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Belasco / Republic / Follies Theatre: history

337 S. Main St. Los Angeles, CA 90013 | map |

Additional Follies Theatre pages: interior views | exterior views | more ads |

Opened: August 29, 1904 as the Belasco Theater. It was in the middle of the block on the west side of the street between 3rd and 4th. Thanks to Sean Ault for spotting this early 1974 view on eBay. The theatre was demolished later that year.

Initially it was devoted year round to productions by the Belasco Stock Company. The theatre was operated by Frederick Belasco (sometimes seen as Frederic) and his partner M.E. Mayer, a duo that at the time were also operating the Alcazar Theatre and the Central Theatre in San Francisco. This Belasco was a brother of the more famous producer David.

Architect: Abraham M. Edelman, who also did the Capitol behind the Belasco on Spring St. and, with a partner, the Majestic on Broadway. Initially he was also on the design team for the Shrine Auditorium but somehow got shoved aside. S. Charles Lee did a facade modernization in the 1930s. Lee's interior work included revamping the proscenium and stripping the boxes of their original ornament in favor of a moderne look.

Seating: 1,240 initially, later down to 900.

Stage Specifications: Proscenium: 40' wide x 28' high    Stage depth: 30'    Grid height: 65'    Stage wall to wall: 70'   Illumination: both gas and electricity. The data comes from the 1907-1908 edition of Henry's Official Western Theatrical Guide. It's on Google Books.

In the "Quips and Cues" column of the March 20, 1904 issue of the L.A. Times it was noted:  

"A well authenticated rumor has it that Belasco & Mayer will be the lessees of the new theater to be built in Los Angeles adjoining the Van Nuys Hotel."

The hotel, still on the northwest corner of 4th and Main, is now called the Barclay. In this article in the June 2 issue of the Times we get the first information about a name for the new theatre: 

 Thanks to David Saffer for locating the article.

In the "Building Notes" column of the Times on August 14, 1904 they commented:

"Work on the Belasco Theater, which is being put up on the east side of Main street between Third and Fourth streets, after plans of architect A.M. Edelman, is drawing to a close. The electric wiring of the building is being done by Story and Taylor, and the contract for the installation of the electric switchboard, which is to be one of the most complete of the kind on this Coast, has been let to the Commercial Electrical Company. The house is expected to be ready for opening by September 1."

The Times announced the opening show, "The Wife," in an article on August 16:

Thanks to David Saffer for locating the article. 

A pre-opening ad from the August 20, 1904 issue of the L.A. Times. Note they are spelling it "Theatre." The signage on the building said "Theater." 
An "Official Announcement," presumably meaning this was an advertisement placed by the contractor. It appeared in the August 23, 1904 issue of the Times. Thanks to David Saffer for locating it. In the Times "City in Brief" column on August 27 it was noted: 
"Adolph Ramish yesterday took out the city license for the new Belasco Theater." 
Ramish was later to operate a string of nickelodeons, open a theatre across the street called the Adolphus (later renamed the Hippodrome) in 1911, and become a major part of West Coast Theatres when that company was formed in 1920.
The ad appearing in the Times on August 28, the day before the opening. They ran a smaller one on opening day. "The Wife" featured Adele Block, Martin Alsop, Oza Waldrop, George W. Barnum, Robert Rogers and others. Many of the performers in the play had been part of the stock company at the Alcazar in San Francisco.
The grand opening was discussed in "Brilliant Opening of New Belasco Theatre," a lengthy article accompanied by several illustrations that appeared in the August 30, 1904 issue of the L.A. Times. The evening was declared "a social and artistic success." Some of their comments: 

"When the brilliant audience that gathered in the new Belasco last night had settled itself, glanced at the gowns and nodded society nods to acquaintances, it opened its eyes to the fact that it was in an exquisite theater. The gay human scene was set in an inverted shell, as it were, of delicately-blended old ivory and gold and rich green, shimmering with myriad lights, like the glint of the sea that mothers shells. Three thousand of these incandescents, many glinting through costly cut-glass globes, shed their radiance through the pretty auditorium. It was a brilliant scene - not gaudy, but refined brilliance, enriched by the lavish yet tasteful decoration of the house... The magnificent green plush curtain on the stage, embroidered with two immense gold 'B's' was a feature of the decoration. The lights alone of the new theater cost $3000, and the mural decorations $3000 more. The latter are not yet nearly completed, although the absence of the art work still to go on was not noticeable. 
"The theater force worked valiantly until a late hour to get the house in readiness, and the carpets were not down until 7 o'clock last night... A peculiar attachment on the backs of the seats are the ladies' hat holders. The exit courts are said to be the safest of any theater on the Pacific Coast. Two down stairs and two up stairs on each side of the house, each eight feet in width, give assurance of easy flight in case of need. The boxes, three lower and three upper on each side of the house, are especially rich and tasteful in decoration, lighted by brilliant cut-glass electric globes, with gold railing and green hangings about the edges, and dark green portieres behind. With the prettiest theatre in town, with its best people in the orchestra and in the boxes, Mr. Belasco had an auspicious launching for his enterprise. His costuming is elegant, and his scenic sets, with the furniture and lighting accessories, have been unsurpassed in any presentation in Los Angeles - at any price..."

