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Golden Gate Theatre

5176 Whittier Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90022 | map |

Opened: September 21, 1928. The theater was a project of developer Peter Snyder. It's on the southwest corner of Whittier Blvd. and Atlantic Blvd. The operator was West Coast Theatres and, later, its successor company Fox West Coast. In this 1956 photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection they're running "D-Day the 6th of June" with Robert Taylor along with "The Toy Tiger." Note that the marquee on Atlantic was still using milk glass letters.

Architect: Clifford A. Balch and his brother William. Balch also did the El Rey on Wilshire and the Fox Pomona as well as many other projects. Balch, along with the firm of Walker and Eisen, also did the early 30s United Artists, just a block west of the Golden Gate. Joe Vogel notes:

"The Vega Corporation, the company that built the project, was formed in either late 1926 or early 1927, a partnership between P. N. Snyder, developer of the Golden Gate Square neighborhood, and Harry M. Sugarman, President and General Manager of the West Coast Junior theater circuit."

An item in the Times noted, somewhat erroneously, that it was going to be a legit venue. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding this in the paper's February 9, 1927 issue:

"This week will mark the beginning of building operations on the theater project on Whittier Boulevard in Golden Gate Square. The theater proper will seat about 1500 persons, it is declared and will contain thirteen stores. There will also be several apartment units. It is planned as a legitimate playhouse, but will be equipped for motion pictures as well."

Joe adds: 
 
"...and then a September 11 item in the Times noted that the agreement between developer Snyder and West Coast Junior Circuit head Sugarman had been finalized and construction of the theater would begin immediately, adding that the theater would be '...surrounded... by a number of stores and apartments which have recently been completed on the property....' The theatre was foreseen as part of the project from the beginning, though."



A rendering of the project from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. It used to be on their website as item #00044623 but seems to have been lost in a website makeover.



A drawing from the Balch office of the theatre's facade. It's in the USC Digital Library collection.



A September 20, 1928 Times article about the opening. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating it. 

Seating: 1,345 was the count later.

Organ: The organ in the house when it opened was a Wurlitzer style 210, opus #1873. The date listed for the installation was April 26, 1928. Thanks to Bill Gabel for the data.

Closing: 1986. It was an independent operation at the time of the closing.

The theatre was originally entered via a walk through a courtyard with entrances on both the Atlantic Blvd. and Whittier Blvd. sides of the building. The separate office and retail complex in front of the theatre was known as the Vega Building.

The retail buildings in front of the theatre building sustained heavy damage from the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake and were demolished in 1992. There were originally 13 storefronts as well as apartments on the second floor.

The theatre sat vacant for years with preservationists anxious to see it reused as a theatre. The L.A. Times had a May 2009 story about the planning process "Future of 1927 East L.A. Theater in question" and the intentions of the Charles Company, the owners of the property. LA Eastside had a story "Save the Site of the Golden Gate Theater!" that elicited many responses.



This illustration from a plan prepared by Barrio Planners shows how they would have reconstructed the Vega Building that used to surround the theatre. The plan went nowhere. But the illustration does provide us with a nice view of what the complex once was.

The first proposal was to insert a drug store as a "box within a box." The May 2010 Times story "L.A. County Supervisors back drugstore conversion" noted that the plan at the time was to preserve the exterior but the historic interior elements would be hidden behind new walls and a dropped ceiling.

Status: In 2012 it was converted into a CVS drugstore. An August 2012 Eastsider story by C.J. Salgado, "From Films to Pharmacy...," celebrated the August 12 opening. Curbed L.A.'s Adrian Glick Kudler had the story with the article "East LA's Golden Gate Theater reborn as most beautiful CVS."

In the completed project the exterior got cleaned and preserved to a certain extent. Many interior historic elements have been preserved as well. The floor has been leveled, the lobby stairs to the balcony removed and the stage filled in with a pharmacy. The balcony is now a mechanical room.


Vintage interior views:

The theatre's new snackbar in 1947. It's a photo from the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for sharing it. 
 
 

The main lobby, perhaps in the 70s. Thanks to contributor Granola for finding the photo for a post on Cinema Treasures.



The Golden Gate's balcony lounge area in the 20s. The photo is from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. The photo also appears in the AMPAS Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann collection.



A 20s balcony view from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



On the main floor, perhaps in the 70s. Thanks to contributor Granola for finding the photo for a post on Cinema Treasures



A look off to house right. It's a photo from Granola on Cinema Treasures



An undated balcony shot. Again thanks to Granola for the photo, a post on Cinema Treasures.


