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Cineograph Theatre

114 Court St. Los Angeles, CA 90012  | map |

Opened: It opened October 18, 1890 as the Tivoli Theatre, 12, 14, 16 Court Street. With the renumbering of the streets in the 1890s, these old numbers became the later 114 designation. The theatre was between Main and Spring on the south side of a vanished block of Court Street, a location that's now in the middle of the 1928 City Hall.

An L.A. Times ad on October 18 had this copy: "TIVOLI THEATER, 12, 14 and 16 Court Street. A Strictly Family Resort - Opening Company: Willard and Hall, Blanch and Byron, Zeno and Roberts, Hastings and Heywood, Ashby and Morris, Constantine, Newton. Admission 15, 25 and 35 cents.
Saturday, October 18th, Opening Night." Thanks to Cinema Treasures researcher Joe Vogel for finding the opening date and Jeff Bridges for locating the ad.

Seating: 1,200 

The Tivoli was operated by the Perry brothers (E.H. and J. H), earlier involved in a venture called the Our Club Theatre on what is now the 400 block of N. Main. It was a venue that before they got it had been called Wood's Opera House. The Tivoli didn't last long -- by December 1890 it was closed and furniture sold to pay its debts. A December 18, 1890 Times item located by Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges told the story:

"The Tivoli No More - The Tivoli Theater is no more. The place opened about two months ago under the management of the Perry brothers, who formerly ran the Club Theater, and Joe Manning, as a variety show, and was advertised on the bills as 'a popular family resort.' The concern failed to 'catch on,' however, and yesterday the furniture company who sold the chairs and tables, removed the property, and the place closed down. Joe Manning, one of the proprietors, claims to have sunk $8000 in the venture during its brief career. "

In 1891 the building reopened as the New Vienna Buffet and gained a reputation as den of vice. In the 1894 city directory its listing says "restaurant, wines, liquors, amusement hall, F. Kerkow, prop. 10-16 Court." The Vienna was listed with the new 114-116 Court St. address in an 1895 Chamber of Commerce members list.

A bit of advertising for the New Vienna Buffet from the collection of the L.A. County Natural History Museum.  They date it as c.1894.

A larger look at the photo appearing in the ad. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Flying Wedge for finding the item in the Natural History Museum's collection as well as providing this version of the photo. Both appear on the Noirish post #42208

This detail from an 1894 Sanborn insurance map in the Los Angeles Public Library collection shows the "concert hall & restaurant" at 10-16 Court St. The auditorium had balconies along both side walls. Another insurance map noted that the stage had an asbestos curtain. The Old Courthouse on the right was earlier known as the Market Block and once had the Temple Theatre on the second floor.

Illicit goings on were recounted in a May 9, 1895 Times article: "Yesterday Constable Harry Johnston secured a warrant for the arrest of Joe Manning on the charge of renting property to persons who use it for immoral purposes. This was about the only development of the day in Johnston’s crusade against the houses of ill-fame." Thanks to Jeff Bridges for the research.

"A free and refined entertainment nightly." It's an 1895 ad for the New Vienna. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it. 

Thanks to Lee Davis for sharing this 1899 program. He notes that it has been in his family since his great grandfather acquired it. It's printed not on paper but rather on some sort of fabric. 

Apparently the New Vienna attracted a crowd with widely divergent interests. It even gets a mention on page 24 of the Arcadia Publishing book "Lavender Los Angeles." The page is part of a preview that's on Google Books. The May 21, 1902 Los Angeles Herald reported that scandalous things were still continuing behind the closed curtains in the private boxes at the Vienna Buffet and that the police refused to take action. They were calling for the revocation of the theatre's amusement license. The July 14, 1902 Los Angeles Herald announced the closing:

"The Vienna Buffet closed last night. It will remain closed for six weeks 'for repairs and renovation.' The present proprietors, under whose management the buffet has attained such an unenviable notoriety, will retire. The place is to be conducted, when reopened, so its real owners announce, as a reputable amusement hall at popular prices. Even sinks of iniquity whitewashed and sustained by complaisant police commissions, cannot stand the white light of publicity. They flourish best in the dark —when they are left alone."

