Start your Los Angeles area historic theatre explorations by heading to one of these major sections: Downtown | North of Downtown + East L.A. | San Fernando Valley | Glendale | Pasadena | San Gabriel Valley, Pomona and Whittier | South, South Central and Southeast | Hollywood | Westside | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | Long Beach | [more] L.A. Movie Palaces |
To see what's recently been added to the mix visit the Theatres in Movies site and the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.

Metropolitan/Paramount Theatre: history

323 W. 6th St., 536 S. Hill St. and 553 S. Broadway  Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

More Metropolitan Theatre pages:  exterior views | Broadway entrance | lobby areas | auditorium | stage | projection booth |

Opened: Friday January 26, 1923 as Grauman's Metropolitan. On the screen for the opening was "My American Wife" with Gloria Swanson. Gloria and several other stars of the picture showed up for the festivities. The stage portion of the program was headlined by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. The orchestra, conducted by Ulderico Marcelli, wasn't in a pit but on a big stage elevator. The screen and prologue action was upstage of that. This 1958 view east on 6th toward Broadway shows the fourth version of the theatre's signage. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for sharing the photo from his collection.

A January 21, 1923 L.A. Times article quoted Sid as saying "The Metropolitan Theater is to be the very center of the motion-picture universe" and noted that the rest of the opening night program would include "The Star Spangled Banner" with the orchestra plus Henry Murtagh at the organ. There would be a chorus of 500 and an unfurling of what was said to be the largest flag in the world.

Following the "patriotic pageant" would be the overture and "Pilgrim’s Chorus" from "Tannhauser" then "Ave Maria" with forty violinists and "eight expert harpists." Plus "dancing acts in which a ballet of 200 artists will be employed." Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges (aka Vokoban) for finding the Times article. There was also lots of coverage on January 26.

"The Show Place of the World." An opening week ad. Thanks to Mike Rivest for finding it.

Grauman's name came off the building in 1926 with it then just called the Metropolitan. Paramount was running it. As Famous Players-Lasky, the corporation had been a partner in the venture from the beginning. In January 1929 it was rebranded the Paramount.

The building extended 155 feet along 6th and 247 feet along Hill. The main entrance was on 6th while Hill got a much smaller marquee and a miniscule lobby. Those two entrances weren't enough. For a Broadway entrance an existing retail space was re-purposed for a lobby. You went up the stairs (or escalator) and across the alley, entering the theatre building at balcony lobby level.

Grauman had been talking about the theatre as early as 1920. A July 24, 1920 L.A. Times article located by Jeff Bridges that was headed "Theater Plans Progress" discussed the project:

"Various rumors having circulated that the construction of the Grauman Metropolitan Theater building at Sixth and Hill streets was being purposely delayed, Sid Grauman now comes forward with a denial that such a thing has happened, or is liable to happen. 'The evolving of a cinema theater with the conscious aim of making it superior is something that cannot be done over night. I rejected six different sets of plans before finally accepting a scheme of architecture and decoration that satisfied me,' said Mr. Grauman yesterday. 'In fact,' he continued, 'I don’t mind saying that I’ve changed my mind not once, but several times, regarding various ideas to be incorporated in the Metropolitan. For some time I was "on the fence" regarding the advisability of having an office building above the theater, and of having stores on the ground floor, but finally decided that both ideas are practical and economically advantageous. 
"'In my lifetime, it is hardly possible that I will ever conceive an institution that will surpass the Metropolitan. Therefore, it is logical that this theater, representing my life’s ideal to me, should be given tremendous consideration. For a time I felt that an office building would mar the artistic values of the Metropolitan, but a way was pointed out to me by which art and practicality could be easily wedded, and I agreed. My contractors now promise me that I can count on the opening of the Metropolitan by May 1, 1921.' Mr. Grauman added that work will be begun within two weeks on the construction of Grauman’s Hollywood Theater, which he states will probably be opened before the Metropolitan, probably in February. He added that there was also a possibility of his taking over another local theater in the near future, but would not state which house he had been offered."

Involved in financing the building was industrialist and early film producer Frank A. Garbutt. He had been central to many ventures including the Los Angeles Athletic Club, Union Oil Co., the Automobile Club of Southern California and Famous Players-Lasky, where he ended up as VP and general manager. He was fearful of fire and thus a fan of buildings that utilized massive amounts of concrete, according to information from family friend Estefan Bravo. See stories about Garbutt's concrete Silverlake mansion on Wikipedia and the KCET website. There's more about him in Michael Locke's book "Silverlake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles." It's on Google Books. Also see the 1996 obituary for Mr. Garbutt in the L.A. Times.

Seating: 3,600, more or less -- the largest movie theatre in Los Angeles. The balcony alone held 2,000. There was no mezzanine level. A compilation labeled "Press Digest" in the September 1923 issue of The Building Review quoted the L.A. Examiner as saying there were 4,400 seats, undoubtedly a bit of fluff from Mr. Grauman. A section on page 36 of the issue quoting the L.A. Times headed "Construction" gives a 2,000 capacity for the balcony. An early photo from the stage by Albert J. Kopec appeared with text describing the auditorium that used the 3,600 capacity number.

