Gaiety Theatre

523 S. Main Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Previous Names: Peoples Theatre, Olympic Theatre, Alphin Theatre, Omar Theatre, Moon Theatre, Gayety Theatre

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The Gaiety Theatre was one of many theaters that made up the original owntown Los Angeles movie district along S. Main Street. When the larger palaces opened up along S. Broadway, S. Main Street theaters became grind type theatres showing anything from regular films to adult films.

Contributed by William Gabel

Recent comments (view all 82 comments)

kencmcintyre on April 2, 2009 at 6:52 pm

My only quibble would be that I don’t recall ever seeing billboards of that nature on Main Street, at least not on that part of Main. if it’s not this Gayety I wonder which one it could be. I think it may be on Broadway, but perhaps not in Los Angeles?

kencmcintyre on April 28, 2009 at 9:22 pm

I think the Gaiety is the theater farthest north on Main in this 1930s photo from the USC archive:

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 28, 2009 at 11:35 pm

I notice that the unreadable vertical sign appears to be partly draped, as though they might have been working on it. I wonder if this was the time the Gaiety name was adopted for the house? It’s also possible they were getting ready to remove the vertical. It was certainly gone by the time Robert McVay took this 1947 photo (previously posted.)

The movies on the Optic’s marquee were both released in 1938. According to IMDb, the Dick Powell movie “Hard to Get” was released in November and “Orphans of the Street” in December. I don’t think the Optic was a first-run house any more by this time, but the latter movie appears to be a “B” picture of the sort that went to sub-run houses pretty fast, so if IMDb’s dates are right then the photo could date from late 1938 or early 1939.

kencmcintyre on April 29, 2009 at 11:52 am

Joe, almost all of these photos from the Dick Whittington studio were taken in 1939. I only posted the ones relevant to CT, but there are 2840 photos in the USC collection showing LA during this period. Go to the USC archive search engine and enter “Whittington” to see the entire collection.

cmayerro on March 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Does anyone know of an archival copy of the Frank E. Wolfe film mentioned in the thread above, From Dusk to Dawn 1913? David E. James lists the film as lost in his recent book, and his discussion of the film is based on an essay written by the director. In any case the film looks like it might be a loose adaptation of a Zola novel I am working on, Travail (Labor), published in 1901. The novel was also adapted for an epic six-part film by Henri Pouctal in 1919. Also, andita above suggests the Wolfe film “did blockbuster business”. How do we know? Suggestions of resources for this neophyte appreciated (I’m a scholar of literature, not film, working in a new direction). Thanks.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

cmayerrro: I’m afraid I can’t provide you with any additional information about Wolfe’s 1913 movie. About 80% of all movies made in the United States during the silent era are lost, and the odds that a copy (even a partial one) of From Dusk to Dawn survives are pretty slim. It’s possible that reviews survive in publications of the period, and one or another of them might give you a clue to the story’s origin, but I’ve been unable to find any.

There’s a very slight chance that a copy of the movie survived among the cache of American silent films recently revealed to exist in Russia. There are 194 films, according to this article, and copies of them are being sent to the Library of Congress. I’ve been unable to find a list of the titles of these movies. Given the vast number of movies that have been lost, and the mere handful that were discovered in Russia, though, the chance that a copy of From Dusk to Dawn is in this cache of survivors is slight. Still, the movie’s Socialist theme makes it likely that prints of it would have made their way to Russia during the early Soviet period.

If andita is still watching this thread, Google Books has a preview of the David James book cmayerro mentioned, The Most Typical Avant-Garde, and I noticed that it says the movie premiered at the Mozart Theatre on Sunday, October 19, 1913, and played there for one week before moving to the Lyceum Theatre. The Mozart was on Grand Avenue, and the Lyceum on Spring Street.

If From Dusk to Dawn later played a house on Fifth Street, I’ve unearthed another possible venue at which it might have been shown. I only recently discovered that, in 1908, a good-sized movie house called the Globe Theatre was built at the southeast corner of Fifth and Los Angeles streets. It was operating at least as late as 1914, but was closed sometime before 1921. Given its early closing date, as well as its out-of-the-way location, it’s not surprising that its existence eluded our discovery for so long.

cmayerro on March 3, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Thank you so much for your expeditious reply, Joe Vogel. The news of the Yeltsin collection of silent American films being donated is serendipitous, even if it turns out the Wolfe film isn’t among them. I’ll dig and see what I can learn. Incidentally, I’m searching for another film adaptation of a Zola novel, co-directed by French and Russian directors H. Etievant and N. Evreinoff, “Fecondite” (1929). I’ve written to every archive in France and have struck out there, but I still wonder about private holdings, possibly in Russia. Just putting this out there in case you have any ideas. Again, thank you, Carmen Mayer-Robin

cmayerro on March 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm

As a followup to the previous message, see the following for the first ten films in the collection, courtesy of our research librarian at the University of Alabama:

Also, the same librarian says the LOC promises to write back with a list of the other films within the next week. I’ll be glad to share if and when the list materializes.

drb on March 9, 2011 at 4:25 am

Apparently, there was a “Louis Sonney’s Museum of Crime” on 521 S. Main St. in the 1920s, adjoining the theatre. An old ticket with that address was found in the mouth of the mummy of outlaw Elmer McCurdy, which is what allowed the police to ID the corpse, which had been found displayed in a funhouse at the Pike amusement park in Long Beach in the 1970s. Everyone had thought it was a badly-sculpted wax figure until its arm fell off. So after seeing a movie at the Moon, you could go next door and pay 25 cents to see a mummified inept train and bank robber.

OwenDriggs on August 4, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I’m reading this thread years after it ran out, because I’m researching the Socialist Movie Theater that opened on LA’s 5th Street between Los Angeles and Main in September 1911. And I’ve found an address that may offer some clues to it’s location.

Looking at Baist’s 1910 Real Estate Map, that block on Fifth Street covers #s 106-131. An “LA Record” article about the Theater from 1911 refers readers with questions about it to “Frank C. Hillyard, 129 East Fifth Street, Los Angeles,” which is in the correct block.

As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, Hillyard was a lifelong union man (International Molders' Union), who was then in his mid-twenties and very active in LA during the “General Campaign Strike Committee for the Unionizing of LA,” 1910-12. So that seems to fit.

However, that address would put the Theater in the then-rather posh King Edward Hotel (117-131 5th Street), or in one of its street level commercial spaces.

Conversely, perhaps Hillyard was staying in the hotel (which seems somewhat unlikely, as it would have been new, fashionable,and perhaps expensive in 1910?)

Does anyone have thoughts on the likely candidacy of the King Edward as the location of the Socialist Movie Theater?

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