The original version of the Vienna Buffet had opened in the basement of a new building at Main and Requena St. as reported in the January 25, 1888 Los Angeles Herald. Requena was later renamed Market St. The Herald issues are on the website of the California Digital Newspaper Collection. Earlier in the 1880s there had also been a Vienna Theatre on Spring St., a short-lived legit operation unrelated to the restaurants.

The building reopened as the Cineograph in September 1902 with a combination of movies and vaudeville with the movie bill changing daily. It got a pre-opening mention in an article located by Jeff Bridges in the August 31, 1902 L.A. Times:

"Cineograph - A new moving-picture theater will be opened on Court street between Spring and Main streets on Tuesday evening. The seating capacity is 1200. The place will be devoted to vaudeville and moving picture exhibitions. The manager, Furst, wishes to have his house a rival of the Cineograph Theater in San Francisco. He will present six vaudeville acts for the first week, as well as many new moving pictures. The pictures will be changed every day. No smoking will be allowed, and no drinks will be sold."

Another pre-opening newspaper item. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

A 1903 ad for the Cineograph that was located by Ken McIntyre. The Cineograph is listed in the 1903 city directory as at 112 Court, in 1904 and 1905 as at 114 Court.

Problems with the staging of a melodrama at the theatre in 1906. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the article.

In 1907 the city passed an ordinance forbidding children under fourteen in vaudeville and movie theatres unless they were accompanied by an adult. A number of theatre owners got in trouble either for using child performers or letting kids in to watch shows. Cineograph's time in court was reported in a November 16, 1909 L.A.Times article:

"Shocking For Young Eyes - Moving Picture Proprietor Must Stand Trial - Charged with entertaining juveniles not accompanied by older persons - Burglary scene fascinates - Police say that’s how youthful bandits are made. Willful violation of the ordinance prohibiting proprietors of theaters from allowing young children in their places, unless accompanied by a person of mature years, is charged against J.A. Browne, owner of the Cineograph Theater, No. 114 Court street. The establishment is of the ordinary moving-picture show type. When Patrolman Robert Green entered the house Sunday afternoon, there were sixty persons being entertained. Of this number, he says thirty-four were youngsters, ranging from 5 to 10 years old.

"With gaping mouths and staring eyes, the children were literally drinking in a burglary scene. With striking vividness was portrayed before them the entrance of a thief through a window and his subsequent flight with his loot. It was such scenes as these the police believe, that incited the three young bandits to throw the neighborhood of St. James Park into a turmoil of excitement and terror, Friday night. Browne was taken before Justice Frederickson yesterday and pleaded not guilty. He said he was unable to determine at that time whether he wished to be tried by the court or by a jury. The magistrate gave him until today to decide. The arresting officer says that he will subpoena at least ten of the boys, who were in the theater, as witnesses, when the case comes to trial."

The conclusion of the case was reported in the November 17, 1909 Times: "Pays Stiff Fine - Small Boy Witness - A penalty of $50 was imposed by Justice Frederickson on J.A. Browne, proprietor of the Cineograph Theater, No. 114 Court street, yesterday, for having allowed small children to enter his amusement place, unaccompanied. An officer testified there were thirty-four boys under 10 years of age in the place. Browne disputed him, saying there were only 24. Exhibit A in the case was a little chap, who was placed on a chair so his majesty could see him." Thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding the articles.

The Cineograph survived at least into 1910. It's in the 1909 and 1910 city directories.

This detail from plate 003 of the 1910 Baist Real Estate Survey from Historic Map Works shows the Cineograph with the new 112 Court St. address. The angled street above Main is Spring St. It was straightened during the City Hall construction of the 1920s. The block between Court and Market is seen here with the J.A. Bullard Building on it, a replacement for the Market Block/Courthouse of 1859.

In 1912 the premises were being used by Sugarman Auction & Commission Co. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding this ad in the Times.

A "day of bargains." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this 1915 Times ad. 

