Opened: 1893 as the Burbank Theatre, a project of dentist Dr. David Burbank (also the namesake of the city). Thanks to Brent Dickerson for this 1905 postcard view that appears with the Main St. Part 2 chapter of his epic "A Visit to Old Los Angeles." The theatre had a long career as a legit operation, movie theatre and burlesque house before its demolition in 1974.
It was a busy block. In addition to the Burbank, theatres on the east side of the block included the Rounder at 510 S. Main (around in 1910), the Galway at 514 and the Sherman at 518 (running until 1919). On the west side of the street were the Gayety at 523, the Star at 529, the Optic at 533, the Picture at 545 (until 1926), the Art at 551 and the Bijou at 553 (until around 1914).
Architect: Begun by Chicago theatre architect James M. Wood and finished by Robert Brown Young. Wood evidently had quite a career erecting opera houses all over the country. The 1892 book "The Bay of San Francisco" has some intriguing info on him. It's on Google Books. RootsWeb also has an entry, with the same information.
Seating: 1,844 initially with 388 in the orchestra, 374 in the orchestra dress circle, 98 in the box seats, 346 in the balcony family circle, 48 in the loges, 340 in the balcony and 250 in the 2nd balcony. Later capacities were listed as 1,703 then down to 1,580 and finally 1,027.
Stage Specifications: Proscenium: 37' wide x 33' high Footlights to back wall: 45' Stage wall to wall: 80' Grid height: 65' with 50' between fly girders Scenery grooves height above stage: 20'
Depth under stage: 16' Number of traps: 6 Illumination: both gas and electric
This data comes from the 1897 edition of "Julius Cahn's Official Theatrical Guide." They note that at the time the theatre had an orchestra of ten. Fred A. Cooper was then the manager and J.M. Shawhan the press agent. It's also listed in the 1900-1901 edition. Both are on Google Books.
The theatre had a wood grid. The hemp sets were originally operated from a flyfloor stage right. Later an additional pinrail was installed at stage level so everything could be run with a smaller crew. The dimmerboard was offstage right. Dressing rooms were on stage left with some at stage level and another set one level up. There a large room upstage center and additional space in the basement.
An 1895 program for the theatre. Thanks to Deanna Bayless for finding it for a post on Cinema Treasures.
The theatre had troubles and went through a succession of managers without any lasting success. Then in 1900 it was leased to Oliver Morosco and known as Morosco's Burbank Theatre. Morosco was later involved in the Majestic Theatre on Broadway (which opened in 1908) and got a house named for himself when he opened the Morosco on Broadway (now the Globe) in 1913.
Another photo appearing with the article in Theatre magazine. The caption: The famous Green Room of the Burbank Theatre." The article continues:
"Perpetually packed. There's a reason." It's a 1907 L.A. Times ad for Morosco's Burbank. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it.
"The Fact Is You Can't Go Wrong If You Go to the Burbank Tonight." It's June 1908 Times ad for the Burbank. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
A 1911 ad for the Burbank's stock company: "World's Greatest." Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for spotting this one on eBay. Morosco was gone with the opening of the Globe in 1913.
In a 1919 ad it's called Pelton's Burbank, featuring the New Burbank Musical Comedy Company. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad. It's in the 1921 city directory as Gore's Burbank.
"Regarding segregated seating, California had had civil rights statues outlawing racial discrimination in theaters, among other venues. In 1919, the Legislature established a $100 minimum damage award. There are two published appellate opinions affirming $100 damage awards (one on a 22 cent ticket and a second from the Burbank Theatre on 6th and Main Street) to Black patrons who were deliberately seated in separate areas. (See Prowd v. Gore (1922) 57 Cal.App. 458.)"
A lovely 1920s program cover from the collection of Michael Edward Prince Grey. He added it as a comment on a thread about the theatre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. He adds: "My mama Stella was an usherette at the Burbank Theater. My aunt Pat was a dancer there, but not a burlesque dancer. Both mama Stella and aunt Pat were born in 1908."
