamlined and contains some interesting features. The new ceiling contains a seriesof coves and domes, cleverly designed to meet all requirements and unusual conditions. One side wall contains a candy stand reminiscent of a candy box with bold modern baroque outlines, Plexiglas and catchy display of merchandise. The popcorn machine is built in inconspicuously as part of the design.

"The opposite wall is all mirrors reflecting the candy stand. Built into the mirror wall are are all glass jewel cases for three dimensional displays. The dated wrought iron railing was replaced with a cast aluminum rail of modern design. The finished work was the result of the combined efforts of the Operating and Construction Departments of RKO Theatres and the Heinbergen Decorating Company of Los Angeles."

Josephine Baker backstage at the Hillstreet in July 1951. The photo appears in the Josephine Baker Picture Gallery on the site ThoughtCo. Edwin Schallert reviewed the show in a July 5 article titled "Josephine Baker Captivates First Audiences With Songs, Showmanship" and called her "an international star of the Negro race."

Ms. Baker onstage at the Hillstreet in 1951. The photo by Arnold Hylen appears through the courtesy of Mr. Hylen's grand-neice Greta Gustaffson -- her mother is onstage. It's one of two shots in a post from Greta on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. There's also a shot of Ms. Baker up in the air on a riser. Thanks to Steve Gerdes for spotting these.

An ad for "It Came From Outer Space" in 3-D on the giant new "Wide Vision" screens at the Hillstreet and the Pantages in 1953. The ad appears on the Wide Screen Documentation page of 3-D Film Archive, a delightful site curated by Bob Furmanek. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

During the final period of operation under Metropolitan Theatres, it was again just called the Hillstreet Theatre. They had leased it from RKO in 1959. The RKO was removed from the verticals so that it in the 60s it initially just said "Theatre." Later "Hill St." was added at the top.

Closing: The theatre closed temporarily on April 14, 1963 after running "Diary of a Madman" with Vincent Price. "Shortage of product" was given as the reason but it was more like shortage of customers.

This L.A. Times article about the closing appeared in their April 29 issue. 

It reopened again, running films through the summer of 1964. It was demolished in the summer of 1965. Bill Gabel comments:

"When RKO dumped the theatre from its roster, Metropolitan Theatres picked up the lease. They ran it for a few months before closing it. The plan was to find a good program for booking it in the fall. This was a time when the large chains were dumping many outdated properties from their companies and the downtown theatres were not making any real profits. The good thing about it was Metropolitan Theatres picked up many of the other houses along Broadway. Metropolitan picked up the State around this time from UA Theatres.

"This house fell in to the out of the way area. Broadway was the street to be on to make it all work. The old Pantages / Downtown Warner theatre had a better lot. Back in the day Broadway & 7th was the busiest intersection in L.A., people could see it from there. The Hillstreet theatre was one block too far south and too big for Metropolitan to find a good fit to fill it. All the big chains dumped their downtown Los Angeles houses during this time frame. Fox West Coast Theatres, UA Theatres, Stanley Warner Theatres, Paramount Publix Theatres, RKO Theatres all left the downtown market."

A December 2, 1964 L.A. Times article about the demolition. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.  
A May 14, 1965 article in the Times was titled "Self-Park Structure to Replace RKO Hillstreet" called it "Another step in the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles" and noted that the demolition would begin April 1. 

Thanks to Mike Hume for locating this May 16, 1965 L.A. Times article. 

A 1965 ad run in the Times by Cleveland Wrecking Co. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a comment to a post about the theatre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

Status: There's now a parking garage plus a one-story building on the corner that has been a bank and a nightclub called The Vault and B-52. The corner building was redeveloped in 2018 for the new tenants Shake Shack, Paris Baguette and Sweetgreen. 

Interior views: 

The balcony level lobby in 1922. The photo appeared with "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect," an article in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer. It's on Internet Archive. This photo is also in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. There was no big main floor lobby. Once inside the doors there was just a small foyer along the back of the main floor and stairs up to the balcony level.

The rear of the auditorium as seen from the stage. It's a 1922 Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.

Another look to the rear. The undated photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

Looking across the house from the front corner of the balcony. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. It also appears in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer.

A balcony side wall view. It's a 1922 Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.

The booth. It's a 1922 Mott Studios photo in the California State Library collection.

A better look at the chandelier and Lansburgh's tented ceiling. It's a preview of what he would do on a larger scale at the Shrine Auditorium in 1926. The 1922 photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. It also appears in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer.

Looking down from the top in 1922. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. It also appears in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer.