The capacity decreased a bit with the c.1926 Paramount renovations. The original layout had seats running right to the stage with no crossaisle in front and no orchestra pit. The orchestra was on a lift onstage. Some rows in front were lost when a conventional pit was added. In addition, a crossaisle was added in front of the seats. The Theatre Historical Society 1996 annual devoted to the theatre, based on the research of Terry Helgesen, uses a 3,347 number for the capacity, presumably after the renovations.

Architects: The theatre was designed by William Lee Woollett (1872-1953), who had previously designed the Million Dollar for Sid Grauman. George Edwin Bergstrom was responsible for the surrounding building. Woollett was the son of an architect and he had a son and grandson who also entered the profession.

Bergstrom's vision for the building when it was to be twelve stories. Thanks to Sam Siegel for including the rendering on a SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook post about the theatre. 

An undated photo of Mr. Woollett from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.  Also see another photo of him from their collection.

A May 22, 1921 article headed "Plan Interior of Playhouse" appeared in the L.A. Times:

"Local Architect Designing Hill-Street Theater - Oriental Decorations Will Be Principal Motive - Expect to Complete Structure by January First - Under the supervision of Architect William Lee Woollett, plans have practically been completed for the interior of the big theater which will form a part of the twelve-story building now under construction at the northeast corner of Sixth and Hill streets by the Hill Street Fireproof Building Company. Mr. Woollett, as the architect of the theater, which will be known as Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater, will have charge of the interior decoration, of the paintings and murals, hangings, furniture and electric fixtures, all of which will be designed and installed under his supervision. Mr. Woollett was the designer of the interior of Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater at Third and Broadway.

"In coloring and motive the architecture of the theater will be derived principally from the architecture of Egypt and the Orient. The lobby entrance, from the Sixth-street side of the building, will be flanked by massive columns, while the interior of the main lobby, 46 by 59 feet, will be patterned after the rock-cut tombs of Egypt and Arabia. The floors will be constructed of hand-made tile, each of which will depict phases of the development of Western America. On each side the main lobby will be flanked by a grand staircase leading to the mezzanine floor, which will command a view of both the main lobby and theater auditorium.

"The concrete surfaces of the interior of the theater will be partially exposed, but it is planned to treat these surfaces with color and gold ornamentation. The same type of decoration will be carried out in the theater auditorium. The great concrete trusses over the audiorium will be partially exposed, but as in the lobby and mezzanine, these tresses will be richly treated with color. A feature of the proscenium arch will be the great canopy, hanging without visible support. This canopy will be decorated with a composite of oriental and occidental designs. Suspended from the ceiling there will be an immense flat dome, which will be made of perforated plaster, and ornamented richly with embossed bronze and gold designs, with medallions in the center large enough for mural paintings.

"THE FOUR HORSEMEN - The screen will be surmounted with monumental figures of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The horses, modeled from life, will be made of porcelain, with the colors burned in them. The curtains will be held in especially designed bronze screen frames and will be operated by burnished bronze chains which will move on especially constructed swivels which will make them noiseless. The organ to be installed will be one of the largest and finest in the country, it is claimed. Plans for this organ, which is being especially designed for the theater, will include a disappearing console, which can automatically be raised up into the view of the audience upon demand.

"The theater will have a seating capacity for 4000 people. More than 400 workmen, it is stated, are now employed on the building, and it is planned to have the structure completed and ready for occupation by January 1 of next year. In the construction of the building, according to Brook Hawkins, chief engineer of the Winter Construction Company, there will be used 5,000,000 pounds of steel, mor than 100,000 sacks of cement, and over 2,000,000 feet of lumber in the falsework. The immense cantilever which will support the balcony will weight 1100 tons."

Many thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding and copying the article as well as posting the sketches on Flickr. The twelve story building mentioned in the article ended up as six. And they certainly didn't get it open by their announced target date of January 1, 1922.

The building's structure was reinforced concrete. This photo of some of the framing used to support the trusses during the pours appeared in the May 1921 issue of Architect and Engineer with the article "Immense False-Work Carries Concrete Trusses." It's on Internet Archive. A and E comments:

"Engineers, architects and builders in Southern California are watching with considerable interest the construction of Grauman's Metropolitan Theater. Early in July, 1920 excavation was started for the foundation, and rapid progress is being made so as to complete this structure in the fall of 1921. A half-million board feet of selected Oregon pine is being used to erect the false-work which will support the eight large girders over the stage, and ten trusses 16 feet in depth, spaced 12 feet 6 inches center to center and spanning 136 feet 6 inches over the auditorium. Each truss will weigh 660 tons. A glance at the picture will convince the reader that this is the largest false-work ever used in this state on a reinforced concrete building..."

The theatre's unique construction was detailed in "Great Balcony in New Grauman Theater Shows Slight Deflection Under Test," an article in the June 30, 1922 issue of Southwest Builder and Contractor. For a load test of the balcony the cast concrete structure was piled with 745 tons of earth and showed a maximum deflection of 9/32" at the front of the balcony. The balcony was the last major piece to be poured as the roof trusses first had to cure and the forms supporting them filled almost the entire auditorium.