This matchbook cover features the redone theatre facade and the Dreamland dance hall on the second floor of the building. Ken McIntyre located the matches for a post on Photos of Los Angeles.
An interesting July 1940 ad for a film booking at the theatre. The producer of this, Harry Popkin, at the time ran the Million Dollar Theatre. Thanks to contributor Granola for finding the ad for a post on Cinema Treasures.
This listing in the 1947 Film Daily Yearbook shows the extent of Harry Popkin's theatre holdings. In addition to the Burbank he had seven other theatres on Main St. His company at one time was also called Circle Theatres. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting the listing.
Cold War burlesque at the Burbank at one point featured "Atom Bomb Dancers" as part of the cast of 60. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for digging it out of his files to include on his Noirish post #967.
In 1952 Robert Biggs, Lillian Hunt and the rest of the team that had been running the Follies Theatre at 337 S. Main moved their operation to the Burbank. It was then advertised as the New Follies or the New Follies Burlesque. Thus when the old Follies started operating again with different management there was confusion about the two theatres. See Leslie Zemekis' great 2013 article for Huffington Post "A School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping" about life at these theatres.
A 1953 Examiner ad for the New Follies. Thanks to Jeff Klein for posting it on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
Another ad featuring Patti Waggin, "The Co-ed With the Educated Torso," as the feature. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for the find, added as a comment, with many other Burbank items, to a post of his on Photos of Los Angeles.
A 1955 L.A. Times article about the pay dispute. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the article and the two photos for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
Larry Harnisch, in a 2007 post on his L.A. Times blog The Daily Mirror that was mostly about the Wonderland Theatre (later called the Jade), gives us this nice 1957 ad for Suey Sin, "China's Foremost Stripteuse."
A 1963 ad from the Valley Times that was spotted by Ken McIntyre.
Here's your pass for a free show. Sorry -- both the pass and the theatre have expired. The image appeared along with "Backstage at the Follies," an article by John Wright in the 3rd quarter 2011 issue of Marquee, the publication of the Theatre Historical Society. Thanks to Bob Foreman for spotting it.
Another 1966 ad, posted by Ken McIntyre as a comment to a post of a 3rd & Main Follies ad on Photos of Los Angeles.
By the 60s the Follies show that once had a cast of 60 was down to about eight girls, a comic and a straight man. The specialty acts were gone. In 1966 there was a management change. The house went non-union, the band was replaced by taped music, and the end was near.
Status: The theatre closed in 1971 was demolished in March 1974. The L.A. Times ran a big story about the demolition, with several photos, in their March 14 issue. After decades as a parking lot, there's now a new mixed-use building on the site.
The Burbank in the Movies:
In "Foot Patrol" (Los Angeles Police Dept., c.1946) we teach the new recruits that they need to keep an eye on various trouble spots, including the local burlesque houses. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for several views of the Follies Theatre down the street.
The burlesque feature "'B-Girl Rhapsody" (Broadway Roadshows, 1952) was filmed at the Burbank. It's a film version of a stage show and we don't see anything of the theatre. It stars Lily Ayers and Crystal Starr. The direction was by James R. Connell and Lillian Hunt. Ms. Hunt managed the shows at the theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a poster for the film.
We get a view of the house curtain coming in at the end of "Peek-A-Boo" (Billiken Productions, 1953). And that's about all we see of the theatre's interior. It's another filmed burlesque show featuring Venus, Patti Waggin, The Duponts, Leon DeVoe, Jennie Lee, Marlana, and others. Lillian Hunt was the director. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a poster for the film.
We get a lovely panorama of the east side of the 500 block of Main St. in "Illegal" (Warner Bros., 1955). L.A. District Attorney Edward G. Robinson is in a hurry to get to a hospital to hear a confession from a dying man. It turns out he's sent the wrong guy to the electric chair. He resigns his position, becomes a defense attorney, and gets involved in a tricky situation with a local mobster.
