Belasco Theatre


1050 S. Hill St.     | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90015

(213) 746-1606

Website:  belascous.com

Opened: November 11, 1926 as the second theatre built in Los Angeles with the Belasco name.  The opening attraction at this elaborate Hill St. venue was "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" by Anita Loos.

The theatre was operated by Edward Belasco (a brother of the more famous producer David), Fred J. Butler, and Gerhold O. Davis.  The same team would also operate the Mayan next door when it was completed in 1927.

An opening night ad. Thanks to Sven Kirsten for the
find. He had posted it as a comment on the LAHTF Facebook
page in a thread about the Fisher Theatre in Detroit.

full size view | the Facebook thread


The first Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, at 327 S. Main St., is discussed on our Follies Theatre page. Another brother, Frederick, had operated that Belasco.

Architects: Morgan, Walls & Clements.

This was an unusual design from a company that produced a number of great theatres, including the Mayan-- built next door as soon as the Belasco was finished.  The entire auditorium is covered by a huge gilded dome. Some of the auditorium wall surfaces hare plaster but have the appearance of gathered draperies.

In addition to the theatre, the building has an upstairs ballroom (with a separate entrance) that can hold 400.

Seating: 1,601 originally. Currently the main floor seating has been removed. The balcony now has loose chairs and cocktail tables.

History: The Belasco was intended primarily as a house for straight plays, while the Mayan was designed for musicals.  The two theatres were owned by oil magnate Edward L. Doheny and a partner, retired investor Nathan W. Stowell.  The Mayan and the Belasco were an attempt to get a new fashionable legit theatre district going west of Broadway.  The Doheny estate ended up owning the buildings.

The venue was a hotspot for Hollywood performers and directors checking out the latest dramas. A number of attractions first appearing in Los Angeles at the Belasco were subsequently filmed.  Many of the productions were offered in conjunction with the Curran Theatre in San Francisco.

For the decade that Edward Belasco and partners were managing the theatre, the format was generally legit plays on two week runs. He had a knack for getting Hollywood talent with legit theatre roots to appear in his productions. 

A 1931 program listed the management as Los Angeles Theatres, Inc. with Edward  as president.  Edward died in 1937. The Montreal Gazette had an obit:

"EDWARD BELASCO DIES - West Coast Theatre Producer Succumbs at Age 63  San Francisco, October 10 (AP) -- Edward Belasco, West Coast theatrical producer and brother of the late David Belasco, died Saturday night. He had been ill for several years. He was 63. Mr. Belasco operated theatres in san Francisco and Los Angeles at the height of his career several years ago. He brought to the West Coast many Broadway actors and actresses who eventually became screen stars, among them Edward G. Robinson, Fredrick [sic] March, Helen Gahagan, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold and Boris Karloff."

Performers appearing at the Belasco included Fay Bainter, Tallulah Bankhead, Lionel Barrymore, Joan Bennett, Richard Bennett, Billie Burke, Ruth Chatterton, Ina Claire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Glenda Farrell, James Gleason, Betty Grable, Helen Hayes, Hedda Hopper, Leslie Howard, Gertrude Lawrence, Edmund Lowe, Alan Mowbray, Ken Murray, Edward G. Robinson, May Robson, Flora Robson, Gilbert Roland, C. Aubrey Smith, Sidney Toler,  Fredric March and Warren William.

The WPA Federal Theatre project at the Belasco:

In the late 1930s, the Belasco was used for several WPA Federal Theatre Project productions.




The Library of Congress collection contains
this
poster for the WPA Federal Theatre Project
 production of "Bird of Paradise" at the Belasco
sometime between 1936 and 1941. 
full size view



A poster for "Festival of American Dance"
at the Belasco, a "Federal Music Theatre," in 1938.
It's in the Library of Congress collection.
full size view

Also in the collection:
  | "High Tor" - 1939 | "Day is Darkness" - 1939  |

Also see the Federal Theatre Project
materials at George Mason University.
"High Tor" - 1939 | data page

The Belasco in the 40s:



The Eric Lynxwiler collection on Flickr
 includes this ad for "Abie's Irish Rose" from
 a 1944 issue of Playgoer magazine.
 full size view

The theatre was sold in 1948. Thanks to Jeff Bridges for finding the December 9, 1948 newspaper mention:

"Belasco Theater has been purchased from the Doheny Estate by Belco Properties, Inc., whose officers are Sidney Pink, Paul P. Schreibman and Monroe Goldstein. On Christmas Day, Pink will bring in the first of his new foreign film-stage show bills. Initial stage attraction will be 'Wally Vernon’s Big Game Hunt.' The Belasco seats 1000 persons."

