Red Lantern Theatre
134 S. Brea Boulevard,
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Architects: Elmore Robinson Jeffery, Frank R. Schaefer
Firms: Jeffrey & Schaefer
Previous Names: Brea Theatre
The Red Lantern Theatre, at a cost of $25,000 and seating 600, opened on March 6, 1922 and was Orange County’s largest theatre to date. A simple advertisement in the Fullerton Daily Tribune proclaimed it as “Orange County’s most beautiful and most original picture and vaudeville palace”. The lessee of the Chinese-themed theatre was L.A. Schlessinger, who in 1915 built the County’s first theatre for the purpose of movies, the West End Theater in Santa Ana. The Brea Historical Society says that the opening attraction was “A Game Chicken” starring Bebe Daniels. It was equipped with a Robert Morton 2 manual 4 ranks organ.
In the 1930’s it was renamed the Brea Theatre and about this time, according to the Historical Society, had a manager named Robert Gumm whose niece Frances Gumm became Judy Garland. Always an independent, it received a modern façade and marquee in the early-1950’s.
By the time it closed around 1976 it was operating as an adult movie theatre. It was then used as church before it and most of the downtown area was demolished in 1987.
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Recent comments (view all 12 comments)
This theatre was equipped with a four-rank Robert Morton pipe organ. Does anyone know which church was using this building before 1987?
I remember passing by the Brea Theatre a couple of times in the 1950s. From the outside it was quite unprepossessing, and I never would have guessed it had the ornate interior described above. All I recall is that it had a tiny marquee and a somewhat shabby facade.
Various issues of Southwest Builder & Contractor from August through November, 1921, carry items about the Red Lantern Theatre. It was designed by architects Jeffery & Schaefer (Elmore Robinson Jeffery and Frank R. Schaefer.) The project was built for investors Culp & Sexton, and the construction company was Fowler & Lindsay, of Santa Ana. Early plans called for reinforced concrete construction, and later articles say the theater was being built of concrete block.
Here is part of an LA Times article dated 10/26/76:
The old Brea Theater apparently will be transformed from an adult movie house into a house of worship. Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and the lessee have worked out preliminary arrangements by which the church will acquire the building lease next Monday.
Calvary Chapel would require a conditional use permit to use the theater for church services. However, the use permit probably would be granted by the city, even though the chapel would be next door to the Church of the Good Shepherd.
Just around the corner from Edwards Brea Stadium Cinemas, this address is nothing but new houses now.
I believe the Brea Theatre in the Boxoffice photo Tinseltoes linked to is this one. Despite the impression the caption gives that it was new construction, nobody was building theaters that looked like that in 1964, and they certainly weren’t making neon Art Deco marquees like that anymore. The Brea must have been closed for a few years, and Mr. Goodin must have renovateded and reopened it.
Although Google Street View shows the Improv comedy club with a marquee very like the one on the Brea Theater, I’m not sure it’s the same marquee. The aerial view shows that the building the Improv is in is not as deep as the theater must have been. It might be entirely new construction, though the Brea’s marquee might have been saved, reconditioned, and attached to the new building. I’m not even sure if the Improv’s entrance is in the same location the theater’s entrance was. The whole town has changed so drastically that it’s unrecognizable.