Near the left is a view of the distinctive lettering of the Galway Theatre. Over toward the right it's the Burbank, here with its vertical saying "New Follies." And on the far right it's the Santa Fe building at 6th and Main and, if you want to stay at the Hotel Cecil, they have a room for you for $1.75. Lewis Allen directed the cast which also includes Nina Foch, Hugh Marlowe, Albert Dekker, Ellen Corby and Jayne Mansfield, making her screen debut. We also get some other nice Los Angeles location shots for chases and, of course, for going into court buildings.
Police lieutenant Max Showalter visits the Burbank to see a dancer (Marian Carr) who knows "The Indestructible Man" (Allied Artists, 1956). The film stars Lon Chaney Jr. as the man in question.
The "Follies Stage Entrance" of the Burbank in "The Indestructible Man." We go inside to a dressing room, but the interior shots were done on a soundstage somewhere. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another look at the displays plus a night view.
A view during the filming of "Voice in the Mirror" with Julie London and Walter Matthau (Universal-International, 1958). Across the street the Burbank is advertising "Patti Waggin And Her Educated Torso" as their featured attraction. It's a photo that appears on page 31 of the Arcadia Publishing book "Location Filming in Los Angeles" by Karie Bible, Marc Wanamaker and Harry Medved. The page with the photo is on the Google Books preview. The theatre doesn't actually appear in the film. But we do get some shots of the Star Theatre, 529 S. Main. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for those.
A view of the facade from "Crimson Kimono" (Columbia, 1959). The theatre makes an appearance early in Samuel Fuller's epic. Our feature attraction at the Burbank Burlesque, Sugar Torch, dodges a bullet in her dressing room but soon gets shot during a run down the middle of Main St. The story about detectives after the killer features Victoria Shaw, Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta.
We get some scenes with hit-man James Coburn at the Burbank at the beginning of "Hard Contract" (20th Century Fox, 1969). The film also features Burgess Meredith, Lee Remick and Karen Black. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for several more Burbank views including one inside the boxoffice where we see the Art Theatre across the street.
In "Uptown Saturday Night" (Warner Bros. / First Artists, 1974) we get Main St. Los Angeles subbing for Chicago. Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby are crossing the street with the Burbank behind them. At the time of the filming the theatre was closed and awaiting demolition. The Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post includes another shot showing the Burbank as well as views of the Regent, Optic and Follies theatres.
The Burbank's signage is included in an array of archival burlesque footage with the titles of the 1993 made for TV version of "Gypsy" starring Bette Midler. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for that title shot as well as views of the Orpheum, State and the Palace from the film.
From 1952 onward the stage shows at the Burbank were directed by Lillian Hunt, seen at the right. She was with the management team that had moved down the street from the Follies Theatre in 1952. Here she's in the basement rehearsing some of the dancers. The photo from the collection of Leslie Zemeckis appears with "A School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping," her great 2013 article for Huffington Post. It's about life at the Follies and at the Burbank with Hunt, owner Robert Biggs, and Lillian's daughter Pepper Aarvold, who grew up backstage. Also putting in appearances are Tempest Storm, Lily St. Cyr and Patti Wagon.
Stagehand John Wright at the dimmerboard c.1960. The photo appeared with his 1992 article "Back Stage at the Follies" that appeared in the publication Greater L.A. Metro Newsreel. It was reprinted in the Q3 2011 issue of Marquee, the magazine of the Theatre Historical Society. The full article is reproduced at the bottom of the page.
John Wright backstage at the board showing the order of an afternoon show c.1960. The photo appeared with the article "Back Stage at the Follies" in the Q3 2011 issue of Marquee.
Getting a bit of secretarial work done in the office. It's a photo by John Wright that appeared with the article "Back Stage at the Follies" in Marquee.
More exterior views:
c.1904 - The Burbank is in the lower left. Beyond, it's the new Pacific Electric Building, opened in 1903. It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1905 - A photo by Martin Behrman appearing in the California State Library collection. Playing at the time: "My Wife's Husbands." The photo is also on the USC Digital Library website from the California Historical Society. It's also in the Huntington Library collection where they date it 1903 and attribute it to C.C. Pierce. The postcard at the top of the page is based on this photo.
