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Mission Theatre

838 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |

Opened: This vaudeville and film house opened September 27, 1913 as the Woodley Theatre, a project of Robert W. Woodley. Los Angeles Investment Co. was the contractor. Woodley had earlier operated the Optic Theatre, 4 blocks farther north on Broadway and, after closing that one, opened a new Optic Theatre on Main St. in 1911. This April 1915 photo by G. Haven Bishop in the Huntington Library collection was one in a big series commissioned by Southern California Edison to show businesses the glories of nighttime illumination.

Architects: Train and Williams. The firm also designed Tally's Broadway across the street and the Hyman/Garrick, a house at 8th & Broadway where the Tower Theatre is now. A 1920 renovation for Mack Sennett was by Frank L. Meline.   

Seating: 900

A rendering of the facade of the new theatre that appeared in the April 27, 1913 L.A. Times. The heading above it noted: "To occupy site leased for century term." Actually it was only a 99 year lease. The caption below read: "Theater projected by R.M. [sic] Woodley for Broadway below Eighth. Structure planned by Train and Williams for lot owned by Stephen M. White estate, leased through Metcalf & Ryan."

An article appearing in the August 24, 1913 issue of the L.A. Times.

An article in the Thursday September 25, 1913 L.A. Times announcing the opening for the 27th. 

A December 25, 1913 ad from the L.A. Times. Woodley didn't retain ownership of his building for long. L.A. Historian Mary Mallory, for her fine Hollywood Heights / Daily Mirror article "Mack Sennett: Theatre Owner," found a news item noting that in September 1914 Woodley sold the building to Los Angeles Investment Co., the firm that had been the contractor for it. He stayed around for a few months running the house.

As for Woodley's later adventures? It turns out that films were only his second love. He was more infatuated with the gem business. He took a position with an L.A. diamond merchant named Clark and then moved to Bisbee, AZ to run the diamond counter at Phelps Dodge Mercantile, the company store operated by the mining company in town. Head to the bottom of the page for a 1918 story from the Bisbee Daily Review.

In this ad we see Seth D. Perkins in charge of both the Woodley and the Optic. The ad was located by Ken McIntyre and posted as a comment on a Photos of Los Angeles thread about the Optic.

A bit of a management change noted in a 1915 L.A. Times story. Decades later Perkins would be in the drive-in business as the operator of the Pico and San Val drive-ins. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the item for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

Woodley was back in mid-1915. An item announced his return, and the arrival of Mack Sennett, on page 54 of the June 26, 1915 Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive.

"Several important changes were made in the local theatres this week.  The Woodley, which has been in charge of the Los Angeles Investment Co. for the past six months, has been sold to the Woodley theatre company, composed of Mack Sennett and W.R. [sic] Woodley. Mr. Woodley was former manager of the theatre as well as owner and will now assume his former work. He is a pioneer exhibitor of the coast and will make a success of the theatre as he did other local houses under his management. Seth D. Perkins, who has been manager, now takes charge of the Garrick, under control of the Investment company. Mr. Perkins has been very successful with the houses he has managed, having built up good patronage by a strict attention to details."

Thanks to Mary Mallory for locating the item. She also found items noting that in April 1917 the firm reorganized, issued $25,000 in stock, and listed Sennett as manager. And after a renaming contest that was announced on October 19, 1917 the theatre had a brief run as the Sennett Theatre.

In the 1918 city directory it's called the Riviera Theatre. Mary located a February 26, 1918 Los Angeles Herald item noting that Harry P. Caulfield, previously at the Garrick, was made manager at the time of the renaming. It was rebranded as the Victory Theatre on September 18, 1918. In the 1919 city directory there are listings for it as both the Riviera and the Victory.

Arthur Wenzel took over the theatre in 1920. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this item. 

A 1920 ad for the theatre as the Victory -- evidently with some sort of a cooling system installed. "Old Lady 31" was a May release. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad. The 1920 city directory lists the theatre as the Victory. It was running as the Victory at least until the end of August 1920.

Mack Sennett gave the building an expensive Spanish style remodel and reopened it as the Mission Theatre on December 2, 1920 with "The Mark of Zorro." Work included an upgraded boxoffice and restrooms, a new orchestra pit and dressing rooms. The hoopla included a personal appearance by Douglas Fairbanks. The presentation was reviewed in the December 5 L.A. Times. Jesse Crawford was at the Wurlitzer. Thanks to Allegra Garcia for the image of the program.

