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Tally's Phonograph and Vitascope Parlors

245 S. Spring St. | map | c.1894 - fall 1895

248 S. Spring St. | map | fall 1895 

125 N. Main St. | map | November 1895  

449 S. Spring St. | map | December 1895  

311 S. Spring St. | map | April 1896 - 1899 

114 W. 1st St. | map | 1899  

339 S. Spring St. | map | 1899 - c.1901

137 S. Main St. | map | 1899 - c.1901

Thomas Lincoln Tally was born in 1862 in Rockport, Texas. In 1893 he was running a phonograph parlor in San Antonio. He had first visited Los Angeles in 1890 and made the move west c.1894 with his early ventures in the L.A. area including phonograph parlors in Santa Monica and at 245 S. Spring St. Thanks to L.A. historian Mary Mallory for researching the facts on Tally's life and career. See her "T.L. Tally - L.A.'s Pioneer Film Exhibitor Part 1" and "T.L. Tally Part 2" on the site The Daily Mirror for more details.

It's unknown how many of the early Tally locations actually projected pictures on a screen, as opposed to just displaying them in peep show machines. But we know of two definitely. At 311 S. Spring St. we have interior photos as well as reports of a film fire in 1896. At 137 S. Main St. there was a newspaper account of a film fire in 1899 when an audience of about 50 had been viewing a film. 

The beginnings with Bacigalupi on Spring Street: Peter Bacigalupi was a San Francisco guy who was the sole California agent for the Edison Kinetoscope equipment. Earlier, he had also lived in Peru for twenty years and, while there, operated a newspaper and had other business ventures. His career in San Francisco is discussed in a July 15, 1916 article in Moving Picture World that's on Google Books. Mary Mallory notes that in L.A. Bacigalupi first had an Edison Phonograph Parlor at 206 S. Spring St. before moving to 248 S. Spring. Mary adds: 

"Bacigalupi purchased a December 24, 1894 ad in the Los Angeles Herald inviting citizens to come see Edison’s great invention, the first time motion pictures appear to be advertised and exhibited in the city." 

This parlor at 248 had rows of Edison's Kinetoscope and Biograph Company's Mutoscope machines that would display movies for one viewer at a time after inserting a coin.

The Edison machines used a continuous loop of 35mm film. The Mutoscope machines used a flip card system with each card printed with the image taken from one frame of film. At this time there was no projection onto a large screen. While Edison would later use the Kinetoscope name for a theatre projector, at this point it referred to a coin operated machine. In addition to the movie machines, the business was still very much into music, selling both phonographs and the cylinders containing the music. 

In September 1895 this location was advertising films of the 1894 Corbett-Courtney fight on the Edison Kinetoscope machines, viewable by one person at a time.

A help wanted ad in the September 27, 1895 L.A. Times.

An October 1, 1895 ad in the L.A. Herald located by Ken McIntyre. 

Tally moves to 248 S. Spring Street: In October 1895 Tally gives up on his phonograph location at 245 S. Spring takes over Bacigalupi's combination phonograph and movie machine parlor across the street and renames it Tally's Phonograph Parlor. Bacigalupi would make a return engagement to Spring St. around 1902. He's listed as the manager of the Edison Phonograph Agency at 431 S. Spring in the 1902 city directory. See the Penny Arcade / Johns & Devlin page for data on that location

An October 8 ad located located by Mary Mallory in the L.A. Herald noted: 

"Expert phonograph and exhibitor of east who has been located at 245 S. Spring St. bought Corbett fight to show at new parlor at 248 S. Spring."

An October 10, 1895 Times ad.

An October 27, 1895 Times ad. 

An October 31, 1895 Times ad. Presumably that 258 is a typo and should read 248.  Neither Tally or Bacigalupi or anything for Edison are are in the 1895 city directory.

Relocating to 125 N. Main Street:

A November 24, 1895 ad in the Times.

Moving to 449 S. Spring: 

A December 1895 ad located by Ken McIntyre. 