1905 - A detail from the Huntington Library's version of the previous photo.
1907 - Morosco's Burbank Theatre signage is at the very bottom of the photo. The theatre was set back deeply from the street. The auditorium is the structure to the right. We're looking northwest from the Pacific Electric Building. The building across the street with the wallpaper sign later housed the Star Theatre. To its right is the People's Theatre, much later known as the Gayety. It's a C.C. Pierce photo from the California Historical Society appearing on the USC Digital Library website where they date it as c. January 1, 1907.
1907 - The sccond panel of the C.C. Pierce photo, here giving us a view of the stagehouse. It's on the USC Digital Library website.
c.1908 - Looking south toward 6th St. with the theatre on the left. At 6th there's the Santa Fe Building, dating from 1907, and the Pacific Electric Building beyond. They've survived but the Central Building across on the west side of the street has not. It's a California Historical Society photo on the USC Digital Library website. USC dates the photo as c.1918 but it's obviously much earlier as we don't get the Optic Theatre on the far right.
c.1930 - A great view of the theatre advertising their "Beef Trust Chorus" with a total weight of 4,000 pounds. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo. The collection also includes another similar shot.
1939 - The theatre had a very brief period being called the Mexico. On the extreme right note the redone vertical as well as the marquee copy: "Peliculas Mexicanas." It's a detail from a Dick Whittington Studio photo in the USC Digital Library collection. Thanks to Joe Vogel for noting the presence of the Burbank in the image.
c.1940 - "89 Darlings on the Stage!" A photo taken for Life magazine. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for including it on Noirish post #967.
c.1940 - Another look at the entrance from Life. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor BifRayRock for including it on his Noirish post #40557.
1940s - The entrance to the upstairs Dreamland dance hall. Thanks to Frank Kiki Baltazar for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
c.1952 - A screenshot from footage that's included in Rick Prelinger's "Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles - 2016," an hour and twenty minutes of wonderful clips from various sources that was originally presented in a program at the Los Angeles Public Library. Also see "Lost Landscapes of Los Angeles - 2019." This second installment was presented at the Library by the organization Photo Friends as part of the series L.A. in Focus. Both compilations are on Vimeo.
c.1952 - The lettering above the readerboards alternately flashed "Burbank" and "Burlesque." Here it's the latter in another shot from Rick Prelinger's 2016 compilation.
c.1952 - A moment later in the cruise up Main we get a look at the unlit Dreamland signage north of the theatre entrance. The dance hall was upstairs in the theatre building. It's another shot from Rick Prelinger's 2016 compilation. Thanks, Rick!
c.1953 - A delightful view of the signage and displays at the Burbank with the feature attraction "Patti Waggin." Thanks to Robert Stone II for finding the photo.
c.1953 - A lovely photo of the demure Ms. Waggin in front of the theatre. Thanks to Bill Gabel for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
c.1953 - Ms. Waggin with her onstage alter ego. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this one added as a comment to a Photos of Los Angeles thread that featured many other Burbank items.
c.1955 - Tempest Storm in front of the Burbank. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for adding the photo as a comment on a thread about the theatre on Photos of Los Angeles.
1955 - An 8 Line streetcar headed south. It's a photo in the Metro Library and Archive collection on Flickr. At the New Follies: Sande Marlowe, Lolana Frenchy and the Nudie Cuties.
c.1957 - Looking north from 6th with the Art Theatre on the left and the Follies on the right. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing the photo from his collection.
1958 - We're looking north toward 6th during a Metropolitan Coach Lines strike with the Pacific Electric Building on the right. The arched entrance of the Art Theatre is visible in the end spot in the building on the left, just beyond the red "Loans" sign. And just to the right of the telephone pole is a partial view of the "Follies" vertical of the Burbank. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing the photo from his collection. He notes that the guy on the right is Earl "Smokey" Stover, a funny dude who ran buses and trolleys in L.A. from the postwar 40's into the 60's.
