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Unique Theatre

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

Opened: Perhaps 1902 or 1903. The Unique Theatre was listed at this address in the 1903 through 1909 city directories. The Unique ran vaudeville and films under the management of Flora E. Hentz and John U. Zallee.

In this c.1905 photo we're looking south on Broadway toward 6th. Down in the 600 block note the sign up in the air for the Unique Theatre. Despite the big sign, the entrance was in a squat two story building. The photo from the Department of Water and Power Collection at the Los Angeles Public Library appears on a Water and Power Associates page of Early L.A. City Views. Thanks to Escott O. Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for locating the photo.

There may have been additional locations used by the H & Z team but so far three have surfaced. At least during 1901 and 1902 the couple operated a Unique Theatre at 456 S. Spring St. The Unique operation presumably moved from Spring to Broadway sometime in 1902 or 1903. In 1909 they took over the Empire Theatre on 3rd St. when demolition was imminent for this building on Broadway.

These photos of Hentz and Zallee appeared in a 1908 issue of Variety with this caption: "Flora E. Hentz and John U. Zallee are the joint proprietors and managers of the Unique Theatre, Los Angeles, and are pioneers of popular priced vaudeville in Southern California. Starting in an unpretentious way some eight years ago, their advance has been marked with success and they have been compelled to change their location several times in order to secure a greater capacity. They have now reached a point where an increased clientele makes another move imperative and plans are being drawn for a 'Class A' structure, complete in every detail."  The page can be seen as a pdf on the site

The theatre was on the west side of the street in the middle of the block between 6th and 7th. The Broadway entrance was a narrow space in a low building but it opened up for the auditorium behind that backed up onto St. Vincent Pl. They advertised that the entire rear wall opened up to the street for emergency exiting.

That's Broadway across the middle of the map and 7th running vertically on the left. The map is a detail from Historic Mapworks. It's from their 1910 Baist's Real Estate Survey map Plate 002. You can wander the whole map on their website.

The cover for the Unique program for the week of June 19, 1905. Thanks to Jeff Greenwood for sharing this from his collection of memorabilia related to his great-grand-aunt Anna Robinson. She was a vaudeville performer and on the bill this week in slot #2 with her magician husband Frederick Palmer as "Palmer and Robinson, The Sorcerer and the Soubrette." When she performed solo she was sometimes billed as "The Little Girl with the Big Voice" and "The Great Coon Shouter." 
In this program A.E. Peck was listed as stage manager and B. Atwood as the house electrician. The orchestra was under the direction of H. Schillinger. They were running an amateur night every Thursday and a "Children's Souvenir Matinee" on Saturdays. Other acts on the program that week included Mons. Herbert and his musical dining table, Franklin & McNutt with "On the Old Plantation," the novelty gymnasts Richards and Cathcart, the character mimic Kitty Miller, Guy's Minstrels as the headliner, and motion pictures on the UNIQUEOSCOPE to close the program. 


A detail of the exit situation in the June 19 program. The whole 80' width of the backstage wall of the theatre could be opened up "upon a moment's notice" to exit patrons onto the street behind the theatre in case of emergency.

A 1905 trade magazine ad for Palmer and Robinson. In 1905 they also played at Fischer's Theatre on 1st St. Thanks, Jeff!

A 1905 Unique Theatre program from the collection of Danni Bayles-Yeager.

It's an interesting discussion of the Unique's features and policies inside the program. They note that they have an asbestos fire curtain and automatic sprinklers. "Do not exit during the moving pictures: your doing so obstructs the view and annoys others. APPLAUSE - Kindly use the hands only. No stamping or boisterousness permitted... The theatre is perfumed every day by the Imperial Perfume Company."

Thanks to Danni Bayles-Yeager for sharing the program from her collection. Visit her website, the Bayles-Yeager Online Archive of the Performing Arts.

In October 1905 the manager at the Unique was J.J. Cluxton who would go on to take over the Regal on Main St. in 1906 (then renamed the Hecla, it had earlier been the Star). He'd later stage prologues for various Pantages theatres and by 1916 was Mr. Pantages personal representative, traveling for the circuit and helping plan the new Pantages theatres in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. He got a mention in the May 4, 1918 issue of Domestic Engineering and the Journal of Mechanical Contracting. It's on Google Books.

A September 30, 1907 ad for the Unique appearing in the Los Angeles Herald.

In the 1907-1908 Henry's Official Western Theatrical Guide the Unique is listed as playing vaudeville acts from the Alpha Circuit. By 1908 the programming had shifted to performances by stock companies. Some news accounts and ads report that the Unique employed two stock companies simultaneously. A June 1908 Los Angeles Herald ad noted:

"Our two stock companies appear at each performance. FARCE COMEDY COMPANY - Under Direction of Jas P. Lee. MUSICAL COMEDY COMPANY - Under direction of Walter Frederick. Illustrated songs. Latest Moving pictures. Ladles' souvenir matinee Wednesday. Children's souvenir and ladies' surprise matinee Saturday. "The Amateurs" Thursday evening. Matinees Men.. Wed., Sat. and Sun. Evenings continuous. Popular prices."

There was a little problem in 1908 with missing money and manuscripts related to a musical comedy company performing at the Unique:

 The article appeared in the Los Angeles Herald in June 1908. 