A December 17, 1895 ad in the Times.

A December 22, 1895 ad in the Times.   

Moving to 311 S. Spring: This location of Tally's Phonograph Parlor was opened in early 1896 by the Tallys in the south bay of the Ramona Hotel Building, which was a large Victorian structure on the SW corner of Spring and 3rd. In early 1894 this storefront had been Littleboy's Drug Store.

An April 12, 1896 ad in the Times. 

In the 1896 city directory M.A. Tally is listed as the manager of the Edison Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor at 311 S. Spring with Thomas' brother Edward J. Tally as clerk to M.A. In that directory Thomas L. Tally, living at 826 S. Hope St., isn't shown as having a connection with the business. M.A. was Thomas Tally's wife Mary. In the "Mercantile" edition of the city directory that year the business is listed as "Tally, A.M., phonograph and kinetoscope parlor." The "A.M." was either a typo or stood for Amanda, the widow of a T.J. Tally, presumably T.L. Tally's father.

L.A.'s first movies on the big screen: The first successful exhibition of movies in a theatre in Los Angeles was on July 6, 1896 at the Grand Opera House at 110 S. Main St., a theatre then known as the Orpheum. None of the Tally clan were involved in the event at the Grand. The equipment used was the Edison Vitascope.

The Vitascope projector marked a shift from peep show machines to a device that could project a picture to an audience watching on a big screen. Although marketed by Edison as his own invention, it was actually a machine put together by Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins called the Phantoscope. The projector, under its new name, had made its debut in New York at Koster & Bial's Music Hall on April 23, 1896. This 1896 ad appears with the Wikipedia article on the Vitascope.

The July showings at the Grand are discussed beginning on page 81 of the 1991 book "Before The Nickelodeon - Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company" by Charles Musser. The entire book appears on the website of the University of California Press. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Godzilla for including a link to the book in his Noirish post #15731 about Tally. After the showings at the Grand the Edison Vitascope equipment went on tour for several weeks before ending up at Tally's. Reportedly some of the vaudeville theatres where they had tried to exhibit films didn't have enough power for the equipment. 

The Vitascope at Tally's: The back of the phonograph parlor was curtained off creating a little theatre with a "great screen." His first showings were July 25, 1896.

The L.A. Times ad that appeared on July 25. 

The July 26 Times ad reporting the event. Thanks to Charles Musser for finding several of the ads. He notes that Edison was selling licenses to use the Vitascope on a states-rights basis and Tally bought the California rights.

Initially a screen was hung and the rear of the retail space was curtained off to make an auditorium with enough chairs to handle the "great crowds" mentioned in the July 26 Times ad. After a trial run of showing films in a darkened room, he went to a peephole configuration. Terry Ramsaye discusses the peephole setup on page 277 of his 1926 book “A Million and One Nights, a History of the Motion Picture":

"Mr. Tally found that his patrons down in Spring St. were wary about going into a darkened room to see pictures on the screen. To meet this condition he fitted up a partition with holes in it, facing the projection room screen, so that patrons might peer in at the screen while standing in the comfortable security of the well-lighted phonograph parlor....Three peep holes were at chair level for seated spectators, and four somewhat higher for standees -- standing room only after three admissions, total capacity seven. The price per peep hole was fifteen cents."  

Tally himself is quoted about the peephole setup in Elena Boland's 1929 L.A. Times article "Old Show Magnates Irked by Bonds of Retirement":

"People were afraid of a dark room. Their skepticism told them that it must be a fake. They couldn't believe a picture could come from a projection machine but thought, I suppose, that I had a light back of the screen. Finally I hit on a scheme I knew would work and it did. I raised a partition between the room and the store leaving seven holes, like portholes. Four were at standing vision, three served with chairs. 
"Then anyone might stand safe in the light of day, look through the hole and see 'Annabelle in the Skirt Dances,' 'The Cock Fight' and my own super feature 'The Corbett-Courtney Prize Fight.' I figured passers-by seeing those at the holes, would be themselves attracted. The pictures were only 100 feet. I charged 10 cents for five minutes, turned everybody loose, then ran the thing over." 

Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article.

This was Tally's when it was set up with a little theatre in the back for viewing Vitascope pictures on a screen via peepholes. The photo appears opposite page 428 in Ramsaye's book "A Million and One Nights" with this caption: 

"At the left Edison Kinetoscopes, in the center Mutoscopes, at the extreme rear, center, are the eyeholes through which patrons, timid at the darkness of the projection room, could view a picture thrown on a screen, eartube phonograph customers at right." 

On page 277 of the book Ramsaye had noted that Tally also had a third type of coin operated peep show machine, one made by Casler. Ramsaye gives the photo a date of 1897-8 but most likely it was an earlier setup. Almost the same photo appears on page 85 of Charles Musser's book "Before The Nickelodeon..." But his version of the photo is a bit less cropped on the right than the one in Ramsaye's book. A cropped version of the photo appeared in the magazine International Photographer in 1932.

Another photo taken the same day as the previous one but with Mr. Tally positioned farther forward. Note the signage for those Corbett fight films. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for locating this take. 

A c.1896 photo of Tally's at 311 S. Spring. Note that the wagon even has a Tally's sign. Thanks to Charmaine Zoe for posting the photo on Flickr. Wherever it had appeared, they credited it as being from Terry Ramsaye's collection but it's not one that appears in "A Million and One Nights."

Zoe commented on Cinema Treasures: 

"I notice it has an awning advertising the Great Corbett Fight – This would be James J. Corbett when in 1894 he took part in the production of one of the first recorded boxing events, a fight with Peter Courtney. This was filmed at the Black Maria studio at West Orange, New Jersey, in the USA and was produced by William K.L. Dickson." 

Wikipedia has an article about the film titled "Corbett and Courtney Before the Kinetograph." 

It's unknown if the Corbett films were being projected on a screen at the time of the photo. They did that, of course, but interior photos of the business taken at different times also show signs for the fight films in coin operated machines.

An article in Moving Picture World for July 15, 1916 says: 

"The projecting machine was an Edison Vitascope and the first picture ever projected 'The Black Diamond Express.' Not wishing to darken the phonograph parlor during the exhibitions, the entire light throw from the lens to the screen was enclosed with a big tunnel of wood and black canvas which occupied the center space of the room. The people viewed the picture from the rear and a small auditorium with chairs had been arranged.  About 300 feet of films were used for the program which consisted of three subjects, one 50 feet long, one 100 feet and a feature picture of 150 feet. Most of the subjects were scenic films like 'Shooting the White Horse Rapids in Yukon River.' Admission charged was 10 cents." 

The issue is on Google Books. The article mistakenly gives an April 1897 date for Tally's first exhibition on a screen and makes no mention of the Corbett fight film.

A September 15, 1896 item in the L.A. Herald located by Mary Mallory noted that Tally was disposing of his phonograph parlor interests at Santa Monica's Arcadia Hotel and concentrating on downtown L.A. "where Mr. Tally will house his headquarters." September 15 was also noteworthy as the date of the first recorded nitrate film fire in Los Angeles. The September 16 issue of the Times had the story:

"A Costly Blaze - Phonograph Parlors Badly Scorched Last Evening - The Fire was Caused by an Electric-light Wire - Vitascope Damaged and Valuable Pictures Destroyed - Fire in Tally's Phonograph Parlor at No. 311 South Spring street last night did damage to the amount of several thousand dollars in less than a quarter of an hour. The fire broke out shortly before 8 o'clock, on the platform near the ceiling at the front of the store on which stands the vitascope. It was caused, it is presumed, by an electric light wire. Running to the rear of the store from this platform was a focus-cloth which was suspended from the ceiling. This was made of canvas, excellent food for the flames.