A view that appeared in Southwest Builder and Contractor: "Interior of auditorium of  Grauman Metropolitan Theatre with formwork for portion of balcony in place. Formwork for main girder carrying balcony shows on right."

"Upper section of cantilever girders supporting balcony in Grauman Metropolitan Theatre. Figures of workman give an idea of scale."

"Close-up view of roof truss over proscenium in Grauman Metropolitan Theatre." Thanks to Bob Foreman for finding the article on Google Books. Visit his site Vintage Theatre Catalogs for a wealth of historic tech data. Southwest Builder and Contractor had earlier run articles about the project on December 31, 1920 and July 22, 1921. This photo also appears with "Efficiency of Reinforced Concrete For Firesafe Theatre Construction," an article by the Portland Cement Association that appeared in the October 21, 1922 issue of Exhibitors Herald. It's on Internet Archive.

This construction view of the building was featured in an ad for L.A. Pressed Brick Co., the terracotta suppliers. It appeared in the Architectural Digest 1922 Survey Issue of noteworthy southern California buildings. It's on Google Books from the Stanford Library.

"A Metropolitan Diana - One of the pretty usherettes in her classical costume." The theatre was the subject of a 3+ page article with nine photos in the February 17, 1923 issue of Moving Picture World. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating the article on Internet Archive. Visit his Historic Theatre Photography site for thousands of terrific photos of the many theatres he's explored.

Mr. Woollett talked about the building in an article in the May 1923 issue of Architect and Engineer titled "Concrete and Creative Architecture." In the same issue see "Grauman Theater, a Work of Art" by E. Bingham and an article about the stage lift: "Notable Stage Elevator Installation..."

Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck paid the new theatre a visit and offered his "Reflections on the Grauman Metropolitan Theater, Los Angeles" in the June 1923 issue of Architect and Engineer:

"...In the year 1923 we build of concrete. Boxes made of wooden boards are filled with a cement mud, and when this has hardened the boards are removed, leaving a solid stone. The architect of the Grauman Metropolitan Theater is from his own confession a product of the West. He is a mirror of the desert, the mountains covered with sage brush, which are always before his eyes in Los Angeles. The Western Indian has put his stamp on his art, and the Oriental has added his exuberant admixture. All these influences are felt in the Grauman Theater. Here is a new art, if art can be new. Or rather it is a creation, not a copy of this or that in a pure style. The architect has taken the bare concrete forms as they are required for the support of balconies, floors and roofs, and without plastering or fake architectural construction, he has used the walls and structure for decorative purposes.

"Photographs do not convey the story of the Grauman Metropolitan Theater. Any picture of any part should be in color. Better yet, go in person and visit this inspiring enclosure with the colored lighting, and you will feel the West -- all that is inspiring -- and then let your mind travel back to McDougal Street of New York, with children as numerous as the stars forming a blockade more embarrassing than the automobiles in Los Angeles business streets, and you wonder why they do not go to the great West. These thoughts and others come to your mind when you walk through the spaces of the Grauman Theater.

"As a work of creative art, the Mezzanine Foyer is a good illustration. There is a sense of spaciousness, of order, of color, of grandeur that is indescribable. One part of the hall is low, the ceiling being the underside of the auditorium balcony; the trusses which carry the balcony are decorated without destroying their members, the high side opening into the lobby. The Grauman Theater marks the beginning of a new era in Art; that is, we are beginning a creative period of molding the forms themselves into beauty. The thought stands out clearly, that as the business man is beginning to realize the value of art, the outlook for the future is promising. The time is rapidly passing when the layman shall dictate what the architect shall do. Instead, he will collaborate and enjoy the work as he sees it progress."

"Crane Beauty for a 'First Run' Theatre." The theatre, "One of the most beautiful theatres in America...,"  got a full page ad from the Crane Co. in the June 30, 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review extolling the virtues of its drinking fountains, toilets and steam valves. Thanks to Brooklyn-based  theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the ad. Keep up with his latest adventures via his Theatre Talks website and Theatre Talks blog.

A section of the building from the September 1923 issue of The Building Review. Also see a main floor plan, a plan at the balcony lobby level and a full balcony plan.

In addition to plans, the plates section of the issue has twelve full page photos plus several other drawings. It's on Internet Archive. In the same issue there are five small photos of the theatre with the article "Pioneers." The article issued a caution:

"...To the inspection of such a building as the Metropolitan Theater, one must bring an open mind. To prejudice, that is to say, to the admirer of scholastic consistency, the treatment here will be shocking. All sorts of traditions are violated; many styles and forms are used and combined; new methods of decorations have been created, or at least used as never before. Symbolism has been carries to an extreme. Few, if any can grasp the meaning and application of all these motifs, but the fact that they are symbolic is plain, and is bound to awaken interest and attention..."

Also in the September 1923 issue of The Building Review is "The Metropolitan Theater - A Digest From the Local Press." There's a continuation of the Press Digest on page 36 of the issue where, in addition to the press comments, there are several short articles about various features of the building as well as a piece by Woollett from the L.A. Examiner.  

