The Philharmonic Auditorium

427 W. 5th St.  and Olive Street near 5th   map

Los Angeles, CA 90013

The News: Excavation has begun on the site of the Auditorium for the long delayed Park Fifth project.  It had been a parking lot for 3 decades. Strange things are being unearthed. See Morgan Terrinini's September 1 post on DTLA Development for many photos and comments.

Opened: November 7, 1906 as the Temple Auditorium with a production of "Aida."  It was a $350,000 project funded by the Temple Baptist Church and local businessmen. It had been built on the site of the 1887 Hazard's Pavilion.

Architects: Charles F. Whittlesey, Otto H. Neher and engineer E.R. Harris designed what was the first reinforced concrete building in Los Angeles and the largest theatre west of Chicago. It was structurally advanced for its time and used no columns to support the balcony.

The auditorium was much influenced by the design of Sullivan's Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. The eight story building had retail on the 5th Street side, a basement banquet hall, two 950 seat halls on the second floor, 118 office/studio spaces plus the main auditorium. The theatre was used on Sundays by the Temple Baptist Church.

The site of the Auditorium as seen on Plate 7 of the 1910
Baist Real Estate Survey Map from Historic Map Works. That's
5th at the bottom of the image, Hill Street on the right.
Pershing Square, then known as Central park, is out
 of the frame at the bottom, south of 5th.
  larger detail view | plate on the HM site

A 1911 ad for exhibition of a Kinemacolor feature at the Auditorium.
It was a British 2 color process photographing and projecting
(using special projector) alternate frames using red and green
filters. Ken McIntyre found the ad in the L.A. Times. 
full size view

 In 1914 it was leased to pioneer showman Billy Clune and became the grandest movie palace west of New York. There was (still) church on Sundays, lots of concerts, and feature films with elaborate prologues.

A 1915 ad located by Ken McIntyre for Clune's "Theatre
Beautiful."   We're announcing  the February 8th premiere
of D.W. Griffith's "startling" picture "The Clansman."
 full size view

A rare item from Cezar Del Valle's collection is
this 1915 program for "The Clansman" -- later retitled
"Birth of a Nation." It ran for 26 weeks.
full size view

A 1917 ad for the Fox production of Cleopatra"
with Theda Bara at Clune's "All this Week."
full size view

The "Cleopatra" ad comes from a William H. Peck web page
 "Images of Cleopatra in Films."
  Thanks to Mr. Ethereal Reality who
 found the ad and included it (along with some semi-nude images of
Ms. Bara from the film) in his Noirish Los Angeles post #32997.

A 1919 ad for Clune's appearing on the Facebook page
 Photos of Los Angeles.  It was a find of the ace theatre
sleuth Ken McIntyre. The theatre is running "The
World And Its Woman" with Geraldine Farrar.
full size view

It was known until 1920 as Clune's Auditorium and (sometimes) Clune's Theatre Beautiful. Even through its movie career was brief, given the size of the theatre, the impressive architecture and Clune's dazzling productions, this building ranks as the first true Los Angeles movie palace. Clune used a 20 piece orchestra and reserved the biggest pictures he could get for this venue. 

Moving Picture World for July 15, 1916 mentions the sign: "The Auditorium has a very elaborate sign six stories in height on top of a nine story building. It contains 6,000 lamps and has the largest flasher in the world, making 150,000 contacts per minute." See the Cameo Theatre page for an exhibition timeline for Billy Clune's other ventures.

In 1920 it became known as  Philharmonic Auditorium in when the orchestra moved in.

Claud Beelman did a remodel in 1938 which removed the mansard roof and gave the building a moderne facade. The main auditorium entrance was moved to Olive St. Beelman did many other notable Los Angeles buildings including the Eastern Columbia Building (1930).

A drawing for the 1938 remodel that appeared
 in the L.A. Times. Ken McIntyre located it for his
Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
 full size view

From Jeffrey Carlson's collection comes this
 postcard showing the remodeled exterior. 
full size view

The Philharmonic Auditorium was also used for Broadway shows produced by the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera for 27 seasons.  After the LACLO and the LAPhil moved to the Music Center in 1964, the building was again known as Temple Baptist Church.

The L.A. Times, in a 1979 article unearthed by Ken McIntyre, reported:

"For nearly sixty years, the names of Galli-Curci, Tito Schipa, John McCormack, Mary Garden, the Ballet Russe, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and of course the Light Opera Association, as well as many others, graced the marquee above 5th Street.