More exterior views: 

c.1920 - Looking east on 8th St. with the theatre site on the left. The merchants are having closing sales. The signage above promises us a Junior Orpheum Theatre soon featuring "Double Shows at Half Price." And they say the venue will be called the Hill Theatre. The California Historical Society photo is in the USC Digital Library collection. The Los Angeles Public Library also has a copy. 

1922 - A construction view appearing in the Architectural Digest 1922 survey issue of noteworthy southern California buildings. It's from the Stanford Library and is on Google Books.

1922 - A photo of the newly completed theatre that appeared with "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect," the article in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer. Other photos with the article include a balcony lobby view and several auditorium photos. Note at the time of the photo there was only one vertical sign on the building.

1922 - A bit of damage but still a great view down on the theatre. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. Note the signage on the dome.    

1923 - Looking east on 8th St. with the Hillstreet marquee is on the right. The building across the street on the right is the Hamburger Department Store, later taken over by the May Co. The Garrick Theatre is down a block on the southeast corner of 8th & Broadway. The Tower Theatre didn't come along until 1927. Thanks to Paul Wisman for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

c.1924 - Looking north toward the theatre from below 9th St. On the right note the Hill St. addition to the 1908 Hamburger / May Co. building under construction. The photo from the California Historical Society is in the USC Digital Library collection.

c.1925 - A view north on Hill with a sliver of the theatre, and the Orpheum Grill, on the left. On the right it's the Hamburger Co. building with the new addition nearest us. The Broadway side would get an addition in 1929. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

1926 - Still the same marquee but here in this photo we see they've added a second vertical on the 8th St. side of the building. Thanks to Charmaine Zoe for the photo on Flickr. It's included in her fascinating Vintage Cinemas: California album of treasures from various trade magazines. The photo was also used in the 1928 opening night program for the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis. The program is online from Historic Memphis.

1920s - Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for finding this view of the back of the building on e-bay and posting as Noirish post #17729. He calls our attention to the billowing curtain at the left. A guest had taken the photo looking out a window at the Stillwell Hotel on Grand Ave. Note the signage up on the dome saying "Hillstreet Theatre."

1920s - A detail from the Stillwell photo giving us a better look at the stagehouse and that lovely dictwork snaking down from the fan room on top of the office building.

1927 - The view from 9th and Grand toward the back of the Hillstreet. The building on the left is the Stillwell Hotel, dating from 1912. One of the billboards is advertising "Don't Tell the Wife" at the Pantages. It was a January release with Irene Rich. The large building in the distance on the right is an expansion of the Hamburger / May Co. building. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1927 - We get a view of the smoke vents atop the stagehouse in this view taken at 9th and Olive from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1927 - Looking north on Hill from 9th St. The Hillstreet's side wall sign is getting repainted. A block farther in the distance the dome of the Pantages/Warner can be seen at 7th and Hill. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

1928 or 1929 - They're advertising the newly installed RCA Photophone sound system. The feature is Carole Lombard in "Ned McCobb's Daughter," a December 1928 release. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 

1929 - Looking north on Hill on December 5. The vertical for the Warner can be seen a block north at 7th. It's a detail from a larger California Historical Society photo in the USC Digital Library collection.

1930 - Vaudeville girls in front of the theatre's entrance. Note the signage proclaiming this house to be the only RKO Vaudeville in L.A. -- none at the Orpheum at this point. And RKO would leave the Orpheum for good at the end of 1932. The screen portion of the program advertised is Mickey McGuire (Mickey Rooney) in the short "Mickey's Merry Men," a July 1930 release. Thanks to Benny Ballejo for finding the photo for a post on Photos of Los Angeles.

c.1931 - A lovely view south on Hill St. from 7th. It's a California Historical Society photo on the USC Digital Library website. 

c. 1931 - A detail from the USC photo giving us a closer view of the Alhambra Theatre, at 731 S. Hill St., mid-way between 7th & 8th. The front of the Alhambra's marquee is unreadable but the end panel saying Bill Haines and Marie Dressler would lead one to believe they're running "The Girl Said No," a March 1930 release. The Hillstreet is further along at 8th with its redone signage calling it the RKO Theatre. 

1931 - A fine look at the new signage at the renamed RKO Theatre. Note that there was no readerboard at the center of the marquee in this version. The photo from the Marc Wanamaker collection is on the site Hollywood Historic Photos. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

1931 - The ticket lobby with a lot of 8s hanging around to advertise that the show included 8 RKO vaudeville acts -- "The only RKO vaudeville in Southern California." The picture that week was "Behind Office Doors," a March release. It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo in the Huntington Digital Library collection. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for image enhancement.

