It's delightfil that Long Beach has so many wonderful art deco treasures left from the city's great building boom following the 1933 earthquake. Sadly, there's not much left from the great stock of theatres that once thrived in town. Changes in the theatre business and urban renewal spurred by the declining fortunes of the downtown area finished almost all of them.
The Art Theatre, a cute deco style neighborhood house dating from 1924 is the only historic Long Beach theatre still running films. Looking at other Long Beach treasures requires a bit of time travel. Some of the theatres were well documented, some not. The major resource for information on the historic theatres of Long Beach is the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for sharing his photos, data and insights.
Many of these theatres changed names more than once in their liftime. For an alphabetical list that also includes those alternate names see the Long Beach Alphabetical List. The links below are organized by street or area. If you'd like a slightly more detailed look at that arrangement, head to the Along the Coast Theatre List By Address.
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A map by Ronald W. Mahan of early downtown Long Beach theatre locations appearing on the Cal State Long Beach page "Early Long Beach Theatres." The page also offers a list of theatre addresses and dates.
| Coughran Opera House |
319 on the Pike
This house was a legit venue of about 1,500 seats erected in 1908 by a consortium of "Eastern capitalists" headed by I.H. Bentley of Minneapolis. The stagehouse of the theatre is seen in the center of this detail from a c.1908 postcard. It had problems with a 1913 earthquake and needed a "reconstruction." In its short life it went under a variety of names: Bentley Grand, Empress Bentley, Hart, Hip, and Strand. The end came in 1921 when it was converted into a ballroom and retail space. The building survived in its modified form into the 1970s. For more information see the page about the Bentley Theatre.
This 1,242 seat deco style house opened in 1932, a design of Clifford A. Balch along with Walker & Eisen. Initially it was operated by Fox West Coast for UA. Beginning in 1950 as a result of consent decree rulings it was run directly by United Artists Theatre Circuit. It finished its days as a Mitchell Bros. porno operation. Demolition was in the early 1980s. See the United Artists page for more information.
A few Long Beach history resources:
California State University Long Beach has a huge section on their website devoted to early Long Beach Theatres and silent film production in Long Beach from RGRLL, the University's department of Romance, German, Russian Languages and Literature. Pages of interest include:
"Burgeoning 'Hollywood,' The Pike and Theatre by the Sea" | Columbia/Strand Theatre - 1910 | Hoyt's Pantages | Liberty/Roxy Theatre | Balboa Studio Research Archives - home page | Long Beach - Hollywood By The Sea | California Motion Picture Manufacturing - 1910-1913 | Balboa Studio Milestones | Unfinished Story of Balboa Studios | Balboa Features | Long Beach Studios - 1918-1922 | Articles | Balboa mysteries | ... and many of these pages have links to additional documents.
See the Cinema Treasures list of Long Beach theatres. Also pay a visit to the Long Beach section of the Cinema Tour directory. The City of Long Beach Planning Department has a page on historic landmarks. Bob Compere has a small set of earthquake photos on Flickr that were taken by his grandfather.
The Historical Society of Long Beach has a website detailing their activities and collections. Also see the HSLB Facebook page. The Island of Long Beach Facebook page has hundreds of photos from a variety of sources.
The Library of Congress collection includes 14 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Long Beach dating from 1888 to 1950.
The Arcadia Publishing book "Long Beach Art Deco" by John W. Thomas, Suzanne Tarbell Cooper and J. Christopher Launi has many great photos. Check out a view on page 15 of a 1930 vintage auditorium and skating rink at 278 Alamitos Ave. The page is included in the book's preview on Google Books.
The Facebook page Long Beach, Calif. has a nice set of historic photos. The Long Beach Heritage Museum has a page of historic building photos on their site.
The Long Beach Public Library has both an online photo collection as well as digitized city directories. Note that more than one city directory company covered early Long Beach, sometimes resulting in several different sets of information from different sources.
See the blog Militant Angeleno for an interesting tour of 7 Long Beach Buildings. The Odd Duck website has a nice spread that includes photos of a number of "Art Deco Theaters of Long Beach."
Pike history resources:
For many, many vintage photos see the page here on this site about the Rialto Theatre for views of the 100 block. The Strand Theatre page focuses on the 200 block. The pages about the Gaiety, the Tarrytown and the Joyland theatres have many views of the 300 block between Cedar Walk and Chestnut Pl.
The Pike is a wonderful website by Paul Prosise with many historic photos. Check out the "Long Beach: Pier and Pike" chapter of Brent Dickerson's series "A Visit To Old Los Angeles" for a fine tour via early postcards.
"The Pike 1902-1979" is a photo pool on Flickr. Wikipedia has an article on The Pike. On YouTube check out "Revisit the Pike," "Long Beach Pike - Slideshow," "We Met at the Pike," "The Pike" and"Long Beach Pike."
Two more maps:
A 1908 Sanborn insurance map. Thanks to Ron Mahan for providing it. He's colored some of the more interesting theatre locations.
A 1926 map from the Long Beach Historical Society. Again thanks to Ron Mahan for supplying the map and coloring the theatres they included. Click on it to enlarge.
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