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First Opened: 26th April 1928 (91 years ago)
Former Names: Warner Bros Theatre, Warner Hollywood Theatre, Warner Cinerama, Pacific 1-2-3
Opened in 1928 as the Warner Brothers Hollywood and seating just short of 2,800, this was the largest theatre of its day in Hollywood. Architect G. Albert Lansburgh cleverly maximized the available space by orienting the oval-shaped auditorium and the stage at 45 degrees to the building’s rectangular footprint.
Lansburgh, who architected the Wiltern (interior), and the Palace and Orpheum theatres in Downtown Los Angeles, employed a mix of Renaissance Revival, Rococo, and Moorish styles for the theatre. With its sky-like expansive ceiling up-lit by hidden multi-colored lights able to reproduce any hue, and arched colonnades affording views to exotic painted landscapes behind, it was the closest Los Angeles came to having an atmospheric theatre.
The oval shape gave rise to a grand double-height lobby running around the entirety of the auditorium in a horseshoe shape. In addition to the main entrance on Hollywood Blvd there was an entrance on the left side of the “horseshoe”, which afforded access to and from Wilcox Ave. The enclosing building takes up half a block on Hollywood Blvd and in addition to the theatre was used for retail at street level and office space above. The Warner Brothers radio station KFWB was housed in the building and its two rooftop antenna towers survive to this day.
The theatre had an organ (4 manual, 28 rank Marr & Colton) which was relocated from the Piccadilly Theatre in New York.
In the 1940s actress Carol Burnett worked at the theatre as an usherette while attending Hollywood High School. In May 1975 Burnett was recognized with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame and insisted the star be located outside the Warner Brothers Theatre, the place she felt had launched her show business career.
In 1953 the theatre was adapted for Cinerama and the name changed to the Warner Cinerama Theatre. Lansburgh’s intricately designed proscenium arch was covered-up with drapes, the rear balcony draped-off, and projecting parts of the proscenium arch removed so as not to obstruct views of the screen. 1961 heralded replacement of the Cinerama screen with a wide flat screen and the addition of 70mm projection equipment, and then in late 1962 Cinerama was reinstalled albeit with a shallower curved screen (126 degrees) than the 1953 screen (146 degrees).
In 1968 the theatre was taken over by Pacific Theatres and renamed the Hollywood Pacific Theatre. External “Warners” signs were covered-over with the word “Pacific”, easily done given the same number of letters per word, and to this day some of the “Warners” lettering is still visible behind the current “Pacific” signs. In 1978 Pacific Theatres triplexed the theatre by sealing-off and subdividing the Balcony yielding a 1,250-seat auditorium at Orchestra level and two 550-seat auditoria in the old Balcony.
The combination of issues arising from the construction of Metro’s Red Line subway along Hollywood Blvd in the 1980s and damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake saw the two upper auditoria close in early 1994 out of an abundance of caution for public safety. In August 1994 the main auditorium was closed.
From October 2000 the main auditorium was occupied by the Entertainment Technology Center for use as their Digital Cinema Laboratory, “to perform research and establish benchmarks regarding standards for digital cinema distribution and exhibition”. In 2006 ETC moved their lab to the USC Campus and a church took over use of the theatre. The church’s lease was terminated in 2013 and the building has remained vacant and shuttered since then.
In light of the continuing resurgence of Hollywood Blvd there are concerns as to what could happen to this beautiful theatre. In mid-2017 a spokesperson for Los Angeles councilmember Mitch O’Farrell stated that O’Farrell “wants to preserve this piece of Hollywood history” and see it reopened as an entertainment venue, however the current owners have stated that too much work needs to be done on the building and that restoring it isn’t financially viable. For over 3 years the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation has been meeting with the owners and working with Hollywood Heritage and other concerned organizations, such as the Los Angeles Conservancy, on ways the theatre might be brought back into use. In August 2017 it was announced an independent feasibility study, with reuse as a theatre being a priority, will be carried-out.
The Hollywood Pacific is currently closed to the public, however April Clemmer’s Old Hollywood Walking Tour will get you inside the Hollywood Pacific’s impressive wrap-around lobby, and potentially into the main auditorium too. Tours generally run the last Friday of every month plus additional special dates, and last approximately 90 mins. Advance reservations are requested. For more information, tour schedules, and reservations, go to the Old Hollywood Walking Tour website .
Photographs copyright © 2002-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com unless otherwise noted.
Text copyright © 2017-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com.
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