California Theatre

810 S. Main Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90014

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 5, 2018 at 4:03 pm

The last event at the California Theatre must have been the program of two silent movies with accompaniment from the California’s Wurlitzer organ on June 24, 1990, noted in this item from The Los Angeles Times of May 8 that year:

“That’s all, folks! Los Angeles theater organist Gaylord Carter will make his farewell appearance on the California Theatre’s mighty Wurlitzer on Sunday at 2 p.m. With the imminent demolition of the historic building, the local Theatre Organ Society has slated only three more programs, including the grand finale on June 24. Carter, who is remembered by old-timers for providing the opening and closing theme music to the 1930’s ‘Amos 'n’ Andy' radio programs, will accompany two Harold Lloyd films, ‘Hot Water’ (1924) and ‘For Heaven’s Sake’ (1926).”
Until coming across this item I’d been unaware that the California’s organ was still in the theater and operational as late as 1990. I’ve been unable to discover any details about the organ, or what became of it when the theater was demolished later that year.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 14, 2018 at 1:55 pm

The Moving Picture World of May 11, 1918, had this item about the California Theatre, though the project missed the theater’s projected opening date by about over months:

“Miller’s Theater to Open September 15.

“The new Miller theater, now being erected at Eighth and Main streets for Fred Miller and associates, is being rushed to completion in record time. Work was started on the theater on February 11. All the walls are in up to the mezzanine floor and the great concrete slab covering the entire mezzanine floor has been poured; also the two grand stairways on either side of the main entrance, which lead up a gentle incline known as a ‘ramp’ and the main ramp leading to the balcony are a mass of solid concrete reinforced by steel bars.

“To get ready for this operation and to bring the work up to its present condition, it has taken over 250,000 feet of lumber, 70 tons of steel bars, 800 tons of rock, 450 yards of sand, 4,000 sacks of cement, 100 kegs of nails, three and a half tons of wire and about fifty tons of miscellaneous materials. The new theater will be ready September 15.”

Having never been inside the California I was unaware that it had ramps. Architect A. B. Rosenthal must have been aware of the theaters designed by architect Henderson Ryan, who first used ramps for balcony access in Seattle’s Liberty Theatre in 1912, and patented a ramp system for theaters in 1916.

I’ve managed to dig up bit (a very little bit) more about Rosenthal. The 1926 Los Angeles city directory lists him as Rosenthal, Alex B., archt. 815 S. Hill rm 709, with his residence at 2401 6th. 815 S. Hill was the Hillstreet Building, the office block which was also occupied by the Junior Orpheum Circuit’s Hillstreet Theatre. Rosenthal’s office had been moved into the building in 1922, the year it was completed.

Alex B. Rosenthal was practicing architecture in Chicago at least as early as 1896 and at least as late as 1904. He opened an office in the Lankershim Building in Los Angeles in 1915.

Bruce Calvert
Bruce Calvert on October 23, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I have a California/Miller’s Theater combo program at the Silent Film Still Archive.

ettaK on March 29, 2011 at 2:00 am

Wondering if anyone has a photo of the murals that were on either side of the spiral staircases?

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

Here is an early photo of the California Theatre featured on the cover of the May, 1919, issue of the Los Angeles-based investment magazine American Globe.

gmortimer on September 20, 2009 at 2:57 pm

I just came across a opening and deducation souvenir program for the California Theatre at Main and Eighth St. It consists of approximately 70 pages, is string-bound. My grandmother had it in her papers. She was a life-long entertainer/musician who participated in a number of stage shows and at least one movie in her later years (Blackbeards Ghost). The interior of the program is in very fine shape. The outer cover id a bit frayed at the edges, but very presentable.

kencmcintyre on August 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

This was in the LA Times in November 1918:

Hockey Dude
Hockey Dude on May 8, 2009 at 10:25 am

Hey everybody, local South Pas kid and amateur filmmaker, R.D.Hall, will be premiering him Noir Horror/Gangster movie at the Rialto theatre in South Pasadena on May 8th, 2009. The One-Sheet was created by another South Pas kid, local art legend, Jimi(not the tattoo artist)Martinez. Admission is free, as is the popcorn and refreshments. Whoa! Friday night at the movies!!! Lets all go support indie filmmaking…Rialto rocks!!!

kencmcintyre on April 27, 2009 at 9:18 pm

This USC photo from the late 1930s shows the back end of the theater, looking from Eighth Street:

kencmcintyre on November 26, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Here is part of an LA Times story dated 3/20/22:


While the house was crowded with patrons, two self-asserted ex-servicemen out of work, held up the office staff of the California Theater near the busy corner of Eighth and Main streets shortly before 10 o'clock last night and robbed the office safe of $12,000.