All that changed in 1965, when, except for an occasional production of a Broadway musical, the theatrical lights dimmed at the Philharmonic and the scene changed to the new Music Center. Since then the 2,600-seat auditorium with its vast stage, ceiling of concentric sound circles and acoustically perfect interior has been dark-and silent-except on Sundays when the faithful attend Temple Baptist Church worship services.

Now that is changing. The auditorium and its adjoining nine-story office building overlooking Pershing Square have been sold by the church to Auditorium Management Company for a reported $3 million. The new group of entrepreneurs, investors and developers has started to renovate the old auditorium to return it to its original grandeur as a showcase for Broadway-type productions.

David Houk, president of the management company said the auditorium-office building had been for sale for five years but his group had doubts about purchasing it because, as he put it, “Downtown is dead”. Enter Stephen Rothman, a specialist in theater restoration who has done similar work at the old Paramount Theater in Aurora, Ill., and the Hartman Theater in Stamford, Conn. 'This is a true Broadway stage,' said Rothman, 'It just needs a little sanding. Otherwise it’s in incredible shape.'"

Seating: The capacity was originally announced as 5,000 but in later years was 2,680. It's listed in the 1907-1908 Henry's Theatrical Guide as having a capacity of 2,226.

Stage Specifications: The 1907-1908 Henry's Theatrical Guide says the proscenium was 46' wide and 32' high.  Stage depth: 42'   Grid height: 80'  Wall to wall: 90'.

The Philharmonic in the Movies: 

In the 1930 film "Song 'O My Heart" (from Fox) John McCormack sings several songs supposedly at a concert in New York. The numbers were filmed in 1929 at the Auditorium. Miles Kreuger has a nice article describing the production, filmed both in 35mm and the experimental 70mm Fox Grandeur process.

John Downe notes that two of McCormack's songs from the show are on YouTube: "Ireland, Mother Ireland" and "I Hear You Calling Me."  Unfortunately, we don't see anything of the theatre.

The view up Olive toward the Auditorium Building in
Billy Wilder's "Double Indemnity" (Paramount, 1944) with
Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck.  It's a screenshot
by Ed Savage posted on Photos of Los Angeles.
larger view  | on Photos of LA

Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) careens through
the 6th & Olive intersection in "Double Indemnity."
Behind we get a view of the Auditorium Building.
 Thanks to Ed Savage for the screenshot.
larger view  | on Photos of LA

In "The Outfit" (MGM, 1973) starring Robert Duvall
and Karen Black we get this view looking north on Olive
St. That's the Biltmore on the left and the beige exterior

of the Philharmonic Auditorium on the right.
Thanks to Jeffrey Carlson for the screenshot.
 full size view

Status: Demolished in 1985 without much outcry.

See an April 5, 1985 L.A. Times story by Jerry Belcher story about the final curtain at the Philharmonic:

"George Gershwin played his last concert there. Booker T. Washington lectured there. Igor Stravinsky conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra there. Buck and Bubbles, not to mention Pavlova and Nijinsky, danced there. Jack Benny and Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle joked there.

In short, almost everybody who was anybody in the performing arts of the 20th Century entertained there from the day its velvet curtains first rose in 1906 until its faded curtains dropped for the last time in 1964. And all during that time--and up until 1978--hundreds of thousands worshiped there...."

Hillsman Wright, of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, notes:

"David Houk tore the Phil down and was trying to develop the lot for years. The 76 story condo-hotel being the last failed effort. He did try to atone by saving the Pasadena Playhouse and the Variety Arts Center. Such a shame to lose this one. I can imagine the street scene with both the Metropolitan and Phil with capacity audiences."

Wikipedia has a story about the history of the site and David Houk's efforts to get the Park Fifth project built. It finally stalled for good (for him anyway) in the recession of 2008.

The site was in play again in 2013 for a revised version  of the project that would be about half the size of the initial version. Adrian Glick Kudler of Curbed LA had the story in October 2013: "Whoa: New Tower Planned..." Curbed has a whole archive of Park Fifth stories to look at.

The dig begins:  Excavation for the Park Fifth project finally began on the site in August 2016. See Morgan Terrinoni's fascinating September 1 post about the remains of the Auditorium unearthed during the dig -- with oodles of comments and photos. It's on the Facebook page DTLA Development.