"The fire caught the inflammable material and traveled with great rapidity. On the walls were hung a number of valuable paintings...Chief Moore and the [fire] department responded promptly and the blaze was soon extinguished by the use of chemicals. An examination of the vitascope showed that it had been badly, but not irreparably, damaged. The films used in connection with the instrument were destroyed and on those alone Mr. Tally estimates his loss at $2500. A film 900 feet long containing the Corbett-Fitzsimmons prize fight was destroyed. This was valued at $500. A box of cylindrical music containing about one hundred rolls, for use in the phonographs, was badly damaged. The building is owned by the Callaghan estate, and the damage will amount to $300. Both losses are covered by insurance." 

Another account of the 1896 film fire was located by Ken McIntyre: 

The Projecting Kinetoscope at Tally's: This gear was an improved model that was introduced by Edison in late 1896 and more widely available in early 1897. With this improved model on the market, Edison abandoned the Vitascope.

A c.1897 photo of Tally's with the rear area draped off to show movies on his upgraded equipment, the "Mammoth Projecting Kinetoscope." It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Here it's definitely not a peephole situation. You went behind the drapes into something resembling a real theatre. Note that the Corbett fight films are still around. There were several versions, including a famous 1897 bout shot on 63mm film. Cezar Del Valle comments: 

"The Vitascope was replaced by the Projecting Kinetoscope in October 1896, making its debut November 30 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The projector was on the market February 1897. So we have some idea of date for the Library photo."

Expecting a wide release: "We learn that preparation on the largest scale is being made for invading, not alone our great cities, but every village and hamlet..." The W.C.T.U. was outraged by the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight films: 

 Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this March 1897 dispatch that appeared in the L.A. Times.


Tally was trying to peddle some Kinetoscope and phonograph equipment in this 1897 ad located by Ken McIntyre.  Note in the bottom ad that he's still involved with a Santa Monica location.

Looking south on the west side of Spring toward the towers of the Ramona Hotel at 3rd St. On the far right is Lyceum Hall at 229 S. Spring. Note the antlers above the entrance. It was an Elks hall at the time. Thanks to Brent Dickerson for this great card that appears in the "Spring Street Part 1" chapter of his delightful tour "A Visit to Old Los Angeles."

An 1896 drawing of the Hotel Ramona appearing in the 1991 book "Before The Nickelodeon - Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company" by Charles Musser. It's in Chapter 4 on page 85. Signage for Tally's Phonograph Parlor can be seen on the far storefront. The Los Angeles Public Library has the full drawing of this side of the block in their collection.

An undated view of the Ramona Hotel on the southwest corner of 3rd and Spring. While Tally was there he was in the far bay down Spring St. on the left. It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

In the 1897 city directory the listing is for the Phonograph, Kinetoscope and Vitascope Parlor with M.A. Tally as proprietor [Mary, Thomas' wife] and showing a residence at 614 S. Hope St. Thomas L. Tally also gets a listing as a "phonographist." In 1898 Thomas is listed as manager of Tally's Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor.

A July 26, 1898 ad in the Times. 

A September 17, 1898 L.A. Times ad.  

Another 1898 Edison Projectoscope ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this one.

In late September 1898 Tally was promoting a film screening at Hazard's Pavilion, 5th and Olive, presumably trying to find a larger venue for the films he had the rights to. See the page on Hazard's for an ad. 

The Los Angeles Herald issue of November 26, 1898 ran a story about a neighboring merchant complaining to the Board of Public Works about the noise Tally was continually making with phonograph records playing through a horn outside his store. The issue is on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection.

The 311 Spring St. location was closed in late 1898 or early 1899 for reasons unknown. In the 1901 city directory a physician is listed at 311, in 1902 it's a millinery shop. The Ramona Hotel that housed the business in its south storefront was later demolished. The Washington Building now there dates from 1912.