1964 - A William Reagh photo from the California State Library collection. The feature the week of the photo was "Baby Bubbles."
c.1965 - A look east across the parking lots to the Burbank. The Optic is out of the frame to the left. On the right that's the side of the building housing the Art Theatre. Thanks to Sean Ault for sharing the photo from his collection.
c.1965 - "New Show Friday." It's a detail from Sean's photo. Note the signage for "Dreamland" and "Dancing" on the second floor.
1967 - A look north on Main with the Pacific Electric Building at the right. Across 6th is the Santa Fe Building and, down the block, the Burbank. It's a photo from the Sean Ault collection.
1968 - Another view looking north. Note the sign still visible behind the bus on the south wall of the Burbank. Thanks to Sean Ault for the photo.
1968 - A detail of the sign from the photo above: "Morosco's Burbank Theatre - The best players and the best plays in America for the money."
c.1968 - "Best in Town - Wild Wooly Beaver." It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.
c.1968 - Another view from an unknown photographer in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
c.1971 - A fine view north from 6th with the arched entrance of the Art Theatre on the left and the "Burlesk" vertical of the Burbank on the right. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
c.1971 - Props and display items in the lot next to the theatre after closing. It's a photo by John Wright that appeared with the article "Back Stage at the Follies" in the Q3 2011 issue of Marquee.
1973 - Looking north toward 5th with the Optic on the left and the closed Burbank on the right. It's a photo by Victor Plukas in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
c.1973 - Another look at the sign on the theatre's south wall. It's a photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1974 - On the marquee: "Biggest Bust of All" and "Nation's Greatest Stripper - Cleveland Wrecking Co." It's a Herald Examiner photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
1974 - Up on the scaffolding. It's a photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. Also see a wider view from the south that's in the Library's collection.
1974 - A last look at the signage. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo by an unknown photographer.
2008 - A display at Cole's French Dip in the Pacific Electric Building at 6th and Main celebrating the lost glories of Main St. It's a photo by Rob Stills on Flickr. Also see his 2008 photo of Tempest Storm.
2019 - The mixed-use building called Topaz is now on the site of the Burbank Theatre. Photo: Bill Counter
More information: An extensive history is on the Cinema Treasures page for the Burbank Theatre. Also see Time magazine's obituary of Oliver Morosco.
Check out Leslie Zemeckis' great 2013 article for Huffington Post "A School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping." Leslie is the director of the 2010 documentary "Behind The Burly Q" and author of the 2013 book "Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America." It's available from Amazon or your local bookseller. Also see a preview on Google Books.
Jeff Bridges "Main Street Then and Now" posts for the Los Angeles Conservancy's Historic Theatre Committee blog have some interesting period photos of Main Street theatre sites plus modern views.
Other burlesque houses: The other principal burlesque theatre on Main Street was the Follies Theatre at 337 S. Main. It opened as the Belasco. In the 40s the Aztec Theatre at 251 S. Main was also a burlesque house. It was later known as the Linda Lea Theatre. The Downtown Independent is now on the site.
The other Burbank Theatre: There was also a theatre in Burbank called the Burbank Theatre. It opened as the Victory Theatre in 1919.
"Back Stage at the Follies" This article by John Wright appeared in the Q3 2011 issue of Marquee, the magazine of the Theatre Historical Society. It originally appeared in the publication Greater L.A. Metro Newsreel in 1992. Both versions are included here.
From Marquee in 2011:
Thanks to Bob Foreman for furnishing the article. Visit his Vintage Theatre Catalogs site for an immense collection of technical theatre data.
And here's the original version of John Wright's article about the Burbank from the June, July and August 1992 issues of the Tom B'hend / Preston Kaufmann publication Greater Metro L.A. Newsreel. The issues are in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection.
The issues of Newsreel are from the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for scanning them.
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