The Orpheum theatre opened in 1926 as the fourth and final Los Angeles venue for the Orpheum circuit, and the second Orpheum theatre to be built on Broadway in downtown LA. The theatre is home to a Mighty Wurlitzer organ which is still in service today. Architect G. Albert Lansburgh designed the theatre and it remains one of his most elaborate examples, including plush fittings throughout the theatre and lobbies.
By the start of the 1930s the Orpheum changed its main programming from vaudeville to movies, and by 1932 business was so bad that the theatre was sadly closed. It re-opened in 1933 with wider programming, re-introducing vaudeville, and maintained a solid calendar until 1947. Throughout the 1950s and beyond the Orpheum reacted to changes in popular live entertainment, and in addition to screening movies it hosted vaudeville, comedy, theatre and music concerts of all varieties.
A major refurbishment was undertaken in 2001 and the Orpheum is now arguably the best-preserved theatre of its era in Los Angeles. Original features were retained and of particular note are the theatre’s annunciators: small windows positioned at either side of the Proscenium Arch containing cards indicating the current performing act. Very few vaudeville theatres have retained their annunciators, might the Orpheum be the only such example on the west coast of the US?
The Orpheum does not offer its own tours however below are some options for potentially seeing a bit more of the theatre than by simply attending one of the many and varied commercial events it hosts:
The Los Angeles Conservancy runs a weekly Broadway Walking Tour which sometimes includes access to The Orpheum. Tours run 10am most Saturdays, cost $15, take 2.75hrs and include walking approximately 10 blocks of Broadway in Downtown LA, with several flights of stairs dependent on theatre availability. Refer to the LA Conservancy’s website for schedule and more details.
The Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats program generally uses The Orpheum as a venue for screening classic films several times a year. Pre-screening Backstage tours are often available but very limited in numbers and fill-up quickly. Check out the Last Remaining Seats website for schedule and more information.
The theatre is an active participant in Councilmember Jose Huizar’s annual Night On Broadway event (usually the last Saturday in January) when the theatre is opened-up to the public for free and hosts a variety of live entertainment programming. Check out the Night On Broadway website for more details.
“American Theatres of Today” (originally published as two volumes in 1927 and 1930; reissued as a single volume in 2009 by the Theatre Historical Society of America), by R. W. Sexton and B. F. Betts, published by Liber Apertus Press. ISBN 0978588169.