Closing: The Broadway location for the Unique was running well into 1909. The closing date is unknown but by the week of October 6, 1909 the team was advertising their reopening at the former Empire Theatre, 128 E. 3rd St. It's unknown how long they operated the 3rd St. location or if there were other adventures following that.

Status: The building has been demolished. The current building at the 629-633 Broadway address, the Baker Building, dates from 1910.

c. 1906 - One panel of an amazing 200 degree panorama taken from the roof of the Lankershim Hotel at 7th and Broadway. In this segment we're looking north along the west side of the 600 block. The third building in (the squat, dark brick one) housed the Unique Theatre's entrance. The C.C. Pierce / California Historical Society photo is in eight parts on the USC Digital Library website. This panel also appears in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

In the foreground note that there's no Bullock's Building yet. It would soon rise just this side of the California Furniture Co., a building opened in October 1905. In the background on the left note the two towers of the California Club building on the NW corner of 5th and Hill. If you go to the USC site and zoom in, you can see rebar going up for the Philharmonic Auditorium at 5th and Olive, which opened in November 1906.

One of the banners across Broadway (also seen in the nighttime Huntington Library photo below) advertises a Midwinter Carnival & Oriental Exposition in Venice opening January 14, 1906. Another banner is for a Pasadena Horse Show in March. 

c.1906 - A detail from the C.C. Pierce photo. Note the Unique's roof sign high above the building. The building with the big black roof would later be replaced with the Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway. Joe Vogel comments: 

"The black-roofed building was for a while the location of the Los Angeles branch of Sing Fat Company, a Chinese department store, which had its main location in San Francisco, and another branch in New York City. The store at 615 S. Broadway ran all the way through the block to 614 S. Hill Street. Earlier, the Sing Fat branch in Los Angeles had been on the east side of the street at 548-550 S. Broadway. I'm not sure of the years of operation at each location, but 615 was sometime in the 1910s."

c.1906 - A closer view from the C.C. Pierce photo of the Unique's electric sign. 

1906 - Well, we can't see the building, but the Unique's very tall roof sign pops out in this January view looking south on Broadway. It's a detail from a larger image in the Huntington Library collection that was taken from the middle of the 400 block.

Michael Ryerson discusses the photo on his Noirish Los Angeles post #26689. He notes that the Examiner, seen here as the second building on the right, was at the time of the photo at 509-511 S. Broadway.

c.1909 - This postcard view looking south from the middle of the 500 block gives us a tiny glimpse of the Unique. 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. The Unique is down there mid block, the shortest building on the block.

Beyond the Unique is the three-story Hoffman Building, the six-story California Furniture Co. (later the site of a Bullocks expansion), and Bullocks on the corner at 7th St. Thanks to theatre researcher Michelle Gerdes for finding the card on eBay. It had a postmark of October 1910.

c.1909 - A closer view of the south end of the 600 block with the Unique over on the far right. The domed building down at 7th would be replaced in 1921 by the State Theatre. The squat buildings on the far left of the photo would be replaced by the Palace Theatre in 1911. It's a photo in the Seaver Center Collection at the L.A. County Natural History Museum. Thanks to Tony Pepper for finding this gem. 

c.1909 - Christmas on Broadway. The building on the right occupies the site of the Los Angeles Theatre. Note the height of the Unique's roof sign. The theatre entrance was via the two story building in the middle of the block. It's a photo, as you can see by the watermark, in the collection of the L.A. County Natural History Museum.

c.1915 - A Warren C. Dickerson photo looking north from 7th. Bullocks has done their expansion to the north and the building the Unique was in has been replaced by the Baker Building, dating from 1910. The photo is in the collection of the L.A. County Natural History Museum. They also have a view by Mr. Dickerson straight up Broadway and a wider angle view.

2011 - The view south along the 600 block. The building at the right end of the crosswalk (with the blue Adidas sign) is where the Unique Theatre was. This building on the site now is the Baker Building, dating from 1910. The structure to its left with the two windows on the second floor is the south end of the same building. Photo: Google Maps.

Farther down the block, the single story structure  with the yellow banner is what's left of the Hoffman Building, once three stories. Beyond was once the California Furniture Co. building. In its place we got a slender Bullocks expansion building. The block ends with the earlier Bullocks Building at 7th St. Across the street at the left is the Palace Theatre. Out of the frame to the far right is the Los Angeles Theatre.

2018 - Another look south on Broadway toward 7th St. The brick-red building across 7th houses the State Theatre. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - A closer look at the Baker Building, the one that in 1910 replaced the one the Unique was in. The storefront with the two windows on the second floor and the stores with the blue rectangle above are part of the same building -- just different facade redecoration. The entrance to the Unique would have been the storefront on the left side of the blue rectangle. Photo: Bill Counter

2018 - The back of the 1910 vintage Baker Building on St. Vincent Pl. If we were to turn left 90 degrees we'd be looking at the south side of the Los Angeles Theatre. Photo: Bill Counter

More information: The Pacific Coast Architecture Database has a page on the Unique.

A later Unique Theatre: Around 1923 a Unique Theatre opened at 2345 E. 1st St. in Boyle Heights. That theatre was not related to the earlier theatres of the name operated by Hentz and Zallee.

In 1907 there was a Unique Theatre running with films and vaudeville on Windward Ave. in Venice. It's not known if it had any connection to the theatres with that name in downtown L.A. 

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