The derelict theatre: 


A snackbar view by Jon Alloway included with "A Sad Farewell, Requiem for A Palace...," a July 2011 story by Al Desmadre for the blog LA Eastside.



The bar and the east stairs. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2011. Many thanks to Michelle for all of her photos appearing here.



The clamshell after removal of the snackbar. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



A drinking fountain. It's a 2011 Tom Zimmerman photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



Looking up to the balcony level lobby. It's a 2009 photo by historic preservation consultants Chattel, Inc. taken for a report about the condition of the building. This shot and many more are included in the Golden Gate Theatre album Michelle Gerdes has assembled on Flickr.



The balcony lobby. It's a 2011 Tom Zimmerman photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.


Looking down toward the main floor lobby prior to removal of the stairs. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



Peeking into the auditorium from the main lobby. It's a Tom Zimmerman photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



Looking to the back of the house. It's a 2011 Tim Zimmerman photo from the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



A balcony soffit detail. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009



The house right organ grille. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



Looking across the house. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009 



A proscenium view. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009



A view from the balcony by Julia Solis included with "A Sad Farewell, Requiem for A Palace...," a July 2011 story by Al Desmadre for the blog LA Eastside. 



An organ grille ornament detail. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009



The front of the balcony. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009



A look back to what remained of the booth. Photo: Chattel, Inc. - 2009



A look onto the stripped stage. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



The proscenium mural. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



A detail of the 40s mural. It's a Tom Zimmerman photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. 



The house left organ grille before restoration work. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012 



 The organ grille area house right before restoration work. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012 



The stripped out stage. It's a 2011 Tomm Zimmerman photo in the Los Angeles Public Library Collection. See the Golden Gate Theatre photos in the Library's collection for a number of other photos taken by Mr. Zimmerman before construction began.   


Interior construction views:


The new snackbar location The stairs up from the main floor got removed. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



Looking across the balcony lobby. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



The lobby area inside the front doors. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - March 2012



Another balcony lobby view, looking toward house right. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - 2012



Inside the new front doors. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - July 2012



The proscenium after restoration. The steel framing within the arch is for the pharmacy. The drive through area is behind the backstage wall. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - March 2012



The house left organ grille after restoration work. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - March 2012 



The organ grille area house right after restoration work. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - March 2012



A house right detail. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - March 2012



A balcony soffit fixture reinstalled. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - July 2012



The walled-in proscenium, now the pharmacy area. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - July 2012



Upstairs backstage. They added a floor in the stagehouse to provide an area for storage and mechanical equipment. Photo: Michelle Gerdes - July 2012. Thanks, Michelle!


Interior views after opening: 


Inside the front doors. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



From house right, looking across what had been the lobby. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



Under the balcony looking out toward the front doors. Note the 40s light fixture. Photo: Jesse Vega - Photos of Los Angeles - 2014



A balcony soffit view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



A soffit grille detail by C. J. Salgado that appeared with "From Films to Pharmacy...," an August 2012 article about the CVS opening by C.V. Salgado on the blog The Eastsider.



Looking  across to house right. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



A ceiling chandelier detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



Looking up from the drugs toward the house right organ grille. Photo: Jesse Vega -  Photos of Los Angeles - 2014



Another organ grille view. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



Another look toward the proscenium. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



A proscenium plaster detail. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



What's playing on the big stage? Oh, it's now the pharmacy. Photo: Jesse Vega - Photos of Los Angeles - 2014. Thanks, Jesse!



The view across to house left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



Looking back at the front of the balcony -- now with a wall up to conceal a new mechanical room. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



The front of the balcony house right.  Photo: Bill Counter - 2019



A detail of a panel on the front of the balcony. Photo: Bill Counter - 2019


More exterior views:


1928 - This Dick Whittington photo of the recently completed Vega building is in the Los Angeles Examiner Photographs collection of the USC Digital Library. There's no theatre behind it yet. Also see a slightly wider version of the same photo that appeared on eBay. Noirish Los Angeles contributor Hoss C found it for his Noirish post #30324 about the theatre.



1928 - A detail of the Whittier Blvd. entrance from the Dick Whittington photo.



c.1929 - A photo of the Atlantic Blvd. entrance of the Golden Gate appearing with "Harold B. Franklin Analyzes Theatre Personality," an article in the "Buyers Guide" section of the December 28, 1929 issue of Motion Picture News. It's on Internet Archive. The "S" sign was for the developer, Peter Snyder.