An item that appeared in a fall 1904 issue of Sunset magazine. Thanks to Kevin Walsh for locating it. 

A program cover being used in September 1905. The full program for "The Heart of the Geisha" is in the collection of Danni Bayles-Yeager. Visit her Bayles-Yeager Online Archives of the Performing Arts for hundreds of other items she has online.

The Belasco is seen in this detail Image 8 from Volume 2 of the 1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map that's in the Library of Congress collection. Some dressing rooms were in the basement as well as along the upstage wall. Note that prop room that's indicated in green. See another detail that also shows the Casino/Hotchkiss/Empress Theatre on Spring St. behind the Belasco. That "stage & scenery" seen in the upper left is part of the Spring St. venue.

An October 24, 1907 ad in the Times for the Belasco. 

Things were getting more scenic with this cover for the program in October 1908 for "Captain Swift." It's from the Bayles-Yeager collection. Also in the collection: "Fortunes of the King" (June 1905), "Sheridan, or The Maid of Bath" (June 1905), "When Knighthood was in Flower" (January 1906), "In the Bishop's Carriage" (August 1908) and David Warfield in "A Grand Army Man" (October 1908).

John H. Blackwood had been the "resident manager" for Belasco & Mayer when the house opened. E.D. Price had been the "general manager" for the operation. By mid-1908 the operating firm was Belasco, Meyer and Jones, with E.C. Jones listed as manager. In December 1908 Blackwood was back, assuming the "general management" of the theatre. His takeover of the operation was noted in an item in the "Music and the Stage" column in the December 17 issue of the Times. The house had evidently been closed and the article was mostly concerned with what personnel were going to be staffing the theatre and be employed in the acting company. 

An early billboard on Los Angeles St. for a Belasco Theater Company production. Ken McIntyre found the photo for the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.

The Belasco is seen in the center of this detail from the 1909 downtown map by Birdseye View Publishing that's on the Library of Congress website. The building to the right of the Belasco seen here as Turner Hall had an auditorium known by many names including Regal Theatre.

The Hotel Van Nuys, now the Barclay, is still on the northwest corner of 4th and Main. The San Fernando Building is still on the southeast corner of the intersection. That vacant lot in the lower right of the image is where the 1880s vintage Panorama building had been. By 1911 the theatre later known as the Hippodrome would be there with an address of 320 S. Main.

A detail from Plate 002 of the 1910 Baist Real Estate Survey from Historic Map Works showing the Belasco on the bottom in the 300 block of S. Main. That yellow space offstage right was a prop room. Later they'd relinquish that one and use a building upstage left where there's another yellow area shown. That's Spring St. at the top, 4th St. on the left edge, and 3rd on the right. That theatre called the Los Angeles on Spring St. that backs up to the Belasco was later known as the Capitol, among many other names. 

In 1911 John Blackwood hatched plans for a new Belasco Theatre on Broadway, working with developer William M. Garland. It was to be in a ten-story building with the Pacific Light and Power Company occupying the office portion of the structure. The theatre didn't get open until January 1913 and when it did the Belasco name wasn't on it. It was then called the Morosco, now known as the Globe Theatre. The project was outlined in "Planning For Moving Day," an article in the January 18, 1911 issue of the Times:

"Theatre and Corporations to Change Bases - New Broadway Belasco to Head Playhouse Chain... As the result of a deal stated to have been definitely concluded yesterday, the Belasco theater will presently cease to occupy its present site and will relocate to splendid new quarters on the first floor of the new ten-story building to be erected at Eighth and Broadway by William M. Garland. According to the statements made by the principals last night, the lease has been secured dating for a period of twenty-one years.... A significant feature in connection with the move of the Belasco-Blackwood company is their intention to make the new theater the headquarters of a chain of playhouses through the West, all of which will be known as Belasco theaters. One of these, in San Francisco, is now nearing completion at Ellis and Market streets. A second, at Exchange Place in Salt Lake City, is well on the way, and the third, on Champa street, Denver, will be begun shortly. Each will be supplied with its own stock company under the direction of a local manager, the general control to be vested in the director of the playhouse in this city.

"According to the present plans of the management, the new theater will be one of the most commodious and elaborate in the West. The present house will not be abandoned, but will probably be sublet for the use of musical comedy companies. Touching upon his reasons for the change of site, President John. H. Blackwood said yesterday: 'Aside from the necessity of adequately housing the headquarters of such a chain of theaters as we expect to have in operation, the move is one in the general direction of matters theatrical in general. That is to say, while we are not precisely dissatisfied with our present location, we are alive to the fact that we will have to get on Broadway sooner or later.'