Between at least 1918 and 1925 it was a theatre again, called the Chinese Theatre (at least in publications for Westerners), and doing Chinese stage shows with the Sun Jung Wah Co. in residence. A March 3, 1918 L.A. Times article commented:

"…..However, despite tragedy, old Chinatown had its lighter moments. The Chinese Theater located at 114 Court street (formerly the Vienna Buffet) offered Chinese plays that dragged on through interminable hours. One customer, paying for an admission, would enter the theater, sit through innumerable scenes and when he had enough, would leave, giving his ticket to a relative or a friend who in turn would enter the theater for his or her share of entertainment. This was an established custom and as many as seven or eight would enjoy themselves on one ticket, nor did the management complain."

The theatre is mentioned again in conjunction with Chinese stage shows in the May 31, 1925 issue of the Times: "Another Chinese theater, not so new or westernized as The Mandarin (323 Jackson street), is maintained at 114 Court street. The Sun Jung Wah Company includes a number of actors whose names are familiar to oriental audiences on the Pacific Coast."  Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Jeff Bridges for locating the Times articles. 

Closing: Sometime around 1926.

Status: Demolished for City Hall construction in 1926. This block of Court St. is no more.

1891 - On the right a peek over to the New Vienna Buffet. It's a detail from a larger photo in the California State Library's set #001385000. On the left it's the Spring St. end of the Market House and Temple Theatre building. See the page on the Temple Theatre for many more photos.  

1891 - On the right we're looking along Court St. toward Main. Note the signage for the New Vienna Buffet out on the sidewalk. It's a detail from a larger photo in the California State Library's set #001385000

1896 - A drawing of the southeast corner of Court and Spring from the Elstner-Morehouse Publishing Co. The new Vienna Buffet is on the far left. The building to its right is on the corner. The drawing is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1899 - Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor R Carlton for this colorized version of an image that originally appeared on It's on Noirish post #8297. Spring St. is in front of the buildings at the bottom of the image. Court St. and the New Vienna Buffet can be seen half way up the image, just in a bit from the left.

It's a photo by William Henry Jackson. The non-colorized version is in the collection of the Denver Public Library where you can zoom in and pan around. 

1899 - A detail from the previous photo showing the facade of the building when it was the Vienna Buffet. Note the length of the hall. Noirish Los Angeles contributor F Hammon has this and more about the building on his Noirish post #8321. That's Spring St. off to the right.

Hammon gives us a nice newspaper quote: "With a bucket of whitewash prepared privately behind the closed door of the mayor’s office, . . . the board of police commissioners . . . yesterday . . . gave the Vienna Buffet, inside and out, a thick coat of 'purity paint,' at the same time presenting to the proprietors of the Court street dive a clean bill of health, officially entitling them to continue business at the old stand."

He also reports that a Los Angeles Daily Times article on June 11, 1902 was headed "At the City Hall - Vile Confessions of Herald's Staff - Boozed in the Vienna Buffet and Consorted With Low Women in Their Dressing-rooms."

c.1920 - The building, in the center, during a period when at least part of the main floor was not being used as a theatre. It's unknown what was going on down at 112 -- perhaps the entrance to the premises as the Chinese Theatre. Upstairs are the "Corona Rooms." Main St. is off to the left. It's a photo that appeared on eBay.

Note the signage for L.C. Skeel's with 114 and 116 visible on two of its doors. In the 1920 through 1923 city directories Leroy C. Skeel was listed as being in the restaurant supply business around the corner at 148 N. Spring. Perhaps he was using part of this building as supplemental warehouse space. California Importing Co. was still listed as being on the corner with 150 N. Spring and 122 Court addresses in the 1926 city directory.

2019 - Looking along the Spring St. side of City Hall about where the corner of Court St. would have been. The Cineograph was once in the middle of the very short block between Spring and Main. Photo: Bill Counter

More information: See the terrific research work of Joe Vogel and Jeff Bridges (aka Vokoban) on the Cineograph page on Cinema Treasures.

See the "New High Street & Broadway Pt.1" chapter of Brent Dickerson's delightful "A Visit to Old Los Angeles" for an early tour of the area. He includes a map of the streets of the area prior to the construction of City Hall. 

Thanks to Katie Kerhart for her research on the Cineograph.

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