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The Wilshire Ebell Theatre is part of a larger complex, completed in 1927, as the clubhouse for The Ebell of Los Angeles, a prominent Los Angeles women’s club formed in 1894. The theatre is relatively intimate in size, seating just under 1,300, and is well known for its excellent acoustics. It has hosted musical performances and lectures by top artists and world leaders.
The etymology of the theatre’s name reflects that of the club, based on the principles and teachings of Adrian Ebell and founded in his name. Ebell was a pioneer in women’s education and the organization of societies for women in the 1890s. At its forming, the Ebell of Los Angeles’ purpose was stated as being “to interest women in the study of all branches of literature, art and science and the advancement of women in every branch of culture”.
The 1927 clubhouse complex, including the theatre, was designed in an Italian style by Sumner P. Hunt of architectural firm Hunt & Burns. A major renovation took place in 1989 which saw the stage refitted, the auditorium seating and carpets replaced, and new lighting/sounds systems installed.
The Wilshire Ebell has played host to many notable performances during its 80+ year tenure. Judy Garland, known at the time as Baby Frances Gumm, first auditioned for MGM on the Wilshire Ebell’s stage in the 1930s. Amelia Earhart made her last appearance and public speech on the theatre’s stage before departing on her ill-fated 1937 round-the-world flight. Igor Stravinsky conducted the premiere of Danses Concertantes here in 1942, his first major work composed entirely in the United States. “One of jazz’s first pop stars”, according to the LA Times, jazz great Dave Brubeck, performed at the Wilshire Ebell two years after forming the legendary Dave Brubeck Quartet and one year before appearing on the cover of Time magazine. The album “Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Wilshire Ebell” lives on as a jazz classic. The American Foundation for Equal Rights held their west coast premiere reading of the play “8” here in 2012. Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Jaime Lee Curtis, Matt Bomer, Kevin Bacon, Christine Lahti, John C. Reilly, and directed by Rob Reiner, the star-studded performance benefited the court fight that ultimately led to a historic victory in the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of marriage equality.
The theatre houses a 3/13 Barton pipe organ which is currently owned and maintained by the Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society.
The theatre and particularly the clubhouse complex is a very popular movie and TV filming location. The general location’s headline features include: Columbo (1971 TV series), 24 (2001 TV series), Mad Men (2007-2015 TV series), Feud (2017 TV series), Ghost (1990), Death Becomes Her (1992), Forrest Gump (1994), Air Force One (1997), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Wedding Crashers (2005), and Oscar-winning The Artist (2001). Specific titles filmed at the theatre are listed below.