The inside of the program for "The Mark of Zorro." Again thanks to Allegra Garcia for sharing this. It comes from the collection of her great aunt Beatrice Dominguez. Note her appearance at the Rialto in the finale of the stage show. Ms. Dominguez was a dancer / actress, perhaps best known for her appearance in the tango scene in the Rudolph Valentino film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (Metro, 1921).

 A March 1924 L.A. Times ad for the Mission.  

The Mission Theatre in the Movies:

A wild ride down the 800 block of Broadway is included in Harold Lloyd's "Girl Shy" (Harold Lloyd Co. / Pathé, 1924). He's using all available means of transportation to get into the city from his small town to prevent a marriage between the woman he loves and a cad who happens to be already secretly married. Here it's Tally's Broadway on the left and the Mission Theatre on the right. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots of the block with glimpses of the Garrick, Rialto and Majestic theatres. There are also earlier views of the Culver City Theatre and the Granada/Oriental on Sunset Blvd.

Closing: January 18, 1925. Thanks to Joe Vogel for finding the date.

Status: It was demolished to make way for the Orpheum Theatre which opened in 1926.

Interior views:

A lobby view after the Max Sennett re-do of 1920. The architectural firm responsible was the Frank Meline Co. Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Dallas Movie Theaters for finding this trade magazine photo for a post on the site's page about the Mission Theatre.

The near capacity crowd for the 1920 reopening of the theatre as the Mission with "The Mark of Zorro." The photo appeared in the January 8, 1921 issue of Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for finding the article and photos for a post about the event on his Theatre Talks blog.

A sidewall view after the 1920 renovations. Again thanks to Dallas Movie Theaters for finding the photo for the Cinema Treasures page.

More exterior views:

1913 - On the right we're looking down at the Woodley Theatre under construction. Across the street it's the Majestic Theatre at 845 S. Broadway and, adjacent to Hamburger's Department Store, Tallly's Broadway Theatre at 833 S. Broadway. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1915 - A detail from the G. Haven Bishop photo from the Huntington Library that's at the top of the page.

1915 - Looking north on Broadway. On the right the Woodley is running "The Fox Woman," a July release. That's Tally's Broadway across the street. It's a photo from the William M. McCarthy Photograph Collection at the California State Archives.

c.1916 - Looking north from 9th with the Majestic and Tally's on the left and Woodley's Theatre the second building in on the right. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for finding the photo on eBay for his Noirish post # 52423

c.1916 - A lovely look north on Broadway a slice of Woodley's on the far right. This is half of a stereo pair taken by Underwood & Underwood. It's in the Keystone-Mast Collection, UCR/California Museum of Photography, University of California at Riverside. It's on Calisphere where, at last look, they thought it might be somewhere in Nebraska.

On the left it's the Majestic Theatre, Tally's Broadway, and the big hulk of Hamburger's Department Store beyond. On the far side of 8th that's the Hulett C. Merritt Building from 1915. Down at 7th the Bullock's building is visible.

c.1916 - A detail from the UC Riverside photo above. Note Woodley is advertising his "Mammoth Pipe Organ." There was a competition with Thomas Tally across the street at Tally's Broadway over which theatre had the biggest and best organ.

1916 - The ticket booth as a windmill for the run of "Hulda From Holland," a July release starring Mary Pickford. Thanks to Mary Mallory for locating the photo in the September 2, 1916 issue of Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive. It appears with Mary's fine Hollywood Heights article "Mack Sennett: Theatre Owner" on the Daily Mirror blog. The magazine reported:

"...The film broke all admission records at the Woodley, despite the hottest weather of the Summer. The attendance was greater than at any time since the opening of the house, more than three years ago...Manager R.W. Woodley originated a very novel front for the theatre during the showing of this Pickford subject. The ticket booth was transformed into the lower portion of a windmill, and the entire [ticket] lobby was covered with blue and white paintings suggestive of the subject. A small motor operated the windmill. This unique lobby display, and the attractive lighting system on the front of the theatre, drew many people to the house."