1931 - A detail of the upstairs railings from the Dick Whittington photo.

1931 - Ushers on the roof. The photo is one in a set of three by Dick Whittington Studio in the USC Digital Library collection.

1931 - A magic trick in the ticket lobby to promote the Jean Harlow film "Goldie." It's a photo by Dick Whittington Studio in the USC Digital Library collection.

1930s - A view north on Hill St. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for sharing the card from her collection.

1933 - "Secrets of the French Police" starred Gwili Andre, Gregory Ratoff and Frank Morgan. It opened January 8. Thanks to the Ronald W. Mahan Collection for sharing the photo by Peerless Photo Service that was once in the collection of Johnny Bresnik. Note that the readerboards are using changeable neon letters.

1937 - A fine look at RKO's deco treatment of the the marquee. "The Awful Truth" was an October release. Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Comfortably Cool for finding the photo for a post on the site's page about the RKO Hillstreet.

1937 - A November photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The feature was "I'll Take Romance" with Grace Moore and Melvyn Douglas, a November release.

1937 - "I'll Take Romance" on a rainy day. We're looking west on 8th toward the Commercial Exchange Building. It's a Herman Schultheis photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 

1939 - "2 Great Features." "Son of Frankenstein" was out in January 1939. "Swing Sister Swing" was a December 1938 release. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting the photo when it was for sale online.

1939 - Looking east on 8th toward the theatre at Hill St. On the near corner at the right it's the Commercial Exchange Building, now the Freehand Hotel with that neon sign (the tallest in the city) nicely restored. It's photo from the Automobile Club of Southern California appearing on the USC Digital Library website.

1939 - North on Hill. It's Dick Whittington Studio photo in the USC Digital Library collection. Also see 1939 views looking north from Olympic and another shot a bit closer from the USC collection.

1939 - A view north on Hill from just below 8th St. It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo in the USC Digital Library collection.  The former Alhambra Theatre half way up the next block still has its marquee but it's now a parking garage.

1939 - A detail of the changeable neon letters seen in the previous photo. It's a font called Hobo.

1939 - West on 8th toward Olive St. The RKO was running "East Side of Heaven" in these 1939 photos. The Dick Whittington Studio photo is in the USC Digital Library collection.

c.1940 - A view down 8th St. with the Olympic Theatre vertical visible on the right hand side of the street. The RKO is on the left a block away. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

1940s - The RKO Hillstreet, advertising "RKO Radio Pictures," behind the streetcar. We're looking north from 9th in a photo that was on Tom Wetzel's now-vanished transit history website "Uncanny."

1947 - A fine look at the RKO marquee during the run of "The Other Love," a May release with Barbara Stanwyck. Note that spiffy remodeled entrance and boxoffice. Thanks to Eric Lynxwiler for the photo on Flickr. For a real treat, browse through his L.A. Theatres album on Flickr -- over 500 great shots. And check out his Downtown Los Angeles album as well.

1947 - A detail from the photo in Eric Lynxwiler's collection. Check out "Spectacular Illumination," the superb Angel City Press book he co-wrote with Tom Zimmerman. 

1947 - The 8th St. readerboard -- and a fine look into the remodeled ticket lobby. The photo was another find of Ken McIntyre.

1947 - The Heinsbergen-designed spiral dome in the ticket lobby. Thanks to Mr. Comfortably Cool for posting the trade magazine photo on the Cinema Treasures page about the RKO Hillstreet.

1948 - A L.A. Examiner photo showing the theatre building from the southwest. It's in the USC Digital Library collection.

1948 - A detail from the Examiner photo.

1951 - "Josephine Baker In Person." On the screen for the rest of the program is "China Corsair."  It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1951 - The theatre being picketed in October against alleged "Reds" appearing in the film "Saturday's Hero." The photo is one in a set of four L.A. Examiner photos in the USC Digital Library collection.

1953 - "3D on giant WIDE VISION screen and directional sound." This photo has kicked around in a number of versions. Thanks to David Zornig for this nice one he found for a post on Cinema Treasures.

1955 - A photo by Richard L. Hay. Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Moviejs 1944 for finding the shot for a post on the site's page about the RKO Hillstreet.

c.1956 - Looking north on Hill Street. They were too lazy to change this end of the marquee: "2 TOP HITS." It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

1958 - An LAMTA crew installing a bus stop sign. We're looking south in the 700 block of Hill St. toward the theatre. The photo appears in an album of the Metro Library and Archive on Flickr. Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for spotting it in the collection.

