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Musart Theatre

1320 S. Figueroa St. Los Angeles, CA 90015 | map |


Opened: It opened as the Little Theatre on January 26, 1913. It was on the east side of the street just south of Pico. In this March 1949 photo from the Saxon Sitka collection that's actor Emil Sitka posing with displays for the play "The Viper's Fang or The Virgin's Dilemma."

The theatre was later known as the Egan Theatre and the Egan Little Theatre after the building became the home for The Egan School, operated by drama teacher Frank C. Egan. It didn't become the Musart until 1933.

Architects: Morgan, Walls & Morgan. In addition to the theatre, the building also had other studio spaces for rent.



A drawing by the architects of the proposed Little Theatre that appeared in the 1913 Los Angeles Architectural Club Exhibition Catalog. It's included in a fascinating Southern California Architectural History post from 2012 by John Crosse.

In addition to discussing Frank C. Egan and the Little Theatre, the stories related by Cross involve a number of other performance buildings as well as Rudolf Schindler, Edward Weston and many other interesting personages. Thanks to Birthe Lauchengco for finding the article.

Seating: 334

We see mentions of the theatre in reviews as early as 1914. Evidently things weren't going well. The California Outlook had an article in 1914 about Frank C. Egan reviving the fortunes of the sinking Little Theatre which had opened the previous season.

Mr. Egan was evidently an acting teacher of some note. His Egan School of Drama merged in 1909 with the Morosco School which had earlier been founded by Oliver Morosco and Hobart Bosworth. By 1911 the Morosco name had been dropped and it became just the "The Egan School." In 1912 a music department had also been added.

Before moving to studios in the Little Theatre building, Egan's school was in the Majestic Theatre building on Broadway. The USC Digital Library has a c.1915 photo of the Majestic with Egan's signage on the side of the building.

Although Egan presented many plays at the theatre, one early idea after his taking over the venue was to turn it into a film house. In the summer of 1914 the school was taking a break and movies were offered. An article in the August 29, 1914 issue of Motion Picture News detailed the shift:



Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the article. For other interesting material from his collection visit his Theatre Talks blog, Theatre Talks website and visit the Brooklyn Theatre Index page on Facebook.

In the Southern California Architectural History article John Crosse reports that the theatre also got a mention in an "In the Theater Foyers" item in the August 7, 1914 L.A. Times. It's unknown how long the film programming ran at the theatre. Perhaps just that one summer. The theatre is in the 1914, 1915 and 1916 city directories as the Little Theatre. The 1914 address is listed as 1322 S. Figueroa.

John Crosse reports that Aline Barnsdall leased the Little Theatre for 6 months for the 1916-1917 season of her Players Producing Company. The shows are listed in an issue of Theatre Arts that's on Google Books. She engaged Norman Bel Geddes to design the sets and signed Richard Ordynski to a ten-week contract to direct the plays.



This is the program cover designed by Norman Bel Geddes for the Little Theatre season of 1916-1917. Thanks to John Crosse, who includes it in his 2012 Southern California Architectural History post where the Players Producing Co. season is discussed.

In 1920 Egan was listed in the book "Where and How to Sell Manuscripts" as being in the market for plays for his Little Theatre. It's on Google Books. He was actively producing at least into the 1921-22 season. They were advertising the Egan Theatre as "The House of New Plays" in their L.A. Times ads using "Figueroa and Pico" to describe the location.

Starting in the 1923 city directory the theatre is listed as the Egan Theatre, 1318-24 S. Figueroa. It's was also sometimes referred to as the Egan Little Theatre.



A ticket for the Egan in 1931. Thanks to Sean Ault for finding it.

Becoming the Musart: The theatre was renamed the Musart in 1933 according to a Wikipedia article on actress Louise Glaum who had appeared there. See their note #20. The theatre is in the 1936 city directory under the Musart name. In the 30s it was used for a number of WPA Federal Theatre Project productions. The program lost its funding and wound down around 1938.



A poster for "Twilight of the Theatre" from the Library of Congress collection. The show played the Musart in 1936. It got a mention along with other Federal Theatre productions in the May 24 issue of the Times.



A poster for the 1936 Federal Theatre Project production of "The Devil Passes." It appeared on a now-vanished website.



 A poster for "Wisdom Tooth" from 1937 at the Musart from the collection at George Mason University. See the main page for their Federal Theatre Project Materials Collection, a huge trove of posters and other memorabilia, all searchable by city or theatre name. Another Musart poster in their collection is "Mary Stuart," possibly from 1936. 