"Construction upon the building will be commenced by Mr. Garland upon the expiration of the present leases on the one-story store buildings which occupy the site, which will be about the middle of next December. Occupying a 100 foot frontage, it will adjoin on the north the new fourteen-story building to be erected for the Los Angeles Investment Company, and will be a worthy companion for that towering skyscraper. Rising ten stories to the 150-foot line, it is probable that a mansard roof will be added which will contribute an additional thirty feet of height. The structure is to be of steel frame, with a frontage of brick and terra cotta. It will contain 250 offices, in addition to the theater and two large store rooms on the first floor. The total cost is given by Mr. Garland as $500,000. 

"The plans are being prepared by Morgan, Walls & Morgan, architects and designers of the W.P. Story building, the Kerckhoff building, the I.W. Hellman buildings and the I.N. Van Nuys building. Octavius Morgan, Jr. has just returned from the East, where he has made an extensive study of the latest types of modern, fireproof, steel construction of the sort to be incorporated in the present structure. 'It may be mentioned,' said Mr. Garland, 'that no drawing or perspective of the building has been issued or authorized. That which appeared recently in one of the morning papers and which purported to represent the appearance of the finished structure was made entirely without authorization and without even the basis of a description for accuracy'..."

"Unprecedented" was the word the Times used at the top of a May 22, 1911 story headlined "Huge Combine Of Theaters" that discussed the merger of local theatre interests:

"Five Big Local Playhouses Under One Management - Oliver Morosco at Head of Veritable Syndicate. Million Dollar Corporation Will Be Born Today. The Morosco-Blackwood Company, a new corporation to take over the management of the theaters heretofor under the control of Oliver Morosco and the Belasco-Blackwood Company in Los Angeles, will file articles of incorporation in Sacramento today. The new company will have a capitalization of $1,000,000, half of which wil be represented by common stock and half by preferred stock, bearing an 8 per cent interest guarantee. The officers of the corporation are Oliver Morosco, president; John H. Blackwood, vice-president, and A.C. Jones, secretary-treadurer. 

"This combination is the biggest theatrical deal ever entered into west of the Mississippi River, one of the biggest in the history of the country, and in this age of combinations most significant. The theatres under the control of this powerful organization are the Burbank, Belasco, Hamburger Majestic, the old Orpheum - which is to be renamed the Lyceum - and the new Belasco, about to be built on South Broadway. The heads of the concern say that the first thing to be considered will be the wasting of money in meaningless competition - thus plays which could be obtained from their authors for eastern use at $250 per week, for instance, cost $1000 a week in Los Angeles on account of the Morosco-Belasco rivalry. On these and other savings due to combination, a leakage of $50,000 per annum is expected to be effectively plugged. Consolidation will be the rule up and down the line, and, apparently, Los Angeles will have a most unique theatrical corporation."


"Oliver Morosco (left) and John H. Blackwood - Heads of the big new theatre combination which will be incorporated today at a capitalization of $1,000,000. Five large playhouses will be the essential parts of the consolidation."

The rest of the lengthy article discussed how various departments were being reorganized to supervise multiple venues and detailed upcoming productions. They noted that the Lyceum would continue to be controlled by Orpheum in association with Clarence Drown. It would become the home of what were known as "dollar travelling shows," many of which had been skipping Los Angeles due to lack of a suitable theatre.  

With the combine's new Morosco Theatre opening soon on Broadway there was concern that there would soon be too many stock companies in town if both the Belasco and Burbank also kept operating with that policy. The Times had a story about the problem on September 13, 1912: 

Thanks to David Saffer for locating the story. 
"Farewell Performances Today." The December 15, 1912 ad in the Times for the closing of the theatre as a legit house. John Blackwood wrote a lovely obituary for the Belasco that appeared in the December 15 issue. In addition to many comments about various performers he also had these words:

"DOWN THUDS CURTAIN -- EXIT BELASCO. With the final performance tonight of Edward Salisbury Field's comedy "Wedding Bells," the name of Belasco will be sponged off the local theatrical blackboard. It is no uncommon coincidence, either, that Burt Levy, the new lessee of the Main-street theater, has determined to rechristen the playhouse 'The Republic.' This is the name of the Forty-second-street theater in New york under the management of David Belasco. Until the present New York Belasco - at first known as 'The Stuyvesant' - was erected, the Republic was called 'the Belasco Theater,' after it passed from Oscar Hammerstein's control to the David Belasco direction. So what has happened in New York in regard to the Belasco has been duplicated in Los Angeles. The bromidically inclined will find plenty of food for enjoyment in the coincidence.  

"When Frederic Belasco suggested that I come to Los Angeles to manage his stock theater, then being erected by Philip L. Wilson, I was engaged in the occupation of managing the tour of Mrs. Leslie Carter, at the moment enjoying her greatest prosperity in 'Du Barry.' Fred Belasco advised me thusly: 'You want to remember that running a stock theater is nothing like anything you have been accustomed to. Instead of getting $2 for every seat, you're going to get only 75 cents, and the patron of the stock company expects, exacts and must have more for his admission than the patron of the $2 show wants. Instead of selling high-priced amusement, just bear in mind that you're going to enter into active competition with the clothing stores, the dry goods shops and the grocery men. You'll have to put up the shutters of the theater every night after the performance, and take them down the next morning, exactly like any merchant takes care of his store. There isn't so much Art in the stock company field, but there's a whole lot of Business connected with it.'