1958 - A wonderful view looking west on 8th St. from Broadway with the red vertical of the Olympic Theatre on the right and the RKO Hillstreet a half block farther down on the left. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for sharing the photo from his collection. He notes that the Hillstreet is playing "Old Yeller." The photo can also be seen on a Classic L.A. page of the Kingsley Collection.

c.1960 - Looking north on Hill St. with a bit of the theatre's signage on the left up at 8th & Hill. While the side of the building still says "RKO Hillstreet Theatre," the "RKO" is off the vertical leaving only "Theatre." The photo appears in the Flickr album A Box of Pictures

1961 - "Hill St." got added to the top of the vertical. It's a view from three minutes of footage taken for process shot use that begins 33:15 into Rick Prelinger's "Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles - 2019." Rick's hour and thirty minute program of wonderful clips from a variety sources was presented at the Los Angeles Public Library by the organization Photo Friends as part of the series L.A. in Focus. Also see an earlier compilation: "Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles - 2016." Both programs are on Vimeo. A colorized version of the Hill St. footage is on YouTube. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting it.

1961 - A closer view of the theatre from the footage in the Prelinger compilation. We also get views of the Warrens, the Paramount and the Town. The Hillstreet was running "Homicidal," a June release, along with "Most Dangerous Man Alive," out in July.

c.1962 - Looking north on Hill. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing the photo from his collection. The end panel of the readerboard says "Ten-O-Win Every Tues 8 PM."

1965 - The end of the line for the Hillstreet. On the marquee: Cleveland Wrecking Co. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

1965 - "Critics acclaim return engagement -- Fresh from smash hit at Biltmore -- Cleveland Wrecking Co. brings down the house" Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing the July photo from his collection. It had been on eBay where it was spotted by Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality. He's got it on his Noirish post #27560.

1965 - Looking north on Hill toward the Warrens Theatre at 7th St., the former Warner Downtown. On the left where the van is parked we still have a dumpster and some construction fencing from the tail end of the demolition of the Hillstreet. Thanks to Bill Gabel for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

2018 - The parking garage and low rise corner building now on the site. Photo: Bill Counter

The Hillstreet in the Movies:

The dome of the theatre is in the background behind actor Conway Tearle as we look up Hill St. in "Day of Reckoning" (MGM, 1933). In this prison drama Richard Dix is sent to a high-rise prison facility in L.A. after a bit of embezzlement. We're on top of the Western Costume Building, 939 S. Broadway. Also see the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a view of the Trinity Auditorium from the film. Thanks to John Bengtson for the screenshot. It's included in his Silent Locations post "Laurel & Hardy's Liberty Rooftop" where he discusses shots from Western Costume used for the Laurel & Hardy film "Liberty" (1929).

A look at the theatre from "Down To Earth" (Columbia, 1947). For theatre enthusiasts, the high point in this otherwise dreary film starring Rita Hayworth is the process footage we see out the back window of a taxi. Here as we drive east on 8th St. we see the RKO Hillstreet is running another Hayworth film, "Gilda."

The view a bit farther east on 8th St. as we head towards Broadway in the "Down to Earth" footage. On the tour we get night vistas of 7th and 8th streets as well as (at the end) a look at all the theatres on the east side of Broadway. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for several more shots from the footage including views of the Olympic and Tower theatres.

The eleven minutes of background footage Columbia shot of downtown in 1946 is on Internet Archive as "Downtown Los Angeles Streets - 1946." It's a great tour giving us glimpses of lots of vanished storefronts and theatres.

Also see 11 minutes of 1946 "Downtown Los Angeles" footage in black and white on Internet Archive. It looks like it was shot by the same team. We get some of the same views but also many other theatres including the Globe, Arcade, Cameo, Roxie and Broadway not seen in the color footage. It's also on Facebook from Flashbak. Thanks to Torr Leonard for spotting it. There's also another link to get to the same footage via Facebook Watch.

As the Martians get close to the city we get this shot east on 8th St. in "The War of the Worlds" (Paramount, 1953). That's the Hillstreet vertical on the right and the Olympic Theatre down in the block between Hill St. and Broadway. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for another shot of the Olympic as well as a glimpse of the Mason Theatre stagehouse.

A frame from "The 25th Man," a 28 minute Los Angeles Police Department video from 1962. It's on the USC Digital Library website, minus its sound. The Hillstreet is playing "Cinderfella" with Jerry Lewis and Ed Wynn, a December 1960 release. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for spotting finding the video for inclusion in his Noirish post #43128.

More Information: Cinema Treasures has lots of historical information on the RKO Hillstreet contributed by many researchers.

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