1930 - A view looking east on Whittier from the Moss Studio. Someone added an arrow to make sure you didn't miss the Vega Building and the Golden Gate Theatre. It's in the Examiner Photographs Cokllection of the USC Digital Library.



1930 - A detail from the USC photo. The Golden Gate is running Greta Garbo's "Anna Christie."



1938 - A shot by Herman Schultheis looking west along Whittier Blvd. The Golden Gate is running "Swing Your Lady" with Humphrey Bogart. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1955 - A wonderful view of the Atlantic Blvd. facade, presumably from the collection of the Los Angeles Conservancy. It once appeared on their Facebook page but, like many other items, vanished when they changed the address of their page. Note that you can look into the courtyard in this view and see the facade of the theatre itself.  The photo also made an appearance on the Facebook page Who Remembers in East L.A. where it got many comments.



c.1972 - Thanks to contributor Granola for finding this great shot for a post on Cinema Treasures.



c.1972 - A wider view, again from Granola on Cinema Treasures.



c.1972 - The Atlantic Blvd. side of the building. The photo was another find by Granola for Cinema Treasures.



c.1975 - Thanks to Robert Gonzalez for this view of the theatre running porno with Spanish subtitles. He had added it as a comment to a now-vanished post on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.



1980 - We're heading west on Whittier in this William Reagh photo from the California State Library collection.



1982 - A Paul Chinn photo taken for the Herald Examiner looking east on Whittier Blvd. In the middle of the Christmas decoration mess you can make out the vertical sign of the Golden Gate and a little bit of the United Artists this side of it. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection.



1983 - Thanks to American Classic Images for this great photo taken in January. 



1984 - Thanks to American Classic Images for this June view of the Whiitier facade.



1984 - The Atlantic facade in June. It's a photo from the American Classic Images collection. The theatre was to close in 1986.



1987 - The theatre after the earthquake but before demolition of the damaged buildings on the corner. Thanks to Bill Gabel for finding the photo for a post on Cinema Treasures.



c.1988 - The theatre in use as a church. Thanks to Bill Gabel for posting the photo on Cinema Treasures. He notes that the fencing is due to the Vega Building, fronting on both Whittier and Atlantic, being closed after earthquake damage in 1987.



c.1988 - A Whittier Blvd. marquee detail. Again thanks to Bill Gabel. The photo was a contribution of his to the Cinema Treasures page about the Golden Gate.



2007 - Thanks to Ken McIntyre for this photo he took of the unused building. The photo was added as a comment to a post about the theatre on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



2010 - A street view of the closed building. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - The top of the facade before cleaning. Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - An entrance detail.  Photo: Bill Counter



2010 - The Atlantic Blvd. side of the building. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2012 - The top of the facade. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2012 - The area above the entrance doors. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2012 - The entrance during construction. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2012 - The west side during construction. They were repairing concrete damage, sealing the surface, removing balcony exit stairs and plugging openings. Photo: Bill Counter



February 2012 - The stage end during construction. Photo: Bill Counter



May 2012 - A look at the repurposed burger stand signage that got put to use to advertise the CVS. It's a photo from Call Me Curly on Flickr.



August 2012 - Open for business. Robert Gonzales had the photo as a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



August 2012 - An entrance detail appearing with "From Films to Pharmacy...," an article about the CVS opening by C.V. Salgado on the blog The Eastsider.




August 2012 - A facade detail. Photo: C.J. Salgado - The Eastsider



2013 - A look up at the elaborate cast stone detailing. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for his photo appearing on Photos of Los Angeles.



2013 - Another facade view from Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.



2014 - A facade detail from the Who Remembers in East L.A. Facebook page. 



2014 - The glorious stagehouse vista. Thanks to Robert Gonzales for posting it on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.



2019 - Rather deserted looking on this particular afternoon. Photo: Bill Counter



2019 - An entrance detail. Photo: Bill Counter



2019 - The stagehouse view. Photo: Bill Counter

More information: See the theatre's page on Cinema Treasures for many memories of growing up, shopping, and going to the movies in East Los Angeles. LA Eastside article's "Memories of a Lost Boulevard" is about moviegoing at the Golden Gate.

A 2012 story in The Eastsider, "A sign of charbroiled architecture...," discussed reuse of a burger joint sign for the project. Wikipedia has an article on the theatre.

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