"Mr. Belasco was only partially right in his estimate of the stock company end of the theatrical profession. There is a lot of genuine Art in it if you only take the pains to discover it--but forever and forever there is a vast amount of Business in and about the stock company... There will be concerned with tonight's Belasco performance, three persons who contributed to the first presentation, eight years ago. George M. Clayton, the popular treasurer of the theater, will sell you your ticket with the same pleasant smile, and make you feel that you are about to enter a playhouse where you will be made at home, which is perhaps the reason Mr. Clayton is very generally regarded as one of the most valuable box office men in the entire United States and why he will be in charge of the ticket department of the new Morosco Theater on Broadway.
"Howard Scott, who played in the first performance at the Belasco, will prove tonight in Mr. Field's little comedy what a splendid gifted character actor he is. Carl M. Taylor, the electrician of the theater, will stand at the complicated switchboard and turn on the lights for the footlights, the borders, the house lights and the various other illuminating devices that enter into a theatrical production, very much after the faithful fashion he has ever since the playhouse was first opened. This trio of Belascoites will perhaps experience a slight twinge of regret with the falling of the Belasco curtain tonight, for they, of the entire Belasco organization, have participated in whatever little artistic triumphs the theater has known and they alone of the light-hearted performers of Mr. Field's comedy may feel but slight elation over the prospect of moving into a more modern, better situated and handsomer theater, where the traditions are only peeping over the horizon.
"The first attraction at the Belasco Theater was 'The Wife.' The last play to be given on the Belasco stage is 'Wedding Bells.' Somebody must have mulled 'Is Matrimony a Failure?' 

"The stage that knew Shaw, Pinero, Shakespeare, Jones, Walter, Broadhurst, Maeterlinck, Sudermann and Ibsen will, in a week, be given over to troupes of trained dogs and ponies, light footed young women of artistic tendencies, who will sing rag ditties; sidewalk conversationalists, who will mutilate the mother tongue, and say, 'I done it,' 'I seen yer,' and 'between you and I'; contortionists, who will display more wonderful twists and turns than the Progressive colonel [Lankershim] ever dreamed of executing; black-face comedians, musical mokes who play rag time melodies on the saxophone and murder William Tell and the Poet and Peasant on the xylophone - and the host of other performers of vaudeville who cater to the great mass of hoi polloi - they, who would not care a rap about all the stuff Bernard Shaw or Granville Barker ever turned out.

"When the Belasco Theater was opened there was not one moving picture theater in Los Angeles. That was only a brief eight and a half years ago, remember. The theater, very much like the sun, 'do move.' The motion picture business has been the wonder of the amusement managers of the country and instead of having reached the highest stage of development many persons are of the opinion that motion picture photography is only in its infancy. Of course, it is hardly probable that spoken drama ever will be superseded by the moving picture entertainment, but there are those who believe that eight and a half years from today every theater in Los Angeles, with the exception of one devoted to opera, and one to the spoken drama, will be given over to film plays."

Becoming a vaud house: In December 1912 the Belasco became a vaudeville and film house called the Republic, controlled by Bert Levey. The Belasco family later re-surfaced with another theatre with their name on it when another brother, Edward Belasco, opened the Belasco Theatre on Hill St. in 1926. 

 This item appeared in the December 13 issue of the Times.

A December 23, 1912 L.A. Times article located by Jeff Bridges noted: 

"It is said that the come-on show at the Republic Theater - née Belasco - is to be great. There’s a lot of new gilt and glittah about the place, anyhow; and it’s safe to say they won’t have to give trading stamps to get a quorum at the first performance."

 In the 1913 and later city directories it's listed as the Republic Theatre. 

An August 1913 ad for the Republic. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page as part of a thread about the theatre.   

Big plans by Levy announced in this March 1914 story. His 3,000 seat vaudeville theatre on Spring St. was never constructed. Nor did the gossip about new theatre construction by either the Hippodrome gang or Sullivan & Considine result in new theatres. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post for the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group.

An April 25, 1914 L.A. Times article located by Jeff Bridges discussed a big price cut: 
"Another big local vaudeville house joined the ranks of the ten centers yesterday, when Resident Manager Al Matson of the Republic Theater received word from Bert Levey, the head of the circuit bearing his name, which controls the Republic Theater, to slash the price of every seat in the house, boxes and loges included, to 10 cents. This will commence with the matinee on next Monday. The same high standard of vaudeville will be maintained. Seven acts with a headline attraction, two comedy first run-motion pictures and an orchestral concert will make up the bill. The Republic is the fourth house to inaugurate 10-cent prices. The Hippodrome was the first: the Empress followed with 10-cent matinees, then Alphin did the same: and now comes the Republic with 10-cent prices for any seat, any time."
The Empress mentioned in the article was later called the Capitol Theatre, located at 338 S. Spring St. The Alphin was a house at 523 S. Main St. later known as the Gayety Theatre.  

A mid-1914 ad for "Neptune's Daughter," an April release. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it.

