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Clune's Theatre

453 S. Main St. and 107 W. 5th St. Los Angeles, CA 90013  | map |

Opened: May 15, 1909 on the northwest corner of Main and 5th. This early nickelodeon was operated by Los Angeles theatre operator and movie making pioneer Billy Clune. The photo of the Main St. side of the building was taken in 1912 by G. Haven Bishop for Southern California Edison Co. In the upper left one can see the back of a similar roof sign facing 5th St. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the photo in the Huntington Library collection.

The opening day ad in the L.A. Times. Clune was a member of the Elks.

It was rather old news but an item in the July 11, 1909 Times column "Houses, Lots and Lands" mentioned the lease on the land: 

"R.A. Rowan & Co report the following recent leases through their agency: For the Century Company to the Clune Theater Company was rented the northwest corner of Fifth and Main streets, with a frontage of 70 feet on Main and extending back 150 feet to an alley. The term of the lease is five years and the monthly rental is reported at $1175 which would make the total rent $70,500."

Thanks to Cinema Treasures contributor Nick Bradshaw for finding the article. 

Seating: 1,000

This was an attempt at a "high class" operation, eschewing the more sensational product that was rampant at the time featuring violence, endless chases, and mayhem. Clune's first manager was Robert A. Brackett, a film culture reformer who had earlier exhibited his refined programs (including Gaumont sound films and educational lectures) at the Royal Theatre on Broadway and the Chronophone Theatre on Spring St., a venue later known as Horne's Big Show.

An item in the Times "Art and Artists" column in the September 12, 1909 issue noted that "Last week the pretty theatre had a disfiguring advertising curtain used 'between the acts;' this week it has no such monstrosity." Pasadena artist Walter J. Prichard complained to the management and they agreed to substitute a scenic drop for the offending curtain. The article noted that forgoing the ad revenue would mean a loss of $200 per month.  

 A July 15, 1916 article in Moving Picture World discussing early Los Angeles film exhibition gave a 1908 opening date and mentioned that 5th & Main was the heart of the business district at that time. Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for locating the article. It's on Google Books. The article noted:

"Clune's electrical display on this theatre was a real achievement. The theater had entrances on both streets and over both entrances were built gorgeous electric signs that cost many thousand dollars. The interior of this theater, I have been told, would be hard to improve upon even today. It was most beautifully appointed and unusually comfortable, with wide, luxurious seats. This theater made W.H. Clune famous from coast to coast and was a continued success and a veritable gold mine for four years, when the lease expired and the building was razed to make room for the present twelve-story Rosslyn Hotel."

That's 5th St. running vertically on the right with Clune's seen on the northwest corner adjacent to one of the early Rosslyn Hotel buildings. It's a detail from Plate 002 of the 1910 Baist Real Estate Survey from Historic Map Works.

The theatre suffered a fire that was reported in the L.A. Times on September 24, 1913. Presumably it was back in business soon thereafter. Usually it was just listed as at 5th & Main but the 1913 city directory gives the 453 S. Main address.

Closing: The building Clune's was in was demolished to make way for the Rosslyn Hotel building now on the site which opened in 1915.

In 1910 Clune had opened Clune's Broadway (later called the Cameo Theatre) and also had other exhibition adventures. The Cameo page gives a timeline.

c.1903 - Platt's Popcorn Palace on the northwest corner of 5th and Main. It's a California Historical Society photo by C.C. Pierce appearing on the USC Digital Library website. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Hoss C for finding the photo for his Noirish post #21527.

1907 - The corner as seen from the Pacific Electric Building at 6th and Main. It's a detail from a C.C. Pierce photo from the California Historical Society that appears on the USC Digital Library website. 

1909 - Clune's is seen in the center of this detail from a downtown map by Birdseye View Publishing Co. that's on the Library of Congress website. The map, with art by Francis Lawrence and "compiled" by Birdseye staffer Worthington Gates, was first issued in October 1909 and shows a 1909 copyright date. 

c.1910 - Clune's doesn't look nearly as interesting in this detail from a later printing of the Birdseye map that's also on the Library of Congress website. This one also carries a 1909 copyright but incorporates some 1910 revisions and added a directory at the bottom. This version can also be seen on the Big Map Blog.

1911 - Looking south toward 5th St. Clune's is down there beyond the two early Rosslyn Hotel Buildings. It's a G. Haven Bishop photo taken in January for Southern California Edison Co. that's in the Huntington Library collection.

1911 - A detail from another G. Haven Bishop photo ostensibly taken the same night as the previous image. On the left note the vertical sign for the Burbank Theatre at 548 S. Main. On the right in the same block it's the signage for the Olympic, a theatre later called the Gayety. The photo is in the Huntington Library collection.

The Huntington also has a similar view looking south on Main but with fewer stores lit. They also have another one where we see the theatre's roof sign but not the entrance. They date both as 1912 but they're probably a bit earlier.

1912 - Looking south toward 5th St. In addition to the Olympic vertical in the 500 block note that there's a vertical sign up for the Optic Theatre, 533 S. Main. It's a G. Haven Bishop photo in the Huntington Library collection.

1912 - A detail from the previous photo. They're running "The Coming of Columbus," a May release from Selig Polyscope. Note the popcorn wagon in the street with the proprietor sitting in a chair in front of the streetlight. 

c.1912 - A postcard view of the Clune's building on the corner with the theatre entrance a couple doors down. We get an edge view of the electric roof sign with the brick-colored Rosslyn Hotel beyond. The card appeared on eBay with this copy having a 1915 postmark.

On the east side of the street the building flying the tallest flag is the San Fernando, on the southeast corner of 4th and Main. The large beige building right of center is the Canadian. Just this side of it is the National Theatre, in a building to be replaced in 1914 with the theatre now known as the Regent, 448 S. Main. On the far right is the Banner Theatre at 458 S. Main. 
c.1913 - Evidently this was a later version of the roof sign. It's a G. Haven Bishop photo in the Huntington Library collection. They date it as 1912.  

1913 - Clune's is the squat unidentified building to the left of the Rosslyn in this detail from a Business Property Map by the Robert Marsh Co. that's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.

1919 - Looking south toward 5th St. at the new Rosslyn Hotel building (the tallest of the three) that had replaced Clune's. The Rosslyn building on the south side of 5th had not yet been constructed. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.

2019 - The corner site of Clune's. Main St. is on the right. Photo: Bill Counter

More Information: Clune's is discussed on page 126 of Jan Olsson's 2008 book "Los Angeles Before Hollywood - Journalism and American Film Culture, 1905-1915." It's available from Amazon or as a free pdf from the National Library of Sweden.

See the Cinema Treasures page about Clune's, but note the incorrect 729 address.

Clune maintained a shop and office space at 727-729 S. Main. It appears in the 1909 and 1910 city directories under the heading "moving pictures and machines." The 1910 listing just says "Clune." In the 1911 directory his "Clune Amusement Circuit" was listed at 727 1/2 and a listing for 727 indicated that he had an electric sign business there.

The two-story 729 S. Main building, with "W.H. Clune" on the roof, appears in the center of this detail from the c.1909 Birdseye map on the Library of Congress website.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article regarding my great great Uncle WH Clune!