The bandits, after gaining entrance through the cloak room by a ruse, bound the hands of S. Levy, in charge of the office, and R. Ortega, clerk in the cloakroom, with strong wrapping cord.

“We don’t want your money”, one declared. “It’s the company’s money we want. Don’t be worried, we won’t trouble you if you don’t trouble us while we’re getting it”. After they took the money, the bandits fled through a door opening from the office onto Main Street. The robbery was accomplished so that no one outside of the office knew what was taking place.

JayAllenSanford on August 8, 2008 at 9:15 am

New book-length Pussycat Theatre history from the San Diego Reader:
View link

kencmcintyre on March 16, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Here is a photo of the box office, circa mid 70s:

CINECITO on February 9, 2008 at 7:26 pm

I’m working in a documentary film about theaters that exhibited Spanish films, like the California, anyone interested in sharing some of its history?

Mr. Patikin, I would like you to contact me

Hockey Dude
Hockey Dude on November 6, 2007 at 9:47 pm

I recall this place. My dad took us here when we were kids. He brought to us to several of the downtown movie houses during the 1970s. Five Fingers of Death and all that. But I remember this one for different reasons.I lived in Los Angeles until recently,but back then, I rented a space across the street from the place around the time they tore it down. Such a shame. But I know what garageguy and gerew are talking about. Oh garageguy, I know what you are trying to do. You are trying to smoke the guy out. The fellow who took the booth. You’re a sly devil. Hope you catch him.Dont be to harsh with gerew, he seems like a great and sincere person, you control yourself now, boy.
My question is as follows. My family have been Angelenos since the late 1890s, and my great grandfather and grandfather both worked in movie houses. My dad was an usher too. I recall my great grandfather in moments of rare lucidity tell me stories about working in Nickelodeons. Here is my query. He told me had worked in several moviehouses that arenot listed in Cinema Treasures. One that sticks out in my mind is the Palms. I guess he worked there around 1910-1918. Its not listed, however, there are other Palms listed, but not the right one. The reason I recall this is because the family lived off of Temple street at the time, in a long demolished wooden tenement , and my dad said that greatgramps used to cross the street to go to work, so that would put it on the corner of Temple and Union or Belmont. Gramps would recall that the place , even then, was a “rowdy joint”. Is it possible that it was a Nickleodeon and not a movie house? Anybody know?

patinkin on November 6, 2007 at 8:56 pm

Hey gerew….(just to rub it in)….I got about 50 seats ( the originals, not the later replacements downstairs) from the California in my mother’s basement….want to swap for something????

patinkin on November 6, 2007 at 8:53 pm

Hey gerew, you said the fellow called you a “yuppie”? Maybe it was Charles Bukowski, that dude hated yuppies and gays with a vengeance
and I guess you had the bad luck to fit the bill on both counts….just kidding…I had an anonymous caler threaten me once, not with death, but with pain. He said he was from J & S Salvage, and he accused me of taking the infamous booth( I lied just to piss him off and told him that I had, HA!). The boob tells me that “we will meet in a dark alley someday”. Can you believe that??? Hey, maybe it was a come-on and not a threat. HAHA! What a wiggler. I checked with my pals at Cleveland Wrecking, and guess what, no “J&S Salvage” existed. He called me few times after that and in his increasingly irrational threats he accused me of stealing plants from the Hollywood Bowl…WTF???? Like I said….what a wiggler.
So dude….keep up the good work….you seem like one of the good ones.

patinkin on November 5, 2007 at 3:25 am

I’m sure Steve washed his hand with Clorox after that…yikes!!!
But seriously….Why were they threatening you? I was threatened with a gun once while collecting old balustrades from a demolished West Adams manse. The dude was a picker for antique dealers.

hillsmanwright on November 5, 2007 at 2:14 am

Just wrote two long responses, which the site apparently ate. Been to the last picture show at the NuWilshire (1931) designed by Cooper, who also did the Roxie. Our favorite death threat was left on the answering machine. I still have the tape. It’s hilarious! Die Yuppie Scum, we know where you live, watch your back, etc. The death threat was one thing, being called a Yuppie was unendurable. The LAPD thought it was funny, too, though there was not much they could do for us. But that was so many years ago. AS far as I’m concerned, Steve has committed a perfect act of contrition with the Orpheum. May he and it grow and prosper. I shook his hand and told him the same on more than one occasion. How can we go forward from here and make the rest of Broadway happen?