A short-lived location on 1st Street: In the 1899 city directory Edward J. Tally, brother of Thomas, is listed as managing a Phonograph Parlor at 114 W. 1st St. The 1916 Moving Picture World article cited earlier noted a move "to a location on First and Spring streets," perhaps referring to this location that Edward was managing. Evidently this one didn't stay open long. It's not listed in the 1900 directory. Maybe this 1st St. venture was an attempt by Edward to strike out on his own.

Another move on Spring: The business that had been at 311 moved down the block to 339 S. Spring St. in 1899 and we have yet another name. In the directory that year Thomas L. Tally is listed as the manager at 339 of Tally's Phonograph and Projectoscope Parlor.

The Los Angeles Herald for December 17, 1899 carried the new 339 S. Spring address in this ad for T.L. Tally's Phonograph Parlors. The issue is on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. The alphabetical listings in the 1900 city directory listed T.L. as manager of this location. 

In the 1901 directory's alphabetical listings he's still listed at 339 S. Spring with the business then described as just "photographs." Maybe he had left the movie market for a moment as he planned his next big move. Evidently he closed up the shop sometime in 1901. In the 1901 city directory listings by street address a dentist is listed as having taken over, in 1902 it's a purveyor of ladies underwear. The building at 339 has been demolished.

A 137 S. Main St. branch: Sometime in 1899 Tally opened a Main St. branch. Back in 1894 this address was listed in newspaper ads as the School of Art and Design. The Los Angeles Herald ran a story about a film fire at 137 S. Main in their August 29, 1899 issue. It's on the website of the California Digital Newspaper collection. They note that Tally had a crowd of about 50 people. The story:

"FILMS CAUGHT FIRE - Tally's Phonograph Parlors on Main Street Damaged - An alarm of fire at 8:45 oclock from box 32, corner of First and Main streets, brought the department and a big crowd to Tally's phonograph parlors, 137 South Main street. Tally was giving a vitascope entertainment to about fifty people, when a spark from the electric carbons fell into a basket containing about $500 worth of films. 
"These films are made from celluloid and are very inflammable. In a second the entire apparatus was in flames, setting fire to the surrounding paraphernalia and causing a panic in the audience. The department turned in a chemical stream, extinguishing the flames, but not before several people were badly frightened and in a fainting condition. Tally carried no insurance, as the companies will not insure celluloid films."
The Tally's at 137 S. Main, and a phonograph parlor on 1st St. run by E.G. Jones, got raided in August 1900 for "lewd and obscene photographs of nude women in indecent attitudes" in their peepshow machines. O. F. Goodrich was managing this parlor for Tally at the time. The L.A. Times had the news:

Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article.

The 1900 city directory listed this Main St. location as well as the 339 S. Spring St. operation. Presumably Tally didn't stay long in the Main St. venture. It's not included with his listing in the 1901 city directory.

In the 1901 city directory Smith and Walls are listed at 137 S. Main as "phonographers." In 1902 it's become a billiard parlor. The headquarters building for the Los Angeles Police Department is now on the site.  


The 1901 model of the Edison Kinetoscope advertised in the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the image. 

A much later ad (1913) for Edison Kinetoscope equipment. It's from "Decline of the Edison Company," an article included in the "History of Edison Motion Pictures" collection of essays on the Library of Congress website.

Later Tally clan adventures: In the 1902 city directory T.L. Tally is listed as manager of the Electric Theatre, 262 S. Main St. with his brother Edward J. working for him as a clerk. Edward would have a later film exhibition career on his own with the Palace of Pictures, the College Theatre and the Alhambra Theatre.

The Electric Theatre would be a huge leap both for Thomas Tally and for the evolution of film exhibition in Los Angeles. It was designed as a permanent location featuring projection on a big screen for larger crowds than he could have accommodated in the Spring St. parlors. See the Electric Theatre page for more data about that location. Scroll down to the bottom of the Tally's Broadway page for a listing of his exhibition adventures on Broadway and elsewhere.