A December 1914 L.A. Times ad for the Republic. The review of the program with Griffith's "Battle of the Sexes" noted that the Republic was offering "six new acts of crackerjack vaudeville" with the film and that they were making "elaborate preperations" for the following week's program. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad and the review. 

No, Mary Pickford wasn't appearing in person. This 1915 newspaper item was another find by Ken McIntyre. Pickford's film "In the Bishop's Carriage" was a September 1913 release.  

A 1915 Times ad located by Ken McIntyre. 

A 1915 article located by Ken McIntyre for part of a post about the theatre on Photos of Los Angeles

A 1916 Times ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it. 

Becoming the Follies: By 1919 the venue had been renamed the Follies Theatre and started running burlesque shows.

Packing the house with the burlesque show titled "A Night In Paris." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the 1919 newspaper item for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.  

A September or October 1919 ad for "In Chinatown." Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it for a post on Photos of Los Angeles.

The Dalton Brothers took over the operation in 1925. Burlesque historian Leslie Zemeckis calls Pete, Roy and Frank Dalton "the Minskys of L.A." in her book "Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America." Earlier, the Daltons had been State Fair concessionaires in Texas and had run a string of theatres out of Dallas. In the early 20's they had operated the former Pantages on Broadway as Dalton's Theatre. It's now called the Arcade. At some point the Follies was called the Folies Bergere. That's seen in the mosaic floor at the entrance in photos from the 30s. 

Wanda Devon on the cover of a May 1930 program for the Follies. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post on Photos of Los Angeles

The inside of the May 1930 program for "World of Pleasure."

Added attraction at Midnight: "The All Star Colored Revue." It's the rear of the May 1930 program.  Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post on Photos of Los Angeles.   

A hot time backstage in October 1930. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the story for a post on the private Facebook group Photos of Los Angeles. 324 S. Spring was nearly back-to-back with the Follies -- the two buildings had a corner touching.

"An Entire New Burlesque Company" plus "An All Star Colored Revue." It's a March 1931 ad that appeared in the California Eagle, a newspaper covering the African American community in Los Angeles. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this as well as the story below. They were added as comments to Alexander Djordjevich's post of a 1941 ad on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

A March 1931 story from the California Eagle about the show that was to open on March 28. 

A 1931 ad in the Times. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

The cover of a February 1936 program. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this for a post for the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group.


The inside of the February 1936 program for "Pace Makers."  

"At the Midnight Show You See All the Thrills Before they are Eliminated." It's the back of the February 1936 program.

"Harlem on Parade." It's a 1936 ad that appeared in the California Eagle, targeted to the African American community. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this, added as a comment to Alexander Djordjevich's post of a 1941 ad on Photos of Los Angeles

New seats! $60,000! The theatre got a remodel in 1938. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the ad in the Times.

A little incident later in 1938. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the item. 

There were constant issues regarding licensing and censorship. The assumption is that both Harrison and King, mentioned in this excerpt from an April 1940 Times article located by Ken McIntyre, were managers fronting for the Daltons:

"Theater Case Vote Deferred - Police Board Postpones Action on Follies Pending Resurrection of Ordinance. Deferring action on the application of the Follies Theater, 337 S. Main St., for transfer of its permit to Marvin Lee Harrison from Charles A. King, the Police Commission yesterday directed that an investigation be made to find out what the Council has done with the proposed ordinance giving it more power to regulate such shows. King took over the theater after it had been closed as the result of arrests more than six months ago. 'I'd like to know what became of that ordinance, which was going to give us the right to regulate such shows,' said President Harry Bodkin. 'I recall that there was a great outcry against it, that it would give the Board power to set up a "censorship" of all shows, including motion pictures....Its only purpose was to allow us to stop lewd performances and use of bootleg and indecent film without requiring convictions before we could do anything..'" 

"All Seats Reserved." It's a December 31, 1941 ad for their big New Year's Eve show with Dorothy Darling. Thanks to Alexander Djordjevich for posting this on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. 

A June 1942 L.A. Times article detailed the supposed closing of the Follies:

"Follies Theater, Famed Maker of Stars, Closes. Main St. Burlesque House, Los Angeles Landmark, Loses Fight to Hold City License. The whistling and shouting stopped last night at 337 S. Main St. The funny men took one last wallop at each other with their rubber bladders and stretched their ridiculous baggy pants in a final futile gesture. The girls wriggled from left to writhe across the runway and dropped their undermost veil with a farewell air. When the curtain dropped, the bald heads in the front row filed solemnly out and the place was empty once more.

"Tears Streak Mascara - But backstage the dressing rooms were full of 80 burlesque people--80. The cheeks of scantily clad chorus girls were tear streaked with mascara. 'Well, it's been 17 years,' said T.V. Dalton, the operator. 'Yeah,' said the doorman. 'Seventeen years.' On those same boards -- when it was the Belasco -- trod many a star-to-be. Lewis Stone, Marjorie Rambeau, W.C. Fields, Hobart Bosworth, Henry B. Walthail, Edmunde Breese -- Paderewski, even, and Schumann-Heink.

