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The Mayan

The Mayan

First Opened: 15th August 1927 (92 years ago)

Reopened as a nightclub: 9th March 1990

Former Names: Fabulous Mayan

Status: Nightclub / Live events venue

Website: www.clubmayan.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (213) 746-4674 Call (213) 746-4674

Address: 1038 South Hill Street, Los Angeles, CA 90015 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

The Mayan Theatre in downtown Los Angeles is a stunning example of the 1920s fascination with revival-style theatre architecture, in this case Mayan revival. The Mayan opened its doors in 1927 as a legitimate theatre; it is now used as a music/nightclub and live events venue. Between times it has showcased movies, blue movies, and has been the scene of many movie location shoots.

The Mayan Auditorium
The Mayan Auditorium

Designed by Stiles O. Clements of Morgan, Walls & Clements, the theatre originally seated 1,491 on two levels and was intended as a musical comedy house. Despite being located immediately next to the Belasco Theatre, which had opened 10 months earlier in November 1926, both theatres were under the same management and so programming was designed to be complementary, not competitive. Legitimate drama ran at the Belasco with the Mayan staging musical comedies.

In November 1926 when the Belasco Theatre opened, the Los Angeles Times reported that the new theatre next door would opened “during the next six months ... [and be] known as the Stowell [Theatre]”. However at an early stage of the Mayan’s planning, one of the theatre’s management team, Gerhold O. Davis, read a newspaper article about the extensive accomplishments of the Mayan civilization and subsequently hired the author, a young Mexican artist named Francisco Cornejo, to design the interior of the new theatre with a Mayan theme.

Stage with sidestages on each side
Stage with sidestages on each side

The theatre features 12ft-wide sidestages (or, “connecting stages”) on either side of the proscenium arch, located where auditorium boxes or organ grilles would normally be placed. Prior to the theatre’s opening, the Los Angeles Times described them as a “distinct novelty” and declared it the first time such an arrangement had been seen throughout all of America. The sidestages were intended to be used between scenes, for interludes between acts, or for special musical numbers. They were fitted with their own miniature fire curtains, complementing the design on the main fire curtain featuring Mayan jungles and temples. On a technical point it’s interesting to note that the grid structure above the stage extends over the sidestages, forward of the proscenium arch.

Auditorium Centerpiece
Auditorium Centerpiece

The main feature of the auditorium was the massive centerpiece lighting fixture, a Mayan sun-ray design inspired by solar worship and the Mayan calendar stone. The auditorium’s sidewalls feature depictions of the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, set amongst massive carved stone blocks. Although Mayan architecture was the focus, some features from Aztec architecture were included for contrast, such as the Aztec eagle warrior figure which features on several doors.

The main lobby boasts intricate detail from both Mayan and Aztec cultures and was dubbed “The Hall of the Feathered Serpents”. For a long time the original exterior ticket lobby had a drop ceiling however this has now been removed to reveal a deeply-coffered ceiling in three parts which would have probably featured a small patch of painted sky in the centers, reminiscent of openings to the sky at the top-center of Mayan temples.

Mayan detail
Mayan detail

Backstage, the majority of dressing rooms were organized around a central Green Room located directly underneath the stage (the Green Room would also function as the Trap Room should trapdoors in the stage be required). A Star dressing room was located at stage level (Stage Left) with some additional rooms above it.

Starting with its opening production of “Oh, Kay!” in August 1927, backstage staff and actors recorded the shows running at the theatre on a wall in the basement Pump Room. This list survives today and provides valuable insight into the programming of the theatre over its long history. The theatre is also notable for originally having had a paint frame at the rear of the stage. Only supporting beams for the paint frame are visible now.

In 1947 Frank Fouce acquired the building, and over the coming years changed the theatre’s policy to largely Spanish language films with occasional stage shows, comics, and singers.

Colorful Exterior; the bright paint job was added in 1968
Colorful Exterior; the bright paint job was added in 1968

In 1968 the theatre was sub-leased to Carlos Tobalina and renamed the Fabulous Mayan, exhibiting porn movies. The façade’s current colorful decoration dates from this time, replacing the original “dull two-tone scheme of tan and orange”. In 1969 the theatre was triplexed, then later that year the Fouce family sold the theatre to Tobalina.

On 11th June 1989 the Mayan screened its last porno “Passion” before closing its doors. Restaurant and nightclub owner Sammy Chao and entrepreneur Daniel Sullivan had been in discussion with the Tobalinas for about a year on re-imagining the Mayan as a nightclub. Initially it was planned to be called Lost City and open in late 1989, however the name changed to Club Mayan by the time it opened in March 1990. On the main floor the seating area was leveled from the stage to the balcony overhang, then terraced under the balcony. The gala opening, held in aid of the Los Angeles Conservancy Link opens in new window, took place on Friday 9th March 1990.

As of 2019 the theatre is still operating with owner Sammy Chao at the helm. The Mayan is a popular independent live entertainment and music venue in downtown L.A.

The Mayan has featured in many movies including The Bodyguard (1992) Save The Tiger (1973), A Night at the Roxbury (1998), The Replacement Killers (1998), and Playing by Heart (1998).

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Movies

Television

Music Videos

Documentary

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit The Mayan?

As of March 2017 The Mayan does not offer tours and neither do independent companies. Your best bet is to attend one of the many and varied events The Mayan hosts. Click here for their events calendar Link opens in new window.

Further Reading

Online

Books

Technical Information

Flying System
Counterweight Lines 8 linesets rigged to Stage Right
Fly Floor Stage Left and Stage Right, approx 30ft above stage floor
Grid Height Approx 70ft
Lock Rail Stage Right, at both Stage and Fly Floor levels
Stage Dimensions
Proscenium Width 43ft
Side Stage Widths 12ft
Stage Depth 38ft
Historic Photos & Documents

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Photos of The Mayan

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium
  2. Public Areas
  3. Exterior
  4. Backstage
Auditorium

The auditorium was designed in mostly Mayan decoration but with Aztec features added for effect and contrast. The main feature is the ceiling centerpiece, a copy of the Mayan calendar stone further embellished with sun-ray elements inspired by Mayan sun worship.

The sidewalls of the auditorium feature depictions of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent which features in Mayan and Aztec culture.

The proscenium is flanked by massive pillars which are all topped with figures of Coyolauhqui, the Aztec Moon goddess.

Public Areas

The main lobby is preserved as the “Hall of the Serpents” featuring the Mayan feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl.

The Balcony Bar utilizes a Mayan stepped pyramid in reflection: it hangs from the ceiling as opposed to rising from the floor. Clearly it is supporting the stepped balcony seating, above.

The original exterior ticket lobby was renovated to reveal its original 1920s decor (it is not presented here).

Exterior

Mayan and Aztec motifs feature in low-relief across the entire building’s façade. Heavily featured is the figure of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of the Sun and of war. The current colorful painting was added in 1968; prior to that the façade was described as being a “dull two-tone scheme of tan and orange”.

Backstage

The stage houses dressing rooms arranged around a central Green Room located directly underneath the stage. The Green Room would also be used as a Trap Room if stage trapdoors were required. A Star dressing room was located at stage level.

The theatre was built with sidestages, or “connecting stages” which flank the proscenium arch taking-up the spots usually occupied by poor-sightline audience boxes or organ chambers. The sidestages were intended for scenes between acts and longer interludes.



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