El Rey Theatre

333 W. Main Street,
Alhambra, CA 91801

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Showing 26 - 29 of 29 comments

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 30, 2004 at 8:34 pm

Hi, Noname. I have been checking the City of Alhambra’s web site periodically, and a few months ago I saw there a picture of a new project at the corner of Fourth and Main. It is a mixed use building, with apartments upstairs and commercial space on the ground floor. The corner shop is occupied by a Denny’s restaurant. I just checked the Alhambra web site again, and it must have been updated, because the picture of the new building is gone, but I found the Denny’s in a Google search:
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The address of Denny’s is given as 369 W. Main. The picture that is gone from the city web site showed a fairly wide building, so it must occupy the site of the theater as well as the corner lot (where there used to be a print shop in a single story spanish style building set back behind a small lawn) and probably the lots east of the theater’s site, too, where there used to be a long, low commercial building.

I’d like to get back to Alhambra and take a look at all the recent changes, but I don’t know when I’ll get the chance.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 30, 2004 at 7:17 am

El Rey went through a number of changes through the years. I first attended a movie there in the early 1950’s. By that time, the triple arch had been replaced by a conventional entrance with a central, freestanding box office, and there was a taller marquee, reaching all the way to the cornice line, with the theater name and detail in colorful neon. I don’t have any memory of the decorated parapet with its classic urns, but I believe that the window-like niches on either side of the entrance were still there.

Inside, there was a compact lobby, with concession stand opposite the front doors, and between the doors to the two aisles. Again, I have no memory of any ornate decoration there, but I have the impression of a fairly modern-looking space, so it had probably been remodeled at the same time as the outer lobby and marquee. The auditorium had a shallowly vaulted ceiling, hung with six rather simple octagonal chandeliers of colored glass panels in metalwork frames. There were simple buttresses along the walls, topped by light fixtures of frosted, colored glass, but I don’t remember what color.

Unlike the other theaters in Alhambra, which all had big leather seats in their loge sections, El Rey’s loges were plush upholstered seats a bit larger than the regular seats, and their backrests had fancy, art-moderne looking tops, rather than the simple rounded tops of the cheaper seats. Their upholstery was a different shade, too, but I don’t remember the colors. (I seem to have a very bad memory for color.)

Though we went to the movies every Friday or Saturday night, we seldom went to this theater because, being operated by Fox as a first-run house, admission was considerably more expensive than at several other theaters in the area. I think we only went there once before it became the first theater in the area to install a Cinemascope screen. When that was done, we went for the second time, to see the Cinemascope remake of “Cimmaron.” It was the first Cinemascope picture I ever saw.

Sometime around 1960, El Rey came under the ownership of the Edwards circuit. With this acquisition, Edwards was in control of all the theaters in Alhambra, San Gabriel, Temple City, Arcadia, Monterey Park and South San Gabriel. (They shared a half interest in Alhambra’s Garfield Theater with another small circuit, which I believe was called Vinicoff, but Edwards managed the Garfield.)

A couple of years after taking over El Rey, Edwards did a major remodeling of the facade, covering all the remaining plaster work with slabs of marble (which may have been faux marble- I’m not sure) and installing a new marquee, slanted rather than square, and featuring the theater’s name in dozens of somewhat retro blinking lights instead of the former neon. When the old marquee was being taken down, I happened to pass by, and saw that the carved stone below the cornice line featuring the theater’s former name was revealed, but it was swiftly covered again by the new marquee. I was only inside the place a couple of times after that, and recall that the lobby had been spruced up a bit, too, but I don’t remember any great changes in the auditorium, which had been fairly simple for as long as I had known it.

I last saw El Rey in the summer of 1986, a few weeks before I moved away from Los Angeles. The next year, both it and the nearby Alhambra Theater were severely damaged by the Whittier Narrows earthquake, and both had to be demolished. I have pleasant memories of both, and I’m sorry that they have been lost.

William on June 23, 2004 at 12:41 pm

The El Rey theatre in Alhambra was once operated by Fox West Coast Theatres during the 40’s and 50’s.

William on November 12, 2003 at 7:01 pm

The El Rey Theatre was located at 333 W. Main Street. When the theatre opened it seated 1000 people, but was reseated during the 40’s to 861 people.