1917 - "Why Let Newspapers Kill The Billboards?" asks this one. Note the sign for the Woodley running a Mack Sennett film "Her Circus Knight" along with "Sapho" with Pauline Frederick. Both were March releases. Ms. Frederick also did a lot of legit work, including a number of shows at The Playhouse, a venue now known as the Variety Arts Theatre. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

1917 - "See the huge locomotive run over beautiful Gloria Swanson." The crowd is there for "Teddy at the Throttle," an April release. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding the photo for a Theatre Talks post. It's from the July 14, 1917 issue of the trade magazine magazine Motography, on Internet Archive. The Motography text:

"The accompanying photographs of the Woodley Theatre, Los Angeles, is illustrative of what can be done to draw crowds and get business by cultivating the fine lobby hobby. Edward Holland, manager of the Woodley, is wide awake to the drawing power of the unusual, and realizes the value of good advertising. In regard to the ‘Teddy at the Throttle’ display he says: ‘This engine pulled in so many people that it had to sand its tracks to keep from slipping. And the display itself was very simple. I took the interior of a real engine and surrounded it with a cab made of compo board. Behind this I had a boiler which kept twenty pounds of steam pressure all day. The steam which was allowed to leak through the injector valve created a very realistic effect. In the fire box there was a piece of red silk blown by an electric fan.'"

1917 - The display for "A Royal Rogue," a May release. Manager Edward Holland commented in the Motography issue of July 14, 1917: "The display for 'A Royal Rogue,' while simple proved very effective. People like change. They like to see something new and I believe in giving them what they want.'" Thanks again to Cezar Del Valle for finding the photo.

1917 - The Woodley running "A Dog Catcher's Love" and "The Pinch Hitter." The photo is in the AMPAS Tom B'hend - Preston Kaufmann Collection. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for spotting the photo in the collection. He has it in his Noirish post #38042.

1917 - Looking northwest from 9th and Main.The building on the lower left with all the roof vents is the Woodley Theatre. The big building across Broadway is Hamburger's Department Store, later the May Co. Tally's Broadway is to its left. This is one of three photos in a set from the California Historical Society that are on the USC Digital Library website.


1920 - After Mack Sennett gave the theatre a remodel it reopened as the Mission with "The Mark of Zorro." The event was covered in the January 8, 1921 issue of Exhibitors Herald. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding the article for a post on his Theatre Talks blog.

The Herald reported: "The New Mission selected 'The Mark of Zorro' as its opening attraction. Robert E. Wells, managing director, then proceeded to do all in his power, which was considerable, to make the opening an event of precedential [sic] magnitude. Doormen attired in bandit costumes such as worn by Fairbanks in the picture welcomed guests...Mr. Wells has the following to say about the event: 'Los Angeles believes that 'The Mark of Zorro' is Douglas Fairbanks' greatest picture, as evidenced by the fact that since our New Mission theatre, was opened, we played to absolute capacity, with midnight shows added both Saturday and Sunday. 'We have established world's attendance records during these past four days with prices from fifty cents to one dollar and fifty cents.'"

1920 - "Charles Ray and Carter DeHaven were among those present. Ray is plainly seen in the photograph." Photo: Exhibitors Herald - January 8, 1921. See Cezar's "Mark of Zorro" post for additional crowd photos showing director Fred Niblo getting into his car and star Douglas Fairbanks leaving the theatre. Thanks, Cezar!

1924 - A view of the Mission from Marc Wanamaker's Bison Archives that appears on page 14 of the great 2008 Arcadia Publishing book "Theatres in Los Angeles" by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall and Mr. Wanamaker. The page with the photo appears in the book's preview on Google Books. Thanks, Marc!

2018 - The site of the Mission. The Orpheum opened in 1926. Photo: Bill Counter 

More information: For some fine research on the building see Mary Mallory's 2020 Hollywood Heights article "Mack Sennett: Theatre Owner" on the Daily Mirror blog. The Cinema Treasures page on the Mission has some interesting data and a number of photos.

Surviving theatre buildings on the 800 block: Tower | Rialto | Orpheum | In addition to the Mission, the vanished theatres include: Arrow | GarrickTally's Broadway | Majestic |

A 1918 article from the Bisbee, AZ Daily Review:

Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

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