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Shell Theatre

547 S. Broadway Los Angeles, CA 90013 | map |

Opened: 1909 or earlier. There's a listing in the 1909 city directory at this address under "moving pictures & machines" for Samuel Stutz. He later took in a Mr. Campbell as a partner. The venue is listed as the Shell Theatre in the 1911 and 1913 city directories. This nickelodeon was on the west side of Broadway mid-block between 5th and 6th. The building is just north of the building that was once the Broadway entrance to the Metropolitan Theatre.

This  news item about a hit show at the Shell appeared on April 21, 1910. The story was located by Ken McIntyre. He added it as a comment to a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 
A June 3, 1910 news item. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it. 

Looking south on Broadway c.1910 with the Shell's building on the far right. The postcard artist seems to have retouched the theatre entrance a bit and added an awning. The signage that we get an edge view of is for the rooftop dance hall, saying "Airdome Dancing Tonight." 
The reddish building beyond would be demolished in 1922 for construction of the Broadway entrance to the Metropolitan Theatre, 553 S. Broadway. Over on the left, the second building in is the Broadway Theatre, 554 S. Broadway. The large white building is the Walter Story Building, opened in 1909. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for sharing this postcard from her collection.

 A 1912 parade photo. Thanks to DGol for locating it for a post on Cinema Treasures

This 1912 G. Haven Bishop photo taken for Southern California Edison shows the theatre in the building's south storefront and the impressive signage for the Airdome Dance Hall on the roof. The photo is in the Huntington Library collection. There's nothing visible telling us this that is called the Shell -- other than the shape of the entrance. The building, now missing its two upper floors, doesn't resemble anything now on Broadway. The clue to identifying the location was finding the Airdome Dance Hall listed in the 1912 city directory.

A detail from the 1912 photo. "The Ultimate Sacrifice" was a May 1911 release directed by Edwin S. Porter based on the novel by HonorĂ© de Balzac. 

Ken McIntyre found this October 5, 1913 L.A. Times ad that mentioned the Shell as a place to pick up your free baseball bulletins.

By August 1914 Billy Clune had the house and was exhibiting films suitable for women and families and calling the theatre Clune's Exclusive

Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for finding this item in the August 22, 1914 issue of The California Outlook.

The theatre is listed in the 1915 city directory just as Clune's. In an article about pioneer L.A. exhibitors in the July 15, 1916 issue of Moving Picture World this branch of the Clune empire is just referred to as "a small five cent house at 547 Broadway." They also note that he had his offices in the building. The issue is on Google Books. The theatre is listed in the 1916 city directory as both Clune's and as the Comedy Theatre. In the 1917 directory it's listed as the Comedy Theatre.

Two Clune's Comedy Theatre programs. Thanks to Walnut Park based historian Wally Shidler for sharing these from his collection.

The program on the left features films released between February and May 1916. The program on the right features films released between February and December 1915. Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for spotting these in the Shidler collection and photographing them.
Clune's big one on Broadway was called Clune's Broadway, right across the street. It was later renamed the Cameo. See the Cameo page for a timeline of Clune's other exhibition adventures.

In 1918 it was running as the Rainbow Theatre. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this ad in the January 16 issue of the L.A. Evening Express for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

Closing: 1918 appears to be the end. It's not in the 1918 or later directories -- the theatre location had become used as retail space.  

A superb view north c.1919. The building the Shell had been in is seen on the left with a "Dancing" vertical sign up high and a Coca-Cola sign on the side. Thanks to Paul Ayers for sharing this image from his collection as a Facebook post. It appeared in a 1920 publication but the image is from 1919 at the latest as we still see the older style of globe streetlights.

The Shell had been in the building on the left edge of this c.1919 image by an unknown photographer. On the right we're looking toward the Pantages, a theatre at 534 S. Broadway, now called the Arcade. Clune's Broadway, now the Cameo, is just beyond. The photo is in the collection of the Open SF History Project

On the right we get a c.1930 view of the building that once housed the Shell Theatre in its south storefront. Here the building still has four floors. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Godzilla for finding the photo and including it in his Noirish post #24429.

The building in the center had once been the Broadway entrance to the Metropolitan Theatre. Here it has become retail space. Note the vertical sign redone to say "Paramount."

Status: The building, which dates from 1901, is still on Broadway. It has been remodeled a number of times -- including getting its upper floors chopped off. It's now down to two floors with retail on the ground floor.

The location in 2010. Photo: Bill Counter

Looking north on the 500 block in 2018. The second building in was once the Broadway entrance to the Metropolitan/Paramount. The third building in, now only two stories, once housed the Shell Theatre. Photo: Bill Counter

The former theatre space selling sneakers. Photo: Bill Counter - 2018   
Earlier views of the building, before the Shell opened:

A late 1905 or early 1906 view north. The building on the left is the one that would later house the Shell Theatre. The Broadway Theatre at 554 is on the far right edge of the photo. One of the banners across the street is advertising a Midwinter Carnival in Venice on January 14, another advertises a horse show in Pasadena in March. The California Historical Society photo in the USC Digital Library collection. 
A c.1907 view looking north. The Mackie-Fredericks Co. building would later house the Shell Theatre. That barely visible intersection at the bottom center is Broadway and 6th. The first squat building beyond would later be replaced by the Sun Drug/Swelldom Building. The two story building beyond that with signage for a real estate company on the side is on the site of the 1923 Edwin Bergstrom building that would house the Broadway entrance of the Metropolitan Theatre
In the foreground on the left we get the roof sign for the Unique Theatre, 629 S. Broadway. The building with the interestingly shaped black roof beyond the Unique would much later become the site of the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway. It's a detail from a photo from the California Historical Society appearing on the USC Digital Library website.  

The building that would later be home to the Shell is the four story one on the right. This c.1909 postcard view is looking south from the middle of the 500 block. The big six story reddish building in the middle is at the SW corner of 6th and Broadway. It's still there, minus its ornament. The second building on the block, the white one with the flagpoles, is the currently the site of the Los Angeles Theatre. Beyond that is the Colorado Hotel. Bullocks on northwest corner of 7th and Broadway. Thanks to theatre researcher Michelle Gerdes for finding the card on eBay. It had a postmark of October 1910.

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Shell Theatre.

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