A view toward the proscenium of a model constructed by the late designer Joe Musil, whose projects included the 80s deco re-do of the Crest and the 1989-1991 restoration of the El Capitan. The model is in the Ronald W. Mahan collection. Ron notes that the colors used are the ones that Joe remembered from visiting the theatre. Thanks to Mike Hume for the photo.

A view of the balcony level lobby, the "Promenade," from the publication "Concrete in Architecture" (Portland Cement Association, 1927). The booklet features an article by Mr. Woollett along with eleven full page photos of the theatre, four of them in color. It's on Internet Archive. Mr. Woollett talks about his design:

"... The thesis for the problem presupposes the fragments of an ancient temple or temples still standing -- into which is thrust the reinforced frame of a modern theatre. The isolated masses of the antiquated remains of the classic buildings are composed in groups so that they seem like choice fragments set up in a museum, yet they are part of the structure. The compositions in color, which arrive from the juxtaposition of these architectural fragments and the newer forms in concrete, are complex. The concrete wall surfaces are gilded and colored and decorated with murals and conventional patterns.

"The motifs used were taken from every known architectural style and modified to harmonize with the scheme as a whole. If there is a law of harmony in line and color, there is also a law of dissonance. The law of dissonance is part of the universal law and constitutes a useful part of the laws of beauty. The antithesis, rather than the harmonies, have been used in the Metropolitan Theatre and a dissonance has been obtained which caused one architect to make the remark, 'Everything is just the opposite of what it ought to be.'..."

The snail deer sculpture in the theatre's lobby got its impressionistic photo in the June 1931 issue of Architect and Engineer. They have the photo with the caption "They Shall Not Pass" but that was actually the inscription on the base of the statue of the beast at the other end of the lobby. Later in the issue we get an article by Mr. Woollett (with no mention of the Metropolitan) called "Art and Abstract Values." The issue is on Internet Archive.

Pipe Organ: It was a Wurlitzer 4/32 style 285, opus 534. Henry Murtagh was the initial organist. A long article about the instrument appeared in the January 21, 1923 issue of the L.A. Times. The cost was reported as $100,000. Mike Hume notes that the console as well as one rank of pipes from the instrument are now at the Old Town Music Hall.

A Wurlitzer ad reproduced in an issue of the Tom B'hend / Preston Kaufmann publication Greater Metro L.A. Newsreel from the 1990s that's in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for scanning the ad. The organ console was on a screwjack lift as was that whole area where we see the music stands. Prologues were staged upstage of the orchestra. It was all revamped c.1926 when Paramount put in a conventional pit downstage of the proscenium. 

AC at the Metropolitan: The theatre opened with an air conditioning system, the Carrier Corporation's first big theatre job. On the company's Carrier History site they note that "In May 1922 Willis Carrier unveiled his single most influential innovation, the centrifugal refrigeration machine (or 'chiller')." Although they give us a caption noting "Sid Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles offered moviegoers luxury and comfort, courtesy of centrifugal chillers by Carrier," the text reveals that the initial refrigeration gear was the older "traditional ammonia refrigeration":

"Carrier set about conquering the theater industry in three giant steps. First came the successful installation of comfort air at Sid Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles. While employing traditional ammonia refrigeration, the installation introduced two striking advances in modern air conditioning, bypass circulation and down-draft distribution systems.

"Together these improvements changed the economics of theater installations and improved the experience of moviegoers by replacing the cold chill of "mushroom" vents at their feet with a gentle flow of air from ceiling registers. The Palace Theatre in Dallas and The Texan in Houston represented the second important step, becoming the first theaters to successfully install complete Carrier systems including centrifugal chillers, down-draft and bypass...As it turned out, movie theaters often became the place that people experienced comfort cooling for the very first time."

Traditionally, in pre-AC days, you'd put a furnace in the basement and mushrooms under the seats for the supply air. Exhaust was out the ceiling to the roof, generally with no recirculation of the heated air ("bypass circulation" in Carrier lingo).

Despite Carrier's assertion of the superiority of the "down-draft" method (supply air from the ceiling, exhaust via mushrooms under the seats) many later theatres were satisfactorily designed using the mushrooms below for supply air. The Chicago Theatre and the Wiltern Theatre come to mind as examples. Thanks to Michael Hudson-Medina for finding the Carrier AC information.

History in the mid-20s:
A March 1923 Times item that was located by Jeff Bridges noted that the building itself had been sold to A.C. Blumenthal, who in 1925 would also buy the building the Million Dollar was in:

"Downtown Playhouse Now Sold - Grauman and Lasky Turn Over Metropolitan Theater to New Owners - Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater, Sixth and Hill Streets, with the property on which it stands, was sold yesterday by Sid Grauman and the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation to a syndicate of local and San Francisco business men headed by A.C. Blumenthal of A.C. Blumenthal and Company, for $4,000,000, according to announcement last night of Mr. Grauman." 
Grauman continued to operate the theatre on a lease. His share of the operating company was 50 per cent with Adolph Zukor and Jesse Lasky owning the other half. But later in 1923 he decided to concentrate on Hollywood, where he had opened the Egyptian Theatre in October 1922 and wanted to build two additional houses. The plan to leave downtown was revealed in "Grauman Gives Options On Theaters To Paramount," a lengthy July 14, 1923 Times article: 

"Owner of Notable Downtown Houses to Sell Them and Build Others in Near-by Cities. Contracts have been signed and preliminary payments, in the form of option money, have been made by the Paramount Pictures Corporation for the entire Grauman motion-picture theater interests. The Metropolitan, Grauman's Million Dollar Theater at Third street and Broadway and the Rialto on South Broadway are the houses involved. The sale of the houses and new construction which is to follow immediately, involve a total of $4,845,000. The transactions contemplated are among the most important ever recorded in the United States relative to theater property. 

