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Grand Theatre

730 S. Grand Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90017 | map |

Opened: December, 1908 as the Walker Theatre (built for George Walker) with programs of Sullivan and Considine vaudeville and movies. After using a long string of other names it ended up as the Grand Theatre. The photo is a July 1946 view taken shortly before the theatre's demolition. It's from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The theatre was on the east side of Grand south of 7th St. --  just north of where Whole Foods now is.

Architects: Eisen and Son designed the six story building (called the Walker Auditorium Building) which contained a number of other halls (such as Lincoln Hall, Roosevelt Hall) and music studios in addition to the main theatre. The architectural firm evolved into Walker & Eisen and worked on many other theatres.

Seating: 900

It was known as the Nielson Theatre in 1910 after a remodel for use by a stock company. The Neilson name got into the 1910 city directory. In 1911 it was again the Walker and operated by Arthur Hyman. Hyman also had the College Theatre on Hill St. and the Garrick at 8th & Broadway, among others. See the page on the College Theatre for a list of his various theatres. 

A 1911 flyer from the collection of Jeff Greenwood. The magician on the bill, Frederick Palmer, was married to Jeff's great-grand aunt, the singer Anna Robinson. 

A 1906 photo of Palmer from the Jeff Greenwood collection. With his wife they appeared in vaudeville theatres for years as "Palmer and Robinson" with acts such as "The Sorcerer and the Soubrette" and "The Maid and the Mountebank." In 1905 they had played at Fischer's Theatre and the Unique Theatre. In 1912 they settled in L.A. and he later worked for Mack Sennett and others writing screenplays and also had a career as a trade magazine editor. Thanks, Jeff!

The 1911 city directory has the theatre moved over to 730 S. Broadway, a typo. At some point it was called Clune's Grand Avenue Theatre. See the page about the Cameo Theatre for a timeline of Billy Clune's other exhibition ventures.

After Clune left, the theatre was back to the Walker name. The 1912 city directory has it as the Walker. From August 1912 until 1915 it was the Mozart, (or the Grand Ave. Mozart) under the direction of Mrs. Anna M. Mozart. It's the Mozart in the 1912 directory.

An ad in the July 20, 1912 issue of Moving Picture World from the Mozart -- looking for films and staff. Ladies only need apply: "The management will employ (only) lady help -- from Manager to ushers -- MAKING IT THE ONLY THEATRE IN THE U.S. EMPLOYING EXCLUSIVELY LADIES."  Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the ad. It's featured in his Bijou Dreams post about the Mozart.

The Moving Picture World issue of August 17, 1912 discussed the Mozart:

"The new Mozart motion picture theater, which opened August 5, is unique in that it is conducted almost entirely by women. The only male employee on the premises is the operator in the projection booth. The proprietor and manager is Mrs. Anna M. Mozart. All her assistants–ushers, ticket sellers, doorkeepers, the musical director–even the press agent–are women. There is a ‘policewoman’ on duty at each performance.

"The new enterprise is housed in the Walker Theater, formerly a regular playhouse, on Grand Avenue between Seventh and Eighth streets. It has a seating capacity of about 900 and before it opened its doors Mrs. Mozart spent nearly $25,000 in getting ready. The largest single item of expense was $10,000, which was invested in a Photoplayer, the first of its size to be installed on the coast. It is an instrument designed to take the place of a full orchestra but it can be operated by one person.

"The one in the Mozart Theater is 25 feet long, eight feet wide and ten feet high and occupies the entire orchestra pit. Inside it are thousands of pipes and reeds, a piano and the necessary apparatus for producing 33 different sound effects, such as bird calls, locomotive bell and whistle, thunder, rain, horse trots, cannon, drums, cymbals, castanets and tambourine. Another feature is a set of reeds which reproduces the tones of the human voice.

"Nothing but big special features will be shown in the house. Among the films advertised to be shown in the near future are Blanche Walsh in 'Resurrection,' 'St. George and the Dragon,' 'The Raven,' Nat Goodwin in 'Nathan Hale,' 'Custer’s Last Fight,' and 'The Odyssey.' Summer prices will be 10, 15 and 25 cents." 

An ad in the October 5, 1912 issue of Moving Picture World extolling the virtues of the Fotoplayer installed at the Mozart. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding the ad and the August 17 article for his Bijou Dreams post.

"Exclusive Films." A 1912 ad for the Mozart. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it.

