Unique Theatre

3645 E. 1st Street,
East Los Angeles, CA 90063

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

The L.A. County Assessor’s office gives an original construction date of 1922 and an effectively built date of 1935 (a major renovation) for the 11,532 square foot building at this address. The 1923 City Directory has no theater listed at 3645 E. 1st St., but the Unique Theatre is listed at that address in the 1926 directory.

As the 1923 directory lists the Unique Theatre at 4007 ½ E. 1st, I wonder if the street numbers were adjusted for this section of 1st Street sometime between 1923 and 1926? That would be odd, though, as I’ve found no indication that any other streets in the area were renumbered during that time.

It’s possible that the building was converted into a theater from some other use, but it’s also possible that the address listed for the Unique in the 1923 directory was simply a mistake. If a 1924 directory becomes available and it lists the Unique at 3645, I’d certainly believe the address listed in 1923 to have been an error. IN any case, the Unique Theatre was definitely in operation at this address by 1926.

Rizzo on August 27, 2011 at 1:11 pm

What ^^ said is true about he original seats being beneath the floor and hrs screen boarded up. My grandpa used to run his place back in the day with my dad. And the old woman crying was my grandmother. Wish I could have seen what it looked like then. If anyone has old pictures they would be appreciated.

tifosi521 on April 22, 2011 at 7:48 pm

The Asian man said the old seats are located underneath the current floor and the screen is located behind the wall. You can hear the hollow sound of the floor as you walk. He said the balcony is now his office and the original roof and chandelier are located above the current roof (hidden). He asked us if we knew the original owner and my Dad said that two brothers who were really nice guys owned it. The man said that one day an old woman came in and started crying and when he asked her what was the matter, she said her husband (the owner) had died upstairs. My Dad is 87 and his memory is slipping but it’s awesome that he remembers this place.

tifosi521 on April 22, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Fast forward to this afternoon: My Dad took my to his old neighborhood and we walked into the Unique theater so he could see what it looks like. He first pointed out that the little brown store to the right of it (you can see it in pictures) was a malt shop and a lot people used to hang out there before and after a movie. When we walked into the lobby, you can immediately see the old wooden panels carved along the entrance and the stairwell leading to the balcony. I introduced myself to an Asian man working behind the counter and he told him that my Dad used to go to the movies there as a kid. He said he owned the building now. an

tifosi521 on April 22, 2011 at 7:32 pm

My Dad grew up on 1st street in the late 1920s and went to several movies there throughout the 1930s. He told me that he used to sell newspapers as a kid on the corner of 1st and Rowen. On November 16, 1936, Edward VIII (the Price of Whales) announced his intention to marry Wallis Simpson and it made headlines in the newspaper. To make a long story short: after my Dad sold 15 newspapers for 3 cents each, he bought 5 cents worth of candy next to the Unique Theater and spent 10 cents for admission and saw the movie “Things to Come” by H.G. Wells. He said that many times he and his friends would sneak into the back door and didn’t pay to see movies.

BillCounter on December 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

I see the 1923 city directory has a listing for a Unique Theatre at 4007 ½ E. 1st. Does anyone know anything about this other address?

Also I see that this 3645 location shows up in the 1929 city directory. Perhaps the “mid 30s” description at the top needs an update.

MTS0354 on August 18, 2010 at 2:44 am

The theatre still looks exactly like the photos posted by ken mc back in 2007. The Asian proprieter put up a sign last year he was sub-leasing one third of the store, and he has a few leasee’s so now he has a few leasees, and it’s sort of a swapmeet. As a child, I used to accompany my grandparents to this theatre to see Mexican movies(Spanish language) back in the mid-60s. So, I remember much of this theatre in it’s movie heyday. The original tile floor found in the entrance and lobby area of the theatre remains, and the area where the theatre restrooms used to be is boarded up. The 2nd floor windows where the film projectors showed the fill are still there. The theatre floor used to slope down to the screen (as do most old movie theatres), but the floor is now even (hardwood floors that make a noise when you walk on them). As a child, I thought the theatre was so big, but now as an adult I can see that it really wasn’t that big. Sad to see what the theatre has come to, but also a tiny bit of gladness that it’s still being used (even as a dollar store/swapmeet) and hasn’t gone the way of the bulldozer.

MagicLantern on July 6, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Shouldn’t this be listed as an East Los Angeles theatre?

Rizzo on January 26, 2008 at 8:28 pm

Doesn’t anyone have pictures of it back when it was a theater?

kencmcintyre on August 17, 2007 at 9:12 am

Does it say “Everything Not Over a Dollar” on the marquee? I didn’t see that before. That’s a bit of a syntactical problem, I think.

kencmcintyre on June 23, 2007 at 10:04 am

I found the Unique after battling my way through the subway construction yesterday. It’s still a dollar store. I took some photos which I will post later.

kencmcintyre on June 8, 2007 at 7:48 pm

The Unique was showing Spanish movies on 10/6/54.

thomasl on March 7, 2005 at 8:55 am

I visited East Los Angeles yesterday, and was delighted to find the marquee and sign of the Unique Theater still gracing First Street. The verticle sign, so typical of classic theaters, looks to have been untouched through the decades—thank goodness. True,it is the “Unique Dollar Store” today, but the former theater is still the most distinct building on First Street. Incidentally, the upcoming Metro Gold Line light rail extension into East Los Angeles will pass right by the Unique.

William on January 5, 2005 at 8:10 am

The theatre lobby and auditorium was gutted to become the Unique Dollar Store.

MagicLantern on December 29, 2004 at 12:23 am

This building either houses Estella’s Jewelry or the Unique Dollar Store (which implies that some of the theatre was preserved in some way).

William on February 27, 2003 at 3:53 pm

The Unique Theatre is located at 3645 E. 1st. Street.

Bill H
Bill H on February 18, 2003 at 7:47 pm

Located between Townsend & Rowan Avenue on East First Street in East Los Angeles.