"Grauman Confirms Deal. Confirmation of the deal involving his interests, 50 per cent of the total ownership, was given last night by Sid Grauman. A total of $1,045,000 is to be paid to Mr. Grauman by the Paramount interests. As part of the transaction Mr. Grauman is to remain in direct charge of the houses for the next six months. Coincident with the confirmation of the sale of his properties, which does not in any way involve his theater in Hollywood, Mr. Grauman announced the completion of tentative plans for the erection of another theater devoted entirely to the photodramatic art in Hollywood. This house is expected to cost $1,500,000, the plans calling for its completion and dedication in approximately seven months. At the same time Mr. Grauman will also have under construction in Hollywood a third theater, which is to combine legitimate productions and motion pictures, and which is to cost approximately $800,000. 

"Plans Are Comprehensive. The new picture theatre for Hollywood is to be constructed on Hollywood Boulevard on a piece of ground 160 by 258 feet and is to incorporate, Mr. Grauman said, a score of massive features which will mark another tremendous advance in picture presentation. The site for the combination house also has been chosen but the transfer of the property has not yet been effected. Pending the conclusion of the entire transaction the Paramount interests are having plans prepared for the erection of several additional stories to the present Metropolitan Theater Building, the estimated cost of these latter improvements being $1,500,000. While nothing beyond the preliminary steps has been done, Mr. Grauman also announced that there has been initiated a general plan for the erection and operation of Grauman houses in Long Beach, Pasadena and San Diego...."

"The transaction will in no way alter the plans for the completion of the Broadway entrance to the Metropolitan Theater although the cost of this, estimated at $148,000, will be assumed by the new owners. The Broadway lobby, three stories in height, will be finished under my personal supervision and according to the plans which were originally made and which incorporate an escalator so operated as to carry the patrons almost to the mezzanine aisle..."

The article continued at length with a discussion of more detailed plans for the new Hollywood theatres, which didn't happen at that time. Nothing came along until the Chinese in 1927. The added upper stories mentioned for the Metropolitan didn't happen either. A story about Grauman's exit on page 40 of the July 20, 1923 issue of Southwest Builder and Contractor also noted that "The Paramount Corporation plans to erect additional stories to the Metropolitan building at 6th and Hill Streets."

A Times article later in 1923 appeared when the deal with Famous Players-Lasky / Paramount was finalized: 

It's unknown what happened to the proposed payment of over a million dollars to Grauman. Here it's mentioned that he was just going to get stock. The shutdown of the Lasky studios mentioned in the article happened in October 1923 in order to conserve cash to finance the completion of Cecil B. DeMille's bloated production of "The Ten Commandments." Al Kaufman, the brother-in-law of Jesse Lasky and a founding member of Famous Players-Lasky, was appointed to manage the theatres for the company. Kaufman had earlier been their studio manager.  Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the article. 
In 1925, the three downtown theatres started advertising themselves as Publix theatres, a name Famous Players-Lasky started using that year for their theatres after their acquisition of Chicago based exhibitor Balaban & Katz. Publix continued to use the Grauman name in advertising for a while although Sid no longer participated in the theatre's operation. In mid-1925 Frank L. Newman was named as manager.  
Renovations by Publix in 1926 included new vertical signs saying "Metropolitan" instead of "Grauman's" and the Grauman name also came off the marquees. Getting the orchestra off the stage and constructing a regular orchestra pit downstage of the proscenium was also part of the program. With the orchestra out of the way the movie screen could be moved farther downstage. The organ installation was also revamped with grillework added in the sides of the proscenium for new organ chambers down lower. Grauman originally had all the sound drifting down through openings in the ceiling.

A February 13, 1926 article in Exhibitors Herald announced that Jack Partington, formerly of the Granada Theatre in San Francisco, was being made "general manager of productions" at the Metropolitan. The Herald issue is on Internet Archive. About his work at the Granada the article noted that: 

"...he had developed a new type of prologues and and stage presentations that have become a sensation. One of the outstanding features of his work there has been the invention and perfection of an automatic stage. The stage is built in three sections and by the use of invisible tracks and special machinery the sections can be lifted and lowered and shifted at every conceivable angle on the regular stage. Partington has already arranged for the construction of a huge automatic stage to be built at the Metropolitan. Through the use of this stage and his new production system he plans to produce stage presentations on a more elaborate and spectacular scale than anything ever before attempted for a motion picture house..."  

Thanks to Bob Foreman for finding the article. The new stage equipment was in operation by August 1926. An October 24, 1926 L.A. Times article about Partington presented his views on the differences between the traditional vaudeville style and the more informal manner he desired for his presentations. At the time, he was overseeing presentations at both the Metropolitan and the Granada in San Francisco. For more about Partington and his stage equipment designs see the Flying Stages page on the San Francisco Theatres site.