Anna Mozart disappeared at some point. In a 1915 ad the theatre had become the Brooks Theatre. By February 1916 it had become the Strand, a film house, opening with Sarah Bernhardt in "Jeanne Dore," a 1915 release. Despite the name changes, there are still references well into 1916 calling it the Mozart Theatre Building. It's still called the Strand (at least on the back and one side) in 1917 and later photos.

In the 1917, 1918 and 1919 city directories it's called Walker Auditorium. In 1918 L.A. Times ads it was running as legit house called Walker's Theatre Beautiful. In the 1923 city directory it's the Walker. In 1923 and 1924 it was known the Grand Avenue. It was also known as the Fine Arts in 1924. It was the Orange Grove Theatre from 1924 to 1929.

Here in this 1925 ad located by Ken McIntyre it's Wilkes' Orange Grove. The Wilkes brothers, Alfred G. and Thomas, also had theatres in San Francisco and were the initial operators of what is now the Montalban when it opened in early 1927. 

In 1926 the organization operating the Orange Grove after the Wilkes left also took over the Majestic Theatre on Broadway. A June 12 L.A. Times article located by Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges noted: 

"The Majestic and Orange Grove theaters were merged into one organization yesterday when a deal was closed by Michael Corper, Ralph Spence, Will Morrissey and Arthur Freed. Corper will officiate as director-general of both theaters, holding a controlling interest over all productions which Spence and Morrissey are to stage at the Majestic..."

A 1926 ad in the Times for the theatre as the Orange Grove. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it. 

For at least part of 1927 the Orange Grove was managed by Louis Macloon, as seen in this April 29, 1927 L.A. Times ad for "Strawberry Blonde." At the time he was also running the Music Box in Hollywood. Macloon was also the initial tenant at the Playhouse on Figueroa St., a venue later known as the Variety Arts Theatre

A May 1927 located by Mr. Comfortably Cool for the Cinema Treasures page about the Grand. 

A 1928 L.A. Times ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

The Orange Grove turned into the Actor's Theatre from 1929 to 1935. It was the Grand International Theatre and running films again from 1935 to 1937. The name was shortened to Grand Theatre in 1937.

A pass to get into the theatre for the play "Wedding Night" in 1941 when it had "comfortable seating" and was known as the Grand Playhouse. It's from the collection of Walnut Park based historian Wally Shidler. Thanks to theatre explorer and archivist Michelle Gerdes for photographing it.

It went to movies later in 1941. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this 1941 ad.

A 1944 ad located by Ken McIntyre.

Another 1944 ad located by Ken McIntyre who noted that at the time the Grand and the Esquire Theatre were part of the same operation -- and using the same phone number. The ad was part of a post on Photos of Los Angeles

A 1945 ad for "The Fall of Berlin" running day and date with the Studio Theatre. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it.

The theatre ended its life as the Grand in 1946. Its last chapter involved showing first run films from Russia and Europe. Herb Rosener was the last operator. The building was owned by the estate of George Walker. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the April 4, 1946 L.A. Times article for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

Status: It was demolished in 1946 to provide additional parking for the Robinson's department store. There's now a mixed use building on the site with a Whole Foods on the ground floor and housing above.

More exterior views:

1910 - The theatre as the Nielson, the home of the stock company headed by Hortense Nielson. It's a card from the site Card Cow

1910 - A layout board used during the production process for the card above. It's also from the site Card Cow

c.1912 - Looking south on Grand from 7th Street. It's a photo by Martin Behrman in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The photo also appears in the California State Library collection. Note the "Theatre" sign on the stagehouse. And check out that nice fire escape access to the grid.

c.1912 - A detail of the signage from the Martin Behrman photo. "Clune's" has been painted out. 

1913 - A look at the theatre as the Mozart. It's a photo by G. Haven Bishop, part of a set he did for the Southern California Edison Co. It's in the Huntington Library collection.

1913 - A detail from the G. Haven Bishop photo. 

1913 - "Safest Theatre in the City" - "Exclusive Motion Pictures." This view by E. P. Chase of the north side of the building is in the Huntington Library collection. It's another that was taken for Southern California Edison.

c.1913 - Aview with the theatre's stagehouse on the left. Grand Ave. is out of the frame to the left. We're looking northeast with 8th St. running left to right at the bottom of the photo and Olive the north/south street. It's a photo by Bailey from the California Historical Society that's in the USC Digital Library collection.