This detail from plate 002 of the 1910 Baist Real Estate Survey from Historic Map Works shows four of the buildings that housed Tally locations on Spring. On the right it's the 200 block with Tally's original 245 location on the west (top) side of the street in the Woolacott Building, just east of the Douglas Building. The 248 S. Spring location that he took over from Bacigalupi was in the skinny building just north of the Stimson Block at the NE corner of 3rd and Spring. That building marked "Theatre" near the lower right at 236-238 is the California Theatre. Across the street from it the buildings marked Elks Hall and Orpheum Theatre would later be known as Lyceum Hall and Lyceum Theatre.

In the 300 block at the left, 311 is seen as the far left (south) storefront in the Ramona Hotel Building on the SW corner of 3rd and Spring. Farther down the block to the left 339 S. Spring is in the Stanislaus Block. Across the street at 344 is the Los Angeles Theatre, known at other times as the Empress.

245 S. Spring St. - This location of Tally's first Spring St. phonograph parlor venture is now a parking lot. We're looking at the west side of the street just north of 3rd. On the left it's a sliver of the 1899 vintage Douglas Building, a design by Bay Area architects Weeks and Day. The Tally location would have been a building just to the right of the Douglas. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

248 S. Spring St. - Well, that Phonograph and Kinetoscope Parlor location that Tally took over from Peter Bacigalupi is now another parking lot. We're looking east toward Main St. with 3rd over on the right. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

125 N. Main St. - A late 1895 location for Tally's was on the west side about half a block up from 1st. City Hall is there now. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

449 S. Spring St. - The building that this short-lived Tally's location was using in late 1895 before he moved to 311 S. Spring is long gone. 449 woulds have been a sliver of a space on the left side of the parking lot next to where the Citizen's Bank / Spring Arts Tower / Last Bookstore now is on the left. It uses a 453 address. On the right that's a bit of the Trust Building. All the retail spaces in the building, as well as the offices spaces above, use a 433 S. Spring St. address. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

114 W. 1st St. - Another short-lived location for a Tally's Phonograph Parlor, between Main and Spring on the south side of the street. It's now the headquarters building for the Los Angeles Police Department. This is the block south of City Hall. On the right it's the L.A. Times building at 1st and Spring. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

311 S. Spring St. - This location, formerly home to the Ramona Hotel, is now the site of the Washington Building, dating from 1912. Tally's site was where the far left end of this building now is. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019  

339 S. Spring St. - This last Spring St. location for Tally's has been taken over by a monster parking garage just south of the Washington Building. Tally's was perhaps near that "One Way" sign. This whole building is using 333 as an address. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

137 S. Main St. - The whole block is now the site of the headquarters for the Los Angeles Police Department. This Tally's location was about where the garage entrance now is. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019

More Information: See the Tally's Broadway page for a listing of his later exhibition adventures on Broadway and elsewhere. Tally died in 1945. See the Electric Theatre page for more data about his 1902 nickelodeon location at 262 S. Main St.

The Cinema Treasures page for Tally's 311 S. Spring has lots of discussion about that location as well as the later Tally's Electric Theatre on Main St. See "Inventing Entertainment" on the Library of Congress website for more about the Vitascope and the Edison Company's early film efforts.

Mary Mallory's "T.L. Tally - L.A.'s Pioneer Film Exhibitor Part 1" and "T.L. Tally Part 2" on the Daily Mirror site are required reading about Tally's exhibition career. Thanks, Mary!  

Ken McIntyre's Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page thread on Tally's includes many interesting ads and newspaper articles.

The University of California Press book by Charles Musser "Before the Nickelodeon" (online in its entirety) has a wealth of data and photos. Wikipedia has articles on the Vitascope and its predecessor, the Phantoscope as well as the Mutoscope. See also their nice list of film formats and the article on Thomas Tally.

Thanks to Brooklyn-based theatre historian Cezar Del Valle for his contributions to this page. See what he's been investigating lately on his Theatre Talks blog.

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