Montalban Theatre

1615 N. Vine Street,
Los Angeles, CA 92262

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Montalban Theatre (Official)

Additional Info

Architects: Harold Coulson Chambers, Myron Hunt, Simeon Charles Lee

Firms: Hunt & Chambers

Functions: Live Theatre, Movies (Classic)

Styles: Beaux-Arts

Previous Names: Wilkes Vine Street Theater, Vine Street Theater, Mirror Theatre, International Mirror Theatre, Studio Theatre, CBS Radio Playhouse, Huntington Hartford Theater, Doolittle Theater, Ricardo Montalban Theater

Phone Numbers: Box Office: 323.461.6999
Manager: 323.871.2420

Nearby Theaters

Ricardo Montalban Theater

This splendid Beaux Arts live-performance theatre was built in 1926-1927. The premier performance was “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser on January 17, 1927. Actor Edward Everett Horton starred in many productions at the theatre between 1928 and January 1929. The theatre also had a memorable run of the play “Philadelphia” during its early years. The theatre features orchestra, mezzanine, loge and balcony seating, but no boxes. The theatre was designed by architectural firm Hunt & Chambers and the interior was designed by Dickson Morgan.

During the depression of the 1930’s, the theatre was taken over by the Hughes-Franklin chain and renamed Mirror Theatre, going over to screening movies on March 13, 1931 with Constance Bennett in “Sin Takes a Holiday” & Charlie Chase in the comedy short “So Quiet on the Canine Front”. It was renamed International Mirror Theatre in 1933. In 1936 it was purchased by the Columbia Broadcasting (CBS) for local affiliate KNX radio and was used as a live performance radio auditorium and local radio station. Known as the Studio Theatre, where Cecille B. DeMille hosted and introduced stars such as Gloria Swanson & George Raft in “The Lux Radio Theatre” shows. The theatre was modernised at this time to the plans of noted theatre architect Simeon Charles Lee who added a dazzling neon lit marquee. In 1938 it was renamed CBS Radio Playhouse.

In 1954, Mr. Huntington Hartford, Atlantic and Pacific Company heir and millionaire, bought the building for $200,000 from Columbia Broadcasting and extensively remodelled and “modernized” the theatre at an additional cost of $750,000. He streamlined the building from the facade, to the lobby and through the auditiorium. The new design was created by a famed “decorator to the stars” named Helen Conway, who gave it a “fashionable” look popular at the time.

The re-design included a second floor mezzanine bar that served spirits and advertised as the first such feature in any live theater. The facade featured white Vermont Marble in mid-century modern design. The lobby contrasted with black and silver carpet, specially loomed for the floors. The auditorium doors were black teak wood with gold fittings. The large auditorium had gray-green walls with black pilasters rising from either side of the stage. KTLA television did a live opening broadcast as 2,000 people lined Vine Street to see the stars arrive at the gala opening of the Huntington Hartford Theatre in September 1954. The opening performance was Helen Hayes in “What Every Woman Knows”. Hartford ran the theater successfully for ten years. On December 18, 1962 the theatre screened its first movie since 1936 when the west coast premiere of “Long Days Journey into Night” starring Katherine Hepburn & Ralph Richardson was screened.

In 1964 Huntington Hartford sold the theater to James Doolittle (owner of the Greek Theater in the Hollywood Hills) for $850,000. Cary Grant had tried to buy the building, but lost over Doolittle. The theater was (not surprisingly) renamed the Doolittle Theater.

Eventually, the theater would run down into disrepair. Until bought in 2000 by the U.C.L.A. performing arts group “Nosotros”, an organization founded in 1970 by actor Ricardo Montalban “to help fulfill the goals of persons of Spanish-speaking origin in the motion picture and television industry”. Nosotros means “us” in Spanish and they wish to improve the image of people of Spanish-speaking origin as they are portrayed on the screen, help their members seek employment opportunities in the entertainment industry and to train them by offering theatre workshops and theatre productions they can be a part of. The founding board included members Desi Arnaz, Vicki Carr and Anthony Quinn.

The theater was reopened in May, 2004 and was renamed the Ricardo Montalban Theater and was remodelled to appear more as it did when it was built in 1926. It’s Beaux-Arts exterior has been carefully recreated in the first phase of the project and the interior work followed. It was renamed Montalban Theatre. In 2015 the open-air Rooftop Movies at the Montalban opened screening classic movies.

This theater is often mistaken for other Hollywood theaters, most often with the Hollywood Playhouse at 1735 Vine Street, which in the 1960’s became famous as the Hollywood Palace TV show venue. That theater still stands one block to the north. The Ricardo Montalban Theater has even been confused with the former Jerry Lewis Theater and the El Capitan Theater, which are blocks away.

Contributed by R. Christian Anderson

Recent comments (view all 87 comments)

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 22, 2010 at 2:24 am

Bob Feigel: Yes, the Filmarte is gone. The building now on the Filmarte’s’s site was erected in 1993. I don’t know what became of the salami imprint.

MHartford on November 14, 2010 at 9:25 pm

This is beautiful history to read :)Thanks for all the effort and detail

Bob Feigel
Bob Feigel on November 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Thanks to everyone who responded to my posts and filled in the gaps. Cheers, Bob

dtrigubetz on May 27, 2011 at 12:18 am

The Mexico Film Festival was held May 19-25, 2011 at the Montalban and enjoyed huge attendance including several sellouts. I snared an $80 all access pass for $40 in a one-day promo on the L A Weekly website and saw nine films.

Milagro Tequila had a free drink and punch bar which I enjoyed. A number of Mexican actors and talent attended and it was refreshing to see a better dressed and younger crowd-about 95% Latino-than you see at other film festivals. The concession prices were quite reasonable: $2 for candy bars, bags of cashews, soft drinks, etc. Beer and wine were also available.

I am not Hispanic and my subpar Spanish hindered me in getting much out of the Q & As, mostly in Spanish. All films had English subtitles, except for one picture
sent to the festival in error with English titles.

abeebee1 on February 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm

I am wondering if it is possible to get a copy of this photo? My friend is interested in owning a copy. Thank you! Anita

Julius on November 3, 2013 at 10:10 am

Great to see this theater is still operating. I worked the stage door when it was still the Huntington-Hartford Theater and later the James A. Doolittle Theater. Great plays and terrific people who came backstage to visit the performers. Visitors included Helen Hayes, Barbara Stanwyck, Natalie Wood, Walter Matthau, Jane Fonda and a very shy Tom Hanks.

DavidZornig on September 30, 2018 at 9:03 pm

1954 photo of the Intermission Bar at the Huntington Hartford Theater added via John A. Harris.

rivest266 on October 23, 2019 at 2:46 pm

Reopened as the Huntington-Hartford theatre (showing movies) on December 19th, 1962. The Rooftop Cinema Club opened the Montalban in 2017. 1962 grand opening ad posted.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 23, 2019 at 8:12 pm

As far as I know, the only movie shown at the Huntington Hartford during the ten years (1954-1964) the house had that name was Ely Landau’s production of Eugene O'Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which had its west coast premier there on December 18, 1962. The movie had a fairly long run at the Hartford, but I believe the house went back to stage productions after it ended.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 31, 2023 at 2:53 pm

Dickson Morgan was not an architect, but a stage designer and technical director who oversaw the design of the original interior of the Vine Street Theatre auditorium. He later directed a few plays, and even has a page at the IBDb. Architects of record for The Vine Street Theatre were Hunt & Chambers.

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