The large whitish building in the center is the Los Angeles Athletic Club at 7th & Olive, opened in 1912. To its right in 1920 would rise the Pantages, later renamed the Warner. At the right there's Bullocks at 7th & Broadway. In the distance left of the Athletic Club note Central Park (renamed Pershing Square in 1918) and the the building that would later be called the Philharmonic Auditorium.

c.1913 - A detail of the stagehouse from the USC photo.

1915 - A view looking north toward the Mozart from outside the Stillwell Hotel. The Elks were in town and having meetings at the Trinity Auditorium. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for finding the shot on eBay. See his Noirish post #50841 for some shots outside the Trinity. 

1917 - A look west from the Lankershim Hotel at the southeast corner of 7th and Broadway. The back of the theatre, here called the Strand, is in the distance at the center, just left of the smokestack. This is panel #2 of a four part panorama by C.C. Pierce in the USC Digital Library  collection.

The street we're looking up at the right is 7th. On the right that nice vacant lot at 7th & Hill this side of the Athletic Club is where the Pantages/Warner would rise in 1920. 

1917 - A detail from the image above showing the back of the theatre as seen from Broadway. The signage on the side says it's the Strand Picture Palace. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor HossC, who posted the photo on his Noirish post #22830. He was more interested in the smokestack than the theatre.

c.1919 - Looking west on 7th Street from Broadway. The stage end of the theatre, here still called the Strand, is visible in the distance. The photo from the California Historical Society is in the USC Digital Library collection.

The State Theatre would soon rise in place of the buildings on the left. Beyond the alley is the marquee of the Palace Theatre, a venue that would close in January 1921. On the northeast corner of 7th & Hill a construction fence is up for the Pantages/Warner. Way down 7th St. on the Brockman Building the Kinema (later renamed the Criterion Theatre) has a big sign with an arrow pointing off to the right.

c.1919 - A detail from the previous photo showing the back of the Strand. Or at least the signage still said Strand. That Alhambra sign was mounted on a building on the west side of Hill St. The the sign isn't on the theatre building itself. The arrow points to the theatre on Hill between 7th and 8th. 

1925 - The Walker Auditorium building is seen toward the lower left in this photo from the June issue of Los Angeles Realtor. On the far right edge it's the water tank and smoke vents on the stagehouse of the Hillstreet Theatre at 8th and Hill. 
Thanks to the Special Collections division of the Los Angeles Public Library for allowing access to the publication. The magazine's caption: "Note in the above photograph that despite the fact that a large portion of the business district is shown, none of the buildings are sending up smoke -- Los Angeles is an electric city."

1925 - A detail from the Los Angeles Realtor photo. Back on the stagehouse it says "Walker Theatre." Behind the smokestack that's beyond the Walker it's the Pantages at 7th and Hill, the house that became the Warner Downtown in 1929. That's the Los Angeles Athletic Club to the left of the Pantages.

1931 - Looking north from 9th with the theatre in the distance with "Orange Grove" on its south wall. By this time it was actually going under the name Actor's Theatre. On the left just beyond the drug store is the Trinity Auditorium. The Stillwell Hotel is on the right. The photo is in the collection of Union Bank and is on display in their office at Olympic and Main.

1931 - A detail from the Union Bank photo. The roof sign still said "Walker Theatre."

2018 - Looking south on Grand along the facade of the 8th & Grand mixed-use building now occupying the theatre site. Whole Foods and 8th St. are in the distance. Photo: Bill Counter

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page about the Grand Theatre with lots of fascinating research by Joe Vogel and other contributors. Scandals, bigamy and more! Jeff Bridges (aka Vokoban) has unearthed many interesting newspaper articles detailing the mysteries of this building and did much of the research on the many names the Grand Theatre has used.

There's a lovely section on the Grand titled "Jinxed Exhibition -- Grand Avenue and the Mozart Theatre" beginning on page 132 of Jan Olsson's 2008 book "Los Angeles Before Hollywood - Journalism and American Film Culture, 1905-1915." The book is available as a free pdf from the National Library of Sweden.

There's a 1931 photo of electrical switchgear in the building's basement in the USC Digital Library collection.

The other Grand Theatre: See the page about the Grand Opera House at 110 S. Main St. In the 20s it was called The Grand. The theatre opened in 1884 and was demolished in 1936. 

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