"It Came To This - And then burlesque and slapstick comedy and strip-tease. But last Friday in Superior Court, Dalton was denied an appeal from an order of the Police Commission suspending his license and was given until last night to end his show. So last night they closed the Follies Theatre -- for good."
Thanks to Ken McIntyre for finding the article for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. Actually, the theatre didn't stay closed. The Daltons left and with new names on a license it was reopened by 1943 and continued to run burlesque shows for several more decades. Taking over was something called the Follies Theatre Corporation. A later operator was Los Angeles Amusement Co.

A 40s "Air Raid Siren" matchbook for the Follies, "The Gayest Spot in Town." Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for locating this on eBay.   

The inside art.


"See the Girls at the Follies." These later matches also popped up on eBay. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for posting the image on Photos of Los Angeles.

A July 1943 ad. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for spotting it for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group.

Another new management team:

There was going to be a break from Burlesque in 1945 according to this report in the February 10, 1945 issue of Billboard. The issue is on Google Books. It was to be a musical comedy house according to new owner Robert Biggs, Sr. The talk about it going legit was probably just to get a new license. Burlesque continued.

A Follies ticket stub. Thanks to Sean Ault for the find. 

In "A School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping," Leslie Zemeckis' lovely 2013 article for Huffington Post, she talks about the Biggs guys and Lillian Hunt, the woman who ran the shows for them:

" ...The Follies was owned by a Robert S. Biggs, some said so his son, Robert Jr. would have access to the girls. Biggs needed someone to run the shows and keep an eye on the goings on backstage. He needed comedians sober and g-strings in place. Hunt took the job...For nearly 20 years, 7 days a week, 3 shows a day, 4 on Saturdays and Sundays Lillian Hunt, choreographer, producer, director and manager, trained, coached, designed lighting, picked costumes, negotiated salaries, wiped tears, booked acts and kicked stripper ass at the Follies. Coach, confident and 'mom' to the strippers, Lillian Hunt essentially ran a school for strippers....Biggs entrusted Lillian to run a tight ship. She kept an eye out for drunkenness and bad behavior once firing a stripper after she bragged too often and too loudly about the amount of sailors she was entertaining back at her apartment."

A March 1948 article in the Times about Betty Rowland and her Bump Meter. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for adding the article as a comment to a post about the theatre for the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group.

An April 20, 1951 item about the appearance of "The Bubble Girl," Lili St. Cyr. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating the item for a thread about the performer for the Photos of Los Angeles group.

Ms. St. Cyr without her bubble. Thanks to Ronald Schwartz for locating the photo. Tony Valdez comments: "There’s an old story about her appearing at the Orpheum. Details are sparse but the point was she somehow got tangled up and was left exposed without a bubble. That’s when the audience realized that she was wearing a body suit, completely covered up, and not nude at all."
"The Only Los Angeles Burlesque Theatre with a Runway!" Thanks to Scott Pitzer for sharing this 1951 ad with the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook group. 
In 1952 Biggs junior and senior, along with Ms. Hunt, packed up and moved down the street to the Burbank Theatre, 548 S. Main. The Burbank, of course, was no stranger to burlesque as various managements had offered such shows there since the 1910s. The Burbank was then advertised as the New Follies or the Burbank Follies. This move left the theatre at 337 S. Main dark for a period. Later, other operators took it over resulting in two competing shows. At times it was advertised as the 3rd and Main Follies and the Original Follies to distinguish it from the competition at the Burbank. 

A 1961 ad located by Ken McIntyre for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.

In December 1963 when the FBI was looking for a Stripper named Siri who was connected to Jack Ruby, they found out that she was Siri Putnam, who was then working at the Follies. Thanks to Sean Ault for the sleuthing on that story. The Follies was still running in 1973. 
Head to a separate page of ads for even more advertising 
from the theatre's years as the Follies.

Status: Demolition was in May 1974 after a long and happy career as a legit theatre, occasional movie venue, and many decades as a burlesque house. A May 31, 1974 L.A. Times article by Bill McPhillips about the demolition:

"From Dramas to Nude Movies - Wrecking Ball Closes Theater - The end, when it came this weekend, was mercifully swift. A few well-aimed wrecking balls and the tottering old Follies Theater at 337 S. Main St. fell in upon itself like the collapsing star it was. Built originally as the Belasco Theater and opened in 1904 as the Los Angeles home of the celebrated Belasco Stock Co., the landmark managed to cling to an aura of respectability only for little more than a decade. During those first years, fashionable drawing-room comedies featuring such performers as Lewis Stone, Charles Ruggles and Nance O'Neil alternated with heavier fare that offered Paderewski and even Madame Schumann-Heink. 

"But as the theater district moved south, the Belasco name was withdrawn to be used on another theater in the 900 block of S. Hill St. and the Main St. house became forever more a home of burlesque. Beneath its proscenium arch strutted such strippers as Lili St. Cyr, Ann Corio and Betty Rowland, the original Ball of Fire, shedding their flimsy garments between bawdy blackout skits. From World War II on, it was a downhill slide for the musty old theater, as burlesque went the way of vaudeville and both were replaced with cheap skin flicks.