In 1927, West Coast Theatres took over the actual operation of the Publix theatres in Los Angeles. This is the cover of the Fox West Coast "Now" magazine for July 15, 1927.  Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for sharing the item from his collection.

A wonderful summer 1927 West Coast ad noting that they are operating the Metropolitan "In association with Publix Theatres." Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for the ad. 

In the L.A. Times the advertising for the Metropolitan was included in the West Coast ads with, in small print, "In association with Publix." By mid-1928 that had changed to become "Association Publix-Loew." It's unknown what the extent of Loew's involvement was. Or maybe that was just shorthand to note that they were also running the State Theatre for Loew.

The Metropolitan ran its first sound feature August 10, 1928 with the engagement of the Warner Vitaphone release "Caught In The Fog," a part silent, part talkie starring Conrad Nagel and May McAvoy.

The Motion Picture News issue of October 20, 1928 reported that the government wasn't happy with West Coast having the western Publix houses and forcefully suggested that they be divested from West Coast Theatres control. Soon Publix was running the Metropolitan themselves. It was their only Los Angeles theatre at the time as the Rialto had been dropped from the circuit sometime earlier and they had closed the Million Dollar in June 1928.

Becoming the Paramount: The Metropolitan name came off the building in January 1929 and the theatre became the Paramount. Publix was on a similar branding spree up the coast where their theatres called Seattle and Portland both became Paramounts as well. The January 23, 1929 ad in the L.A. Times said:

"Tomorrow L.A.'s greatest theatre the METROPOLITAN changes its name to PARAMOUNT - Tomorrow brings the realization of a step forward -- upward to the very top of a long cherished ambition. Los Angeles will be America's first city in entertainment. Publix, a great international institution, is bringing its wealth of entertainment to California that West may have the Best. The biggest diversified show West of Chicago....

"2 PUBLIX STAGE PRODUCTIONS - COSTLY IMPROVEMENTS will give Los Angeles the most beautiful stage in America -- and the best equipped -- equipped to give you two complete Publix stage shows instead of one. Tomorrow you'll see Frank Cambria's "Beaux Arts Frolic" direct from New York -- featuring Bryant, Rains and Young and the Gamby-Hale Girls.

"You'll see Paul Oscard's 'Paramount Inagural Banquet,' a Los Angeles Publix production featuring Handers and Millias, George Dewey Washington, Armida, Georgie Raft, Elmira Lane, Don Thrailkill and the Paramount Ballet. Both stage events accompanied by the Paramount Orchestra -- conducted by Raymond Paige. MILTON CHARLES - America's most popular organist and Columbia Recording star. Concerts at every performance -- and every performance a musical event. COME! JOIN THE STARS IN TOMORROW'S OVATION!..."

January 24, 1929 was the first day as the Paramount. Jean Arthur, Doris Hill and many other stars opened "the BIG DOORS" at 11am. The theatre got an article in the January 24 issue of the L.A. Times:

"PARAMOUNT PLAYHOUSE A REALITY - Publix Corporation's Ace Theater Here Opens Today with All-Talkie - Completely rejuvenated at a cost of several thousands of dollars, the Paramount Theater, formerly the Metropolitan, will make its bow to Los Angeles theatergoers today. It will be the third playhouse controlled by Publix Theaters Corporation to be distinguished with the name which has long stood for par excellence in picture production. Not alone will the newly named house boast of this added prestige but it will present under the new regime a show that will establish a new standard for entertainment locally, it is declared. Both on the screen and on the stage the highest type of attractions will hold sway from now on..."

The first film of the Paramount-branded era at the theatre was "The Doctor's Wife" with Ruth Chatterton and H.B. Warner. Presumably Publix was operating the house themselves at this point. In any case it was no longer included in the Fox West Coast ads.

By December 1931 the Publix logo was gone from the ads and we were advised that the theatre was under the "Direction of Harold B. Franklin." Franklin was a big guy with Fox West Coast who had quit to form (with Howard Hughes) the short-lived Hughes-Franklin circuit. Evidently this was his new job after the liquidation of that circuit. It's uncertain what, if anything, had changed at the theatre, but in this period they were calling it the "Greater Paramount." Perhaps just referring to their stellar stage and film offerings.

Franklin's name was also on the United Artists ads of the period, a house Publix had picked up in April 1929. By January of 1932 Franklin's name was gone from the "Greater Paramount" and UA ads. In the fall of 1932 we see the Publix logo appearing in the Metropolitan ads again. But no United Artists -- Publix (or whoever was running it) had closed the UA in March of 1932. When reopened six months later it was with Fox West Coast running it. Fox was then running other UA houses including the Four Star on Wilshire Blvd. and the UA houses in Long Beach, Inglewood, Pasadena, and East Los Angeles.

The Fanchon & Marco era: From 1932 onward the Paramount was managed by the brother and sister team Fanchon and Marco. They had a 20 year lease. Starting in 1941 they also managed the Paramount in Hollywood, a newly remodeled version of what had been (and is now once again) the El Capitan.