A  fall 2016 view of the dig beginning as we look
east across the site toward Hill St. from Olive.
Thanks to Morgan Terronini for the photo.
full size view | on DTLA Development

A September 2016 look west toward the sidewalk along
Olive at the left -- where the orange fencing is. At right is
the Subway Terminal Building, now a loft complex known as
Metro 417.We're standing  about where the upstage left corner
of the stage was. It's Hunter Kerhart for his photo.
full size view

Thanks, Hunter!
| on Facebook

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page for a great history by Joe Vogel, a lively discussion by various contributors, and links to many photos of the Pershing Square area.

Floyd B. Bariscale on Big Orange Landmarks has done a fine series of articles about the history of various Los Angeles buildings that have been given City landmark designation. See his Philharmonic Auditorium article for interesting photos and a nice history. 

See the L.A. Times 2011 story "Mildred Pierce remembers downtown L.A.'s Philharmonic Auditorium" about re-creating a visit to the theatre for the mini-series. Unfortunately, they didn't use a Los Angeles theatre.

On the Ann Dvorak blog, see a post about Ramona at Clune's Auditorium.  Curbed L.A. ran a nice story in August 2013 featuring over 30 views of Pershing Square over the years.

     Brian McCray - Hollywood Postcards    

A great postcard view of the facade in Mr. McCray's
collection. You've gotta love those striped awnings.
full size view | on Vintage Los Angeles

A classy look across Pershing Square toward the
Philharmonic Auditorium with the Biltmore on
 the left and Hill St. on the right. 
full size view | on Vintage Los Angeles.

     Neat Stuff

A lovely 1965 view looking north across Pershing Square
toward the Auditorium. It's on theNeat
Stuff Blog from
a 2009 post called "
Vintage Los Angeles."  The photo is
credited to "nicepictures," a seller on eBay.

full size view

Note the "Auditorium Bldg." vertical on
the left side of the building.

     Noirish LA -

Historic Los Angeles Theatres - The  Philharmonic Auditorium

"Handsome Stranger" posted this view of the Auditorium
(along with some other nice vintage views)
on the Skyscraperpage
 forum thread Noirish LA - page 216.  The view, which he found
on eBay, is
on his post #4301.  
Note the "Paris Grand Opera"
signage atop the marquee. Here we're looking west on 5th. 
full size view

     Photos of Los Angeles    

An early postcard view from Ken McIntyre.
full size view | on Photos of LA

An amazing view east on 5th in 1913 discovered
by Bill Gabel. The Auditorium Hotel, later the San
Carlos, is on the left with the Auditorium Building
itself facing what was then known as Central Park.
full size view | on Photos of LA

A neat card advertising the Auditorium Hotel.
The building, later called the San Carlos Hotel, was
across the street from the Auditorium on the
 northwest corner of 5th & Olive.
on Photos of LA

Here we get the Auditorium Hotel (later
called the San Carlos) and the Auditorium
building itself in an early postcard view.

full size view | on Photos of LA

An early view looking at the corner of 5th
& Olive. Note the exuberant roof sign. 
on Photos of LA

A postcard view of the building. Note the good
view of the elaborate facade on Olive St.
on Photos of LA

A look north at the Hill St. tunnels on the right.
Over on the left, note the wonderful view of the
Clune's signage atop the Auditorium Building.
Clune operated the theatre until 1920.
on Photos of LA

A postcard view looking north toward the tunnels --
the Auditorium building is over on the left. 
full size view | on Photos of LA

Looking north on Olive Street in
1927 in a UCLA Archives photo.
on Photos of LA  | a re-post

A view looking west on 5th in 1960.
It's a view added by Kenneth McIntyre to
his Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
 on Photos of LA

The tranquil view across Pershing Square,
presumably in the 80s. We're looking north toward
the Auditorium, with the Temple Baptist Church
signage on the roof. The Biltmore is off to the left. 

full size view
| on Photos of LA

Also see:
| east on 5th - c.1910 - from USC Archives |
| ad for "The Clansman" |
| lining up in 1958 - 5th & Olive |
| across Pershing Square - from above - 1984 |
| looking north from Hill St. - 1985 |

     Self Realization Fellowship

A 1925 view of the crowd at the Auditorium for a lecture
by yogi Paramahamsa Yogananda. It's on the organization's
page "A Pioneer of Yoga in the West."