"The Follies was raided, closed and then reopened half a dozen times before it was finally abandoned to the bulldozers and only once did it have a fleeting chance at immortality. That was in 1968 when Eleanor Chambers, executive assistant to then-mayor Sam Yorty, urged the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board to add the Follies to its list of culturally significant buildings. The board investigated but, instead of turning up valuable costumes once worn by famous actresses, as Mrs. Chambers believed it would, the search unearthed only a few discarded G-strings and comedy props. The case was quietly closed and the old Follies, the last burlesque house in Los Angeles, went on to fulfill its destiny as just another parking lot."

The Follies in the Movies:

We see a lot of the Follies in "That Little Band of Gold" (Keystone, 1915). Here Mabel Normand, Alice Davenport and Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle are in one of the boxes. Arbuckle directed the film. Thanks to John Bengtson for the screenshot. We're supposedly at the theatre to see an opera. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots at the Follies from the film.

The Busby Berkeley film "Bright Lights" (1st National / Warner Bros, 1935) has a shot outside the Follies near the beginning and a scene inside that concludes the film. Here Joe E. Brown is in the upper box doing a drunk act while Ann Dvorak is trying to sing onstage. They're members of a traveling burlesque troupe that's joined by a runaway heiress played by Patricia Ellis. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots of the Follies interior plus many views of the Grand Opera House from the film. The Follies played "Bright Lights" between live shows in 1936.

A look at the house right boxes in the Mae West film "Every Day's a Holiday" (Paramount, 1937). See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for more shots at the Follies.

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 more views of the Follies as well as one of the Burbank Theatre down the street.

"Hollywood Revels" (Roadshow Attractions, 1946) is a filmed burlesque show shot at the Follies. Duke Goldstone directed. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a lobby card and an illustration from the box of a VHS release of the film.

"A Night at the Follies" (Excelsior Pictures Corp., 1947) is another show filmed at the Follies. W. Merle Connell directed. It features the original Hubba-Hubba girl, Evelyn West. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for the cover art from a VHS release of the film.

We see lots of the Follies in "Everybody's Girl" (Broadway Roadshow Attractions, 1950). The film was directed by Lillian Hunt, who managed the shows at the theatre. The film, also known as "Hollywood Peep Show," stars Gay Dawn, Mary Andes and a dozen other dancers, singers and comics from the Follies. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for the cover art from a VHS release of the film along with notes about it from David Cary, author of "A Bit of Burlesque, A Brief History of Its Times and Stars."

The Follies and the Hippodrome are seen 7 minutes into nearly 11 minutes of 1950 footage intended for use as process shot backgrounds in film or TV shows. A lovely colorized and remastered version is on YouTube from NASS as "1950s - Views of Los Angeles in color..." The original footage is on Internet Archive as Pet 1067 R 4. On Main St. we also get views of the Muse, Burbank, Optic, Gayety, Regent, and Liberty theatres. 7th St. footage includes the Warner and Loew's State.

"Gala Stripathon." The crime drama "The Big Combo" (Allied Artists, 1955) is set in New York. This shot could be anywhere but then we notice the Barclay Hotel signage in the distance. It's at 4th and Main so that puts us in front of the Follies. Police lieutenant Cornel Wilde is headed to the stage door to wait for Helene Stanton, playing an old girlfriend who strips there. Joseph H. Lewis directed the film, also featuring Richard Conte, Brian Donlevy, Robert Middleton, Lee Van Cleef and Jean Wallace. The cinematography was by John Alton. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another shot a moment later.

Russ Meyer's "The Immoral Mr. Teas" (Pad-Ram Enterprises, 1959) shot several scenes along the south side and in front of the Follies. Thanks to Noirish Los Angeles contributor Ethereal Reality for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for five more shots at the Follies.

"Burlesk a Go Go." Despite what's advertised, the narrator of "The Forbidden" (Olympic International, 1966) describes this as a "converted theatre" that's now a school teaching respectable ladies how to be more seductive using the techniques of strippers. Of course we get pro and amateur demonstrations of twirling tassels. This "Mondo Cane" style mock-documentary takes us to nightclubs and other venues around the world -- wherever there's a chance to show sin and bare breasts. The film was written and directed by Benjamin Andrews and Lee Frost. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Optic, Burbank and Art theatres from footage just before this segment as well as shots of the Cinematheque 16 and Tiffany Theatre from earlier in the film. 

A fine view of the vertical of the the Follies from "Maidens of Fetish Street" (Cameo Pictures, 1966). The film is also known as "Girls on F Street." Thanks to Nathan Marsak for the screenshot, one included on his Noirish Los Angeles post #29000. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Burbank (also at this time with a vertical that said "Follies") as well as shots of the Galway and the Art Theatre from the film.

