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Ricardo Montalbán Theatre

Ricardo Montalbán Theatre

First Opened: 19th January 1927 (93 years ago)

Former Names: Vine St Theatre, Mirror Theatre, CBS Radio Playhouse, Huntington Hartford Theatre, James A. Doolittle Theatre

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

Telephone: (323) 871-2420 Call (323) 871-2420

Address: 1615 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

The Montalbán opened in January 1927 as the Wilkes Vine Street Theatre, a legitimate Broadway-style theatre in Hollywood. The early 1930s saw it have a run as a movie theatre for a few years, before becoming the CBS Radio Playhouse – and home of the Al Jolson Show.

Detailed Information

The theatre at its opening in 1927
The theatre at its opening in 1927

The theatre was originally planned by movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille and referred to as “DeMille’s Playhouse” during the planning stages. Architect Myron Hunt designed the theatre (other works in the Los Angeles area included the Rose Bowl, the Huntington Library, and the Ambassador Hotel), however for reasons unknown DeMille’s plans fell through. Frank B. Strong and John F. Wilson picked up the idea and built the theatre based upon the original plans.

According to a story printed in the Los Angeles Times in May 1926, the theatre was originally planned to be called The Queen Theater, however by the time it opened in January 1927 it was called the Wilkes Vine Street Theatre, the Wilkes brothers being the first lessees of the theatre.

When the Depression hit the theatre was lease-out as a movie theatre, then in early 1931 sold to Howard Hughes and movie executive Harold B. Franklin. The theatre reopened as the Mirror Theatre.

Hollywood historian Mary Mallory notes that the Hollywood Theatre Guild brought legitimate drama back to the theatre in 1935, however a lack of interest resulted in films being shown again, and the Guild ultimately selling the theatre to CBS in 1936. It reopened as the CBS Radio Playhouse on 2nd January 1937 and was the new home of The Al Jolson Show.

CBS hosted the long-running anthology series Lux Radio Theatre at The Montalbán featuring Cecil B. DeMille as producer and host for many years, an interesting turn of events given DeMille had originally planned the theatre.

The theatre in 1978, then called the <i>Huntington Hartford Theatre</i>
The theatre in 1978, then called the Huntington Hartford Theatre

In 1953 the theatre was sold by CBS to businessman Huntington Hartford, who remodeled it “at great expense” – according to the Los Angeles Times, renamed it the Huntington Hartford Theatre, and reverted it to hosting legitimate theatre. The inaugural production was What Every Woman KnowsPeter Pan fame) and featuring Helen Hayes.

James Doolittle, who operated the Greek Theatre at the time, purchased the theatre in the Spring of 1964, and following some updating work it reopened on 21st September 1964 with a production of H.M.S. Pinafore directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie. The production had previously played the Greek Theatre during the 1962 season where it broke attendance records.

In 1984 UCLA and Center Theatre Group, operating as a co-venture called The Theatre Group Inc., entered into talks regarding purchasing the theatre. By mid-February 1985 the deal was confirmed with renovations underway. The theatre would be renamed as the James A. Doolittle Theatre with Doolittle retaining a five year option to fill the theatre for seven weeks per year. Reopening was 8th October 1985 with a production of “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Martha Clarke.

Opening ad for the Center Theatre Group season at the newly-named <i>James A. Doolittle Theatre</i>
Opening ad for the Center Theatre Group season at the newly-named James A. Doolittle Theatre

During the years when the Ahmanson Theatre at the Los Angeles Music Center hosted multi-year runs of Phantom of the Opera (May 1989 to August 1993) and Miss Saigon (January 1995 to October 1995), and was under renovation between those productions (August 1993 to January 1995), the James A. Doolittle Theatre was home to many of Center Theatre Group’s productions including Fences featuring James Earl Jones, Six Degrees of Separation featuring Marlo Thomas and Donald Sutherland, Jake’s Women featuring Alan Alda, Fool Moon featuring Bill Irwin, and Falsettos.

In December 1996, Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame played his one-man adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the theatre to much critical acclaim. The show closed on 29th December 1996 with the theatre seemingly going dark thereafter for an extended period.

The theatre’s façade in 2020
The theatre’s façade in 2020

In 1999 the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation bought the building with the vision of providing inspiration and training for emerging artists in the Hispanic community and thus enabling them to mainstream into the performing arts and the broader entertainment industry. Reopened in 2004 The Montalbán now runs a variety of film festivals, rentals and the hugely successful rooftop cinema club.

The theatre’s façade underwent a remodel in the 1950s but has since been restored to more closely match its original 1927 appearance with signature triple windows. The interior has been redecorated many times, most notably during the theatre’s 1950s modernization, and as such little remains of the original interior design.

First established in 2015, the Rooftop Cinema Club utilized the theatre’s roof as an open-air movie theatre, with a large projection screen in place on the stagehouse’s fly tower wall. Warm summer evenings screening classic movies, coupled with artisan eats and craft beverages, have proven very popular with Los Angeles movie-goers. The rooftop cinema now operates independently.

How do I visit the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre?

As of May 2017 The Montalbán does not offer theatre tours. Instead you may wish to check out the theatre’s events calendar Link opens in new window or attend a screening at their Rooftop Cinema Link opens in new window.

Further Reading

Online

Technical Information

Flying System
Flying System
Counterweight System (wire guide) operated Stage Right at floor level
Linesets
47 linesets (4-line), last lineset (47) currently inoperable
General Information
Balcony Overhang
Row I (i.e. between H and J) of Orchestra
Seating Capacity
950 (originally 1,200)
Lighting
Dimmers
96 @ 2.4kW 20A (Stage Pin connectors) located DSR
Fixtures
17 @ Source 4 Ellipsoidals; 21 @ Chauvet Pro Colorado 1-Quad Tour Zoom; 12 @ S4 PAR
Movie Projection
Center Stage Screen
42ft x 22ft
Center Stage Screen (rear projection)
38ft x 28ft
DCP System
NEC 2000-C Full Screen 18,000 Lumen DCP System (large main screen only)
Left Side Screen
14ft 6in x 10ft 6in (4:3 aspect ratio)
Projectors
3 @ Canon WUX 6000 Projectors 2K resolution with Standard Lens; 1 @ Canon RS-IL02LZ Long Focus Zoom Lens 1.54-2.4; 1 @ Canon RS-IL02WZ Short Focus Zoom Lens 1.00-1.54
Right Side Screen
14ft 6in x 10ft 6in (4:3 aspect ratio)
Stage Dimensions
Center Line to SL Wall
33ft
Center Line to SR Pin Rail
32ft
House Curtain to Rear Wall
34ft
Proscenium Height
24ft 10in
Proscenium Width
38ft
Historic Photos & Documents

Files displayed in this section may be subject to copyright; refer to our Copyright Fair Use Statement regarding our use of copyrighted media.

Photos of the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

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

First established in 2015, the Rooftop Cinema Club utilizes the theatre’s roof as an open-air movie theatre, with a large projection screen in place on the stagehouse wall. Warm summer evenings screening classic movies, coupled with artisan eats and craft beverages, have proven very popular with Los Angeles movie-goers.



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