The 6th & Hill venue was then sometimes advertised as the Paramount Downtown to distinguish it from the Hollywood Paramount. Fanchon and Marco put the band back onstage and built a big apron out over the pit.

Another sibling of Fanchon Simon and Marco Wolff was the bandleader Rube Wolf. He dropped the final letter of the name so theatres could use a larger font on the marquee. He frequently led the orchestra at the Paramount. This 1933 backstage photo of Wolf taken by George Mann is from the George Mann Archive. It's on the site's "Famous" page.

See the video by Gary Simon on YouTube featuring Rube Wolf doing "Daylight Savings Time." For more about F & M see the family's Fanchon and Marco website curated by Steve and Gary Simon.

A nice 1935 poster for a big show at the Paramount. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

"Chorus at Paramount Theatre, Los Angeles, on 1-23-38." It's a custom postcard made by a visitor from Brooklyn. He sent it to a friend in Los Angeles in June 1938. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting this when it was on eBay. 

A 1938 ad for the Paramount running "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" plus Roy Rogers onstage in the Fanchon and Marco idea "Discoveries of 1938." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.

"Tropic Holiday" was a summer 1938 release. At the Paramount you got a personal appearance by Dorothy Lamour and the Fanchon & Marco "Mexican Follies." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the ad, added as a comment to a post on Photos of Los Angeles.

A 1939 ad for "The Cat and the Canary," a November release, along with a big Fanchon & Marco stage show featuring Texaco Star Theatre performers including Frances Langford and Ken Murray. Oh, yes -- and the Dancing Fanchonettes! Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the ad on Photos of Los Angeles.

A 1941 ad for "Sullivan's Travels" at the Fanchon & Marco operated Metropolitan. It was on Photos of Los Angeles as a post by Ken McIntyre.

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.

Fanchon and Marco were still running stage shows with the films as late as 1950. And you could get in for 40 cents in the afternoons. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

Paramount management returns: The Paramount circuit got the theatre back on March 18, 1952. The theatre assets of Paramount Pictures had been spun off into a separate corporation in the late 40s as a result of the federal consent decrees. The entity to be operating the theatre was United Paramount Theatres, a unit of the circuit then known as ABC Paramount.

The first booking of the new management was "Something To Live For," opening March 21. The theatre soon got a serious modernization both inside and out.

A drawing for a revamp of the 6th St. entrance from William B. David and Associates. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 

A concept drawing for the new corner signage. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

The reopening after the renovations was May 29, 1952. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating a May 28 article that discussed the occasion:

"Hostesses in evening dress will greet numerous actors, Mayor Bowron and throngs of theatergoers at the Paramount Theater’s reopening at 8 p.m. tomorrow. Improvements totalling $250,000 at the theater include a new marquee, lobby, foyer, new seats and rocking-chair loges. There will be new lounge rooms and a large television screen. Top motion pictures will be shown as well as stage shows when they become available, said Jerry Zigmond, United Paramount western division manager.

"Two employees have been with the theater since it opened 29 years ago as Grauman’s Metropolitan. They are Earl C. Hamilton, 61, chief projectionist, and Vic Hayes, 60, doorman. The two remember the theater’s initial opening when 'My American Wife' starring Gloria Swanson and Antonio Moreno, was presented."

A 1953 ad for a 24 hour premiere for Warner's "House of Wax" in 3-D and WarnerPhonic stereo sound. It also played the Hollywood Paramount. The ad appears on the Wide Screen Documentation page of 3-D Film Archive, a delightful site curated by Bob Furmanek. Bob has a whole page on "House of Wax" with lots of data and advertising material for the film. He also suggests checking out the footage of the April 16 west coast premiere. It's on YouTube.

"White Christmas" opened at the Metropolitan in horizontal VistaVision on October 28, 1954 after a premiere on the 27th at the Warner Beverly Hills. Film Historian Jack Theakson, in a comment on a post on the Motion Picture Technology Facebook page, asserts that both the Paramount and the Warner were on the list of initial installations of the special Century 8 perforation horizontal projectors for the process in an ad for Peerless Hy-Candescent lamphouses.

Larry Davee of Century Projector Corporation notes in "The Horizontal VistaVision Projector," an article reproduced on Martin Hart's great site American Widescreen Museum, that of the first six hand built prototype projectors two went to Radio City Music Hall, two went to the Warner and two went to the Paramount lot. The assumption is that the two shipped to the studio ended up at the Paramount downtown. These initial machines were without soundheads -- the sound was synched via separate film on a dubber. Scroll down on the Warner Beverly Hills page for more about the process. In 1955 the Paramount/El Capitan in Hollywood got an installation of the machines for several films. There are some links for information about the process on the Film and Theatre Technology Resources page. 

A September 1955 ad for Lionel Hampton at the theatre along with that great film hit "Mobs, Inc."

The theatre continued to slide with many bookings of mediocre films. The beginning of the end was noted in an article located by Ken McIntyre that appeared in the December 12, 1958 L.A. Times:

"Paramount Theater Building Purchased - Sale of the Paramount Theater building, 323 W. 6th Street, to David Shusett, Beverly Hills real estate developer, by Cal Par Theaters, Inc, of New York, was announced yesterday. The transaction, said to be one of the largest property transfers in downtown Los Angeles in recent years, reportedly involved more than $2,000,000.