It's set in New York, but we spend a lot of time inside the Follies in Carl Reiner's "Enter Laughing" (Columbia, 1967). Reni Santorini plays a 17 year old looking for his first break as an actor. The film also stars Jose Ferrer, Elaine May, Richard Deacon, Janet Margolin, Shelley Winters, David Opatoshu, Don Rickles and Michael J. Pollard. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen more Follies shots from the film. It's the best set of views we have of S. Charles Lee's moderne interior design. 
Diana Ross, playing Billie Holiday, sings "Mean To Me" at the Follies in "Lady Sings the Blues" (Paramount, 1972). We get this view into the house with the bandleader played by James T. Callahan. Sidney Furie directed the film which also features Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, Paul Hampton, Sid Melton, Virginia Capers and Yvonne Fair. The cinematography was by John Alonzo. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the Follies as well as some from a scene at the end of the film shot at the Wilshire Ebell.  

A look north across the front of the Follies from the TV movie "The Blue Knight" (1973). Thanks to Eric Schaefer for spotting the theatre in the film and getting the screenshots. He notes that William Holden plays a veteran beat cop who checks in on burlesque performer Eileen Brennan. It's based on the Joseph Wambaugh novel and also features Lee Remick, Sam Elliott, Joe Santos, Anne Archer and Vic Tayback. Robert Butler directed. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another shot of the front of the building as well as a backstage view.

About 50 minutes into "Black Belt Jones" (Warner Bros., 1974) we go for a drive on Main St. so Gloria Hendry can kick some sense into some henchmen of an associate of her late father. Here we see the marquee of the Follies on the left and the Linda Lea Theatre, 251 S. Main, in the distance. Jim Kelly stars as the title character in this Blaxploitation saga directed by Robert Clouse. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for two more Main St. shots including a fuzzy view of the Regent Theatre.

A great shot of the Follies in 1973 from "Uptown Saturday Night" (Warner Bros. / First Artists, 1974). The film stars Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby in a caper with Main Street doubling for Chicago. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Regent, Optic, and Burbank theatres from the film. It was released in 1974 two months after the theatre was demolished.

Lucille Ball and Kirby Furlong take in a New York burlesque show in the "Open a New Window" number in "Mame" (Warner Bros., 1974). The film features Bea Arthur, Robert Preston, Bruce Davison, Jane Connell and George Chiang. Gene Saks directed, based on the musical by Jerome Lawrence, Robert E. Lee and Jerry Herman. The film's cinematography was by Philip Lathrop. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Follies girls on the runway as well as thirteen views of "The Man in the Moon" and "My Best Girl" numbers shot at the Wilshire Ebell. 

More information:  See the Follies Theatre page on Cinema Treasures for a nice discussion with many interesting posts including links to ads and photos. There's are also many tidbits about the theatre on another Cinema Treasures page about a later Republic Theatre at 629 S. Main St. Also see Jeff Bridges' Mainly Main poster set on Flickr.

Check out Leslie Zemeckis' great 2013 article for Huffington Post "A School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping" about life at the Follies (and, after 1952, at the Burbank) with profiles owner Robert Biggs, manager Lillian Hunt, and Lillian's daughter Pepper Aarvold, who grew up backstage. Also putting in appearances are Tempest Storm, Lily St. Cyr and Patti Wagon.

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.

Check out the Hollywood Burlesque Festival page on Los Angeles burlesque theatres. A 1927 story about the Follies is in the right sidebar of a post by Jeff Bridges about the film "The Street With No Name."

The other theatre on Main St. famous as a burlesque house was the Burbank at 548 S. Main St. -- they frequently get confused as both were advertised as the Follies. 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.

Both the Belasco/Follies and the Burbank/Follies get discussed in John Wright's article "Back Stage at the Follies." It originally appeared in the June, July and August 1992 issues of the Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann publication Greater Metro L.A. Newsreel. A shorter version appeared in the Theatre Historical Society magazine Marquee in 2011. Both versions are reproduced at the bottom of the Burbank Theatre page. 

Frederick Belasco, who hadn't been associated with the theatre for years, died in 1920. On Google News there's an obit from the Vancouver Sun with a December 21 San Francisco dateline: "...Dead in New York...Frederick Belasco, lessee of the Alcazar Theatre here for many years and brother of David Belasco, New York theatrical producer, died at his home tonight from pneumonia. He had been associated with the theatrical enterprises on the Pacific Coast for more than thirty years. He was born on Vancouver Island in 1863 and was brought to San Francisco when a child. He is survived by his widow, six bothers, two sisters and a step-daughter. Funeral services will be held here Thursday." The Belasco family later re-surfaced with another theatre with their name on it when another brother, Edward Belasco, opened the Belasco Theatre on S. Hill St. in 1926.

Nearby: Just a bit north on the 300 block were the Regal Theatre at 323 S. Main and the Jade Theatre at 315 S. Main. Across the street was the Hippodrome Theatre at 320 S. Main.  


  1. Hi Bill, Great post! If you look at the Zoot Suit Riot photo of servicemen swarming a trolley showing the Hippodrome on the right you will see the "es" on the sign for the Follies on the left.

    1. Yes! I'll add that mention to the caption on the Hip photo. Thanks.

  2. Especially enjoyed the ads featuring my grandfather, BILLY REED!