From another source: larger view

     USC Archives   

A view of the rear of the Auditorium in 1928.
 full size view

A c.1906 exterior view from the C.C. Pierce /
 California Historical Society collection.
 full size viewalternate take

A detail from the photo above showing
the Olive St. facade of the theatre.
larger detail view

A c.1910-1919 view from the soon to be demolished
State Normal School. Note in the lower right the roof of the
Auditorium and the two turrets that face onto Olive St.
  full size view

A detail from the USC photo above -- looking east
 toward the Auditorium's roof and Olive St. facade.

A Herald Examiner photo from 1948 looking
south toward the Auditorium on smoggy Olive St. 
full size view

A view of the marquee at the
Olive St.
entrance circa 1950. 
full size view

Fans lining up on Olive St. for Judy Garland in 1952.
It's one of 10 L.A. Examiner photos of the event.
full size view

The photo above also appears
on Photos of Los Angeles.

Also in the USC Archives: 
5th St. facade - c.1906 |  5th St. facade - c.1910  |
 |  east on 5th -  c.1910 "Robin Hood"  |  looking east from Grand - 1910  |
looking north - 1913 |  another 5th St. view - undated  |
| looking west on 5th - 1915 - note "Clune's" roof  sign and marquee |
 |  facade from across the park - 1920 | 1984 facade view - Jim Lewis  |

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     B'hend and Kaufmann Archives

A c.1934 view of the interior of the Auditorium.

The Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection
is part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection.

     California State Library

The State Library has this 1915 view in its
collection. At this time the theatre was called Clune's
Auditorium.  Note the elaborate roof sign.
 full size view
| data page

A c.1925 postcard of the Auditorium.
full size view
| data page


This view looking east on 5th Street is
a 1962
view by William Reagh.
full size view | data page

The Biltmore Theatre marquee is on the

right and the Philharmonic Auditorium vertical

 in the next block on the left.  

Also in the collection:
| looking north - 1907 | corner view postcard - undated |
| west on 5th - 1908 - Martin Behrman |
| cityscape from the west - Martin Behrman - c.1910  |
| east on 5th - Martin Behrman - c.1910 - "Robin Hood" |
| from across Pershing Square - Martin Behrman - c.1920 |
| facade from 6th - 1984 | facade - 1985 - William Reagh  |
| looking east on 5th - c.1985 - William Reagh  |
| site as parking lot - 1985 |

     Elizabeth Fuller's Old L.A. Postcards  

Elizabeth Fuller has amassed a wonderful collection of
 Los Angeles postcards--659 at last count.   Here's a distance
view showing the Auditorium building and Pershing Square
Note that there's no Biltmore Hotel yet.
full size view | on Flickr

A closer view of the 5th Street Facade shown in this
 card sent in 1909. The top of the card says "Largest
 Concrete Building in the World." 

The main building entrance on
5th St. -- we're looking east.
full size view | on Flickr

Also in Elizabeth's collection:
| north across Pershing Square |
 | another square view -- north on Olive - 40s |

     History of Palos Verdes Estates    

On Maureen's Palos Verde Estates History page is this
1923 photo looking toward the back
of the Philharmonic
Auditorium, as it was called at the time.
The crowd consists
of the 4,229 potential investors in the project. 
The photo
is from the Palos Verdes Peninsula Library District.

 full size view

Maureen sells real estate -- her site has a number
 of other nice history pages to explore.

     Huntington Digital Library

An April 1915 G. Haven Bishop photo from the Huntington
Library showing the Auditorium as it never got lit up again.

It's part of a set taken for the Southern California Edison Co.
full size view

On the Huntington Library page you can
use the slider to get a larger image -- then you
can pan around to explore details.

A detail from the photo above
-- click on it to enlarge.

A  detail of the roof sign from the Huntington
Library photo -- click on it to enlarge.

     Library of Congress

We get a look at the stage end of the building in a 1909
 panorama looking northwest from 4th & Broadway.
 full size view

A detail from the left side
 of the 1909 panorama.

Thanks to R Carlton for posting this (and other downtown
 panoramas) on his Noirish Los Angeles post #9754.

More from the Library of Congress:
There's a view of the top of the building as we look southeast in
a 1908 panorama
We also get a look at the Auditorium on the left
side of a 1922 panorama that looks east across Pershing square.

     L.A. Public Library Collection   

An interior view dating from 1931.
 full size view

A detail of one of the
boxes in 1934. 