A c.1938 poster for "Roadside" appearing in the Library of Congress collection. George Mason University also has a poster for the show. 



A Library of Congress collection poster for the Federal Theatre Project production of "Wild Birds." There's also an "Opens August 12" version. Evidently they weren't ready. Also in the Library of Congress collection: "Last Night of Don Juan" - c.1936-41 | "The Devil Passes" - 1936 - 2nd version | "Uncle Vanya" - 1936 | "Class of '29" - 1936 | "Help Yourself" - 1937 | "The Treasure" c.1937 | 

One of the building's tenants beginning in the 30s (and lasting into the 50s) was the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts. Earlier, they had been in the Walker Building, home of the theatre called the Grand (as well as going by a dozen other names during its interesting history). The organization, later merging with the Chouinard Art Institute (in 1961) and becoming CalArts, is mentioned on page 46 of "Musical Metropolis: Los Angeles and the Creation of a Music Culture, 1880-1940," on Google Books.

The Musart in the 40s: In 1941 John Harvey and Rae Whitney appeared at the Musart in the comedy farce "Getting Gertie's Garter." It got a review in the February 28 issue of the L.A. Times. Wikipedia's story on John Harvey mentions his 1941 work at the Musart. "She Lost it in Campeche" ran for over 70 weeks beginning June 5, 1941.

Playwright John P. Cousin, formerly spelled Cussen, managed the theatre in the early 40s. His play "Two in A Bed" ran there in 1944. His grandson, Scott Brady, has a letter from the playwright's father commenting on the performance. It's on Facebook. 



A matchbook from the 1944 run of "Two in a Bed" by John Cousin. Thanks to Sean Ault for finding it.  There's also a photo of the matchbook in Eric's Lynxwiler's delightful Paper Ephemera collection on Flickr.



A pass for "Fun in a Bedroom." Perhaps it was a sequel to "Two in a Bedroom." Thanks to Sean Ault for finding the ticket.



A production of Emlyn Williams' "Night Must Fall" opened in June 1944 starring Howard Johnson and Lillian Fontaine, mother of Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. Edwin Schallert gave it a good review in the June 15 L.A. Times. "Petticoat Fever," the theatre's next production, opened September 12.



A 1945 ad in the Times. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. Billboard ran a review of the play "Declaration" opening in 1948. It's on Google Books.



Looking south along the facade in March 1949. Emil Sitka, Symona Boniface and Jack Fedder are there for a run of the play "The Viper's Fang or The Virgin's Dilemma." Ms. Boniface was the author of the melodrama. Thanks to Saxon Sitka for sharing the photo from his collection. 



Emil Sitka and author Symona Boniface, in front of the Musart in March 1949. For more on the production and Mr. Sitka see an extensive page on EmilSitka.com. Other pages on the site detail his many film and television credits. Sitka was known as "The Fourth Stooge" for his extensive film work with the Three Stooges. Thanks to Saxon Sitka for the photo from his collection.


The building's later years:


A 1965 ad looking for a tenant. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



The building was still in use in 1979. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this announcement. 

Closing: The closing date is unknown. 

Status: It's been demolished. The location is across the street from the L.A. Convention Center. The theatre's site, just south of Cameron Lane, is now part of a large parking lot.



The Musart location. The alley to the right of the brown building on the left is Cameron Lane. The first parking lot is the site of the theatre. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018

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4 comments:

  1. Night Must FAll by Williams, was running for nine months 8 performances weekly at the Musart Theatre down town L.A on Figueroa and Pico.with Lillian Fontaine, the mother of Olivia de havilland and Joan Fontaine. Have you any records of that program 1942 In July.?

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    Replies
    1. Well, whenever "Night Must Fall" was playing at the Musart, it certainly wasn't in July 1942. I went looking through the ads. "She Lost it in Campeche" started its run in mid 1941 and was still going strong in July 1942. In the Times ad on August 31, 1942 they were advertising the run as in its 64th week.

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    2. Found it! Wasn't 1942 -- it was 1944. Edwin Schallert reviews the production (favorably) in the June 15, 1944 issue of the L.A. Times. I'll get it noted in the text. Thanks!

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    3. I've also included an ad for it. And it didn't run anything like 9 months. The next production at the Musart, "Petticoat Fever," opened September 12, 1944.

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