"Shusett declared that the building would operate under current methods for the present. Rumors have circulated in recent months that the building was to be torn down to make way for a modern skyscraper. The building, which has 240 square feet of frontage in the Pershing Square area, houses the 3300-seat Paramount Theater and contains more than 100 offices and suites. The Cal Par group, which also includes American Broadcasting-Paramount Theaters, Inc, was represented in negotiations by its vice-president, Paul Levin of New York."

Closing: The Paramount closed in 1960.

Status: The building was demolished in 1961 and 1962.

 ..."work will start immediately on a new 35-story skyscraper..." reported this late 1961 L.A. Times article. Well, it didn't happen.

"Looking Up - Sidewalk superintendents watch wrecking crews at 6th and Hill Sts. begin tearing down the Paramount Theater building." The photos appeared in the December 1, 1961 issue of the Times. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating these two Times items.

Thanks to Nathan Marsak for locating this photo by Herbert Bruce Cross Photography of a model of the building that was supposed to rise on the theatre's site. It was included as a comment on a SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook post about the theatre. Nathan comments: 

"The developer David Shusett purchased the Paramount in 1958 for one reason—to tear it down and replace it with the largest building west of Chicago. He hired Charles Luckman to design it; Guy Atkinson was the building contractor. It was to have a number of technical innovations, including gray structural glass and an outside AC system of vertical aluminum ducting."

One of the delays Shusett's project encountered was a legal dispute with Home Savings and Loan over who had the actual title to the property. Shusett lost his legal battle in 1969. The site was used as a parking lot during the court fights and remained one until the work for the International Jewelry Center began in 1980. Nathan comments: 
"The 16-story, 410,000 sf, $51 million International Jewelry Trade Center, in faceted white granite, opened in November 1981; it is designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. A selling point for jewelers is that it was angled to catch the true north light. It also has extremely secure separate parking and elevators for its upper echelon tenants. One can argue it's a great building for the tenants, I suppose. Those who have to look at it, though, most usually agree it represents the nadir of early-80s architecture, and is certainly a mediocre outing from SOM."

The Paramount in the Movies:

We get off to a great start even before the credits with this rare view of the Broadway vertical lit in "A Blueprint For Murder" (20th Century Fox, 1953). It was old footage even then. It's unknown when it was last lit but the sign was taken off the building sometime prior to 1938. And what had been the entrance had been converted to retail long before that. This shot fades to one of an ambulance rushing a sick young girl to the hospital. She had been poisoned.

The film isn't set in L.A. We're supposed to be in New York. Well, they had a Paramount theatre too. But the rest of the signage could only be Los Angeles. On the left we have Swelldom, a store on the northwest corner of 6th and Broadway. And down at 5th is the vertical sign for Walker's department store. On the far right is signage for Silverwood's on the northeast corner of 6th and Broadway. Andrew Stone directed the cast which included Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Gary Merrill and Catherine McLeod.

We're on Hill St. looking north toward 6th and the big "P" on the side of the theatre in Owen Crump's film "The Couch" (Warner Bros., 1962). The guy in the white jacket is stabbing people on the streets of dangerous downtown. Soon he'll go after his psychiatrist. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Los Angeles and one looking out from the boxoffice at the Warner Downtown. 

More Information: See Cinema Treasures for an informative discussion about the history of the Metropolitan along with many comments. The page has nearly 90 photos to peruse.

For more on Fanchon and Marco see the website and the Fanchon & Marco Album on Flickr. The family has donated many of the Fanchon & Marco scrapbooks to the Huntington Library. Their Fanchon and Marco Collection includes several albums online with hundreds photos of various productions done by the team.

Annual #23,"Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre" (1996), is a publication of the Theatre Historical Society. It's available in both printed format and as a pdf. The publication contains a wonderful selection of photos and a well researched text.

Azusa Pacific University has a Woollett Collection. The site Cruising the Past has a nice spread on the Metropolitan illustrated largely with Los Angeles Public Library photos. Pacific Coast Architecture Database has a page on the theatre.

Other Metropolitan theatres: See the page on the Metropolitan Theatre on E. 5th St., around from about 1907 to 1909.  Beginning in 1910 there was a Metropolitan Theatre just south of the Plaza church, a venue later called the Estella Theatre.

The Metropolitan Theatre pages:  back to top - history | exterior views | Broadway entrance | lobby areas | auditorium | stage | projection booth |

| Downtown: theatre district overview | Hill St. and farther west | Broadway theatres | Spring St. theatres | Main St. and farther east | downtown theatres by address | downtown theatres alphabetical list

| Westside | Hollywood | Westwood and Brentwood | Along the Coast | [more] Los Angeles movie palaces | the main alphabetical list | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resources | theatres in movies | LA Theatres on facebook | contact info | welcome and site navigation guide |

1 comment:

  1. My mother, Mary Ellen Donald worked the concessions stand at the downtown Los Angeles Paramount. Her sister, Lee worked the box office... they were there at the opening, May 1952 and I believe 1953. Saw Xavier and Abby Lane too. Many stories to tell.