An interior view from the balcony
in 1966
by Rothschild Photo. 
full size view

An undated look down from
 the top of the balcony.
An early postcard photo toward
the rear of the auditorium.
See come color versions of the card above from
 Cezar Del Valle and A Visit to Old Los Angeles.

A view back into the dome at the Auditorium
in 1966 by Rothschild Photo from the
Library's collection. 
full size view

Looking across the vast auditorium.
   full size view

Interior detail of the boxes from
the Library's collection.  
 full size image

The art glass at the center of the
auditorium's dome. It's a 1931 photo.
full size view

The main floor of the auditorium in 1951. 
It's a Herald Examiner photo.
full size view

A 1962 look down on the stage
 full size view

An undated look at the stage of one of
the two 950 seat recital halls on the second
floor of the Auditorium Building. 
full size view

A 1905 construction photo looking south on Olive.
It's from the Security Pacific National Bank collection.
full size view

Escott O. Norton notes that the view above also appears
down near the bottom of the Early City Views Page 1  of the
fine Water and Power Associates Museum photo collection.

A March 27, 1906 construction
The one currently on the LAPL site is
cropped vertically. Floyd Bariscale has the
March 1906 view on  Flickr.

An early postcard looking through Pershing
Square toward the Auditorium.
full size view

A 1920 view.  The Olive street entrance
to the auditorium is at left.   
full size view

An early 20s view of the rear of the building.
We're on Hill at the Pacific Electric Hill St. Station
before construction of the Subway Terminal Building.
The view is south west toward 5th & Olive.
Other early Hill St. Station views are on
Tourmaline's Noirish Los Angeles post #16126.

An undated look north on Olive with
a Shriner's parade crossing 5th. The photo
 is by Keystone Photo Service.
full size view

A 1951 view looking east toward the marquee on 5th.
full size view

More exterior views from the LAPL collection:

| looking northwest from 2nd & Spring - c.1910 |
| north on Olive - C.C. Pierce - 1913 |

| panoramic view -- Auditorium is on far right with
Temple office building beyond
| looking west on 5th - c.1915 |
  aerial view in the 20's  |
  | early exterior - "Philharmonic Auditorium" vertical |
 |  corner and Olive St. facade - c.1920  |

| 30s postcard - east on 5theast on 5th - 1935  | 
 | entrance - 1948   |  lining up for "Music Man" tickets - 1958  |
 | south on Olive - 1963  |   later view of 5th St. facade   |
 | from across Pershing Square  - 1966 - William Reagh |
 | same view at night  |


A lovely 192o look west on 5th toward Clune's. Playing
at Clune's is "The Confession" with Henry Walthall.
info  |  high resolution view

Mr. Walthall had been the star and an uncredited assistant director
on "Birth of a Nation," which played a big engagement at the theatre
in 1915 under its earlier title "The Clansman." The monument we see in
the northeast corner of Pershing Square is to the Spanish American War. 
That's a touring car for hire to Pasadena parked at the curb.

A detail of the theatre's entrance
from the photo above.
larger view

A detail of the top of the building from the Shorpy photo.
larger view

     Theatre Talks - Cezar Del Valle |

A stunning interior postcard view of the Auditorium
in Cezar's collection
. It was postmarked 1908.
 full size view

Cezar is a Brooklyn-based theatre historian with
 a fondness for L.A. theatres. Thanks, Cezar!

An exterior card in Mr. Del Valle's collection. 
full size view

     A Visit To Old Los Angeles    

A view of the Philharmonic Auditorium
building from across Pershing Square in
Brent Dickerson's tour Hill Street Part 2.   
 full size view

The page has many more vintage views
 of Hill Street and the park.

A view of the stage of the Auditorium on
 Mr. Dickerson's Olive Street Tour.  Here it looks
 like we're set up for church services. 
 full size view

A larger black and white version of the
card above appears on page 27 of  the Arcadia
Publishing book "Theatres In Los Angeles."

Looking toward the rear of the house.
  full size view

A version of the card above also
appears on Photos of Los Angeles.

     Water & Power Associates

A c.1914 view looking east on 5th from the Water and
 Power Associates Early City Views Page Two showing the
theatre in its Clune's days as a movie theatre. 

A closer look at the signage
 from the photo above.

Also on Page Two:
| east on 5th - 1907 - DWP photo | west on 5th - 1908 -  Noirish LA |
 | marquee closeup - looking west - 1908 - | 1920 view - LAPL photo |