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The State Theatre opened as Loew’s State in November 1921 and was their west coast showcase movie theatre, later becoming the downtown Los Angeles home for first-run MGM movies. It is the largest theatre within the Broadway Theatre District by audience capacity (originally reported variously as 2,404 and 2,450; now 2,119).
The State was designed by Charles Peter Weeks and William Day, of architectural firm Weeks & Day, in a Spanish Renaissance style, and is incorporated within a splendid 12-story Beaux Arts style office block called the United Building. Situated at the intersection of downtown Los Angeles’ busiest retail streets of the early 1920s, the building extends half a block along 7th St and one-third of a block along Broadway, and is the city’s largest brick-clad building. The theatre originally boasted two marquees with entrances on both Broadway and 7th, however the 7th St entrance was closed in 1936. The theatre’s marquees were originally simple bronze canopies with single-line lettering but were later replaced with more elaborate two-line marquees. The surviving marquee on Broadway was installed in 1937.
The auditorium is vast and virtually square in shape, with a lavish Spanish Rococo style ceiling. A particular highlight is the Billiken figure occupying a niche above the center of the proscenium arch (the Billiken, as a good luck charm, sprang from the height of the “Mind-Cure” craze in the United States at the start of the twentieth century). The State also boasts a quite sensational fire/safety curtain, by Armstrong-Powers, depicting a futuristic fantasy city of onion-domed towers surrounded by planets and comet trails.
At the time of the State’s opening the theatre’s projection booth boasted a feature which Loew’s proclaimed as unique: a “shower bath” with hot and cold water for the projectionist! No sign of the “shower bath” is now evident. The projection booth was exceedingly well equipped, boasting three film projectors, two spotlights (followspots), one floodlight, and a double stereopticon (a Brenograph or similar). A vacant “seat call” system was installed in the theatre, designed by the theatre’s manager Nat Holt and stage director W.F. Scott, and was called the Holtscott System.
In 1925 West Coast Theatres took over management of the theatre. The original 3-manual, 18-rank Möller theatre organ was replaced with a 3-manual, 11-rank Wurlitzer Style 235 (Opus 981) and at the same time the vaudeville operation was turned-over to Fanchon and Marco. The State became one of their flagship venues alongside the Paramount Theatre further up the street.
In 1927 the State advertised that its new refrigeration plant (air cooling system) was now in operation. There was, after all, new competition coming such as the air-cooled Tower Theatre just one block down the street!
In 1929 a Bakersfield act called The Gumm Sisters played at the State, featuring a lead singer who earned the nickname “Leather Lungs” for to her ability to be heard clearly at the rear of the 125ft deep auditorium. As the Great Depression took hold and vaudeville declined (vaudeville ceased at the State in the mid 1930s) the Gumm Sisters moved to Culver City to appear in experimental Technicolor musicals, and “Leather Lungs” changed her name to Judy Garland.
Operation of the theatre was turned-over to United Artists in 1949 as result of the consent decree ruling separating the studios from their theatre chain, however the Loew’s State name persisted well into the 1950s until the signage was eventually changed to The State in 1955.
In January 1963 Metropolitan Theatres took on the lease however the State slowly declined – similarly to most other movie theatres – and featured many general release movies dubbed into Spanish in addition to repeats. Ultimately, Metropolitan Theatres closed the State in 1997.
The State has been used as a filming location several times, and for its role as New York’s Bowery Theatre in Wild Bill (1995) the production company re-draped the proscenium arch with swags and soft decorations which remain in place to this day.
The State is owned by The Broadway Theatre Group, who also own the Palace, the Los Angeles and Tower theatres, all on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles. Until early 2018 the State was leased to church group Cathedral Of Faith. As of mid-2018 the owners are seeking tenants for theatre-related use.
The theatre does not currently offer theatre tours. In the past the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District Walking Tour has gained access to the State Theatre however this may not always be the case - check ahead for details.
Photographs copyright © 2002-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com unless otherwise noted.
Text copyright © 2017-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com.
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