Jeff notes that later in the article the title is referred to as "Big Dame Hunt." Vernon had made a short released in January 1948 called "A-Hunting They Did Go," about two guys on a hunting party who go to their cabin only to find two pretty girls had taken up residence there. We can assume that pretty girls somehow figured in the Belasco production. A December 25 article located by Jeff noted:

           "BELASCO OPENS TODAY WITH NEW STAGE OFFERING
The newly refurbished Belasco Theater will open today with Wally Vernon’s “Big Dame Hunt” written by Eddie Maxwell. The theater has been given a scrubbing and repainted from stem to stern. Backstage, the dressing rooms and the Green Room have been renovated. Switchboard has been enlarged to handle special lighting effects and rigging and flies augmented in order to facilitate changing of scenes. New movie equipment has been installed."

In the late 40s the theatre ran films. Sometimes with a stage show, sometimes not. In January 1949 it was "The Garter Girls" (with Viviene Lee, Genii Young, Frank Scannell, Joe De Rita and Mary Miller) along with Danielle Darrieux in her film "Club de Femmes."

An April 1949 bill included "She Returned at Dawn," a 1938 French film starring Daneille Darrieux, and a musical stage show, "Silk Stocking Revue."
A July 1949 film capitalizing on Robert Mitchum's 1948 drug bust  played the Belasco with the star, Lila Leeds, making an appearance. It's all detailed in 2940dxer's Noirish Los Angeles post #5919.



A This Book Is For You post "A Quick Detour Into
the Exciting World of Expoitation Film..." gives us the
 story of Lila Leeds, involved in the Mitchum drug bust.
She appeared at the Belasco with her 1949 film "Wild
Weed," later retitled "She Shoulda Said No."

Other film titles of the late 40s to play the theatre included "Fric-Frac," "Kiss of Fire," "Human Beast," "Bride’s Delight," "Lysistrata," "Venus of Paris" and "Streets of Shadow." Thanks to Jeff Bridges on Cinema Treasures for digging many of these titles out of the L.A. Times. He notes: "Apparently, the Belasco went from legit dramatic and musical theater to a program of burlesque with a movie following the performance by the end of 1948. This continued until June of 1950 when the church bought the theater. The numerous movies tend to be French or drug propaganda type films."

Thanks to Chris Nichols for researching some titles to play the Belasco in the first half of 1950: "Lovelife of a Gorilla" with "Savage Woman" and "Crouching Beast" -- a triple bill. "French Nudists" was paired with "He Was The Virgin Man."  "Merchant of Slaves" was on a bill with "Lost Youth." A fine triple bill consisted of "Valley of the Nude," "Escort Girl" and "The March of Crime."

The Belasco gets churched:

The Belasco closed in mid-1950 as a regular theatrical venue.  Thanks (again) to Jeff Bridges for finding the June 7, 1950 L.A. Times article, reading in part:

                             "BELASCO THEATER TO BECOME CHURCH
The Belasco Theater, scene of many a dramatic triumph in the boom days just before talking pictures arrived, was sold yesterday to be converted into a church. The Immanuel Gospel Temple bought it for $200,000. The church will dedicate it at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Down will come the signs of the last motion-picture double bill: 'French Nudists' and 'Girls for Sale.' These marked the lurid end of a dramatic trail which began in the heyday of the legitimate stage in Los Angeles. The Belasco was built by the Doheny interests at 1050 S Hill St. and opened Nov. 1, 1926, with a glittering premiere of 'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.'..."

It was in use as a church until 1984. Following the church's exit it got somewhat of a renovation in the mid-80s but until 2011 had seen only occasional film shoots and other rentals.

Status: 

It's been all spruced up for renewed use as a bar, dance club and restaurant. Christina and John Kim put almost $10 million into restoration and improvements to the structure after securing a long term lease from building owner Mehdi Bolour.

The 2nd floor dance studio space is used for events separate from the main theatre space -- there's a street level entrance. There's also a downstairs lounge, a street level wine bar (Vintage 10 Fifty) and two restaurant spaces.

Ryan Vaillancourt of the Downtown Los Angeles News ran a story on August 2010 "Bringing Back the Belasco" about the Kims' struggles with the City of Los Angeles and next-door neighbor the Mayan about the re-opening of the theatre.

There had been concerns about noise, congestion and drug use with a doubling of crowds on the block with two theatres running.  Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation noted at the time that this was precisely the kind of action the buildings were designed for.

The re-opening of the Belasco had been awaited for years. The theatre got a write up by Eric Richardson in 2007 in  Blogdowntown in the story "Historic Belasco Theater Awaits its Next Act.  

Stage Specs:  

Stage depth: 38'     L+R wing space: 50'   Dressing rooms and a large green room are in the basement.  There is a pit but it's currently covered.  The stage has a movable paint bridge.

The Belasco in the Movies:


We get a fine proscenium view of the Belasco in
the
1933 Paramount musical "Too Much Harmony," starring
Bing Crosby and Jack Oakie.  Thanks to Marc Chevalier
 for posting the shot on the LAHTF Facebook page.
 larger view | on the LAHTF page



Peter Hyams' "End of Days" (Universal, 1999) with Arnold
Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne is set in New York but we
 spend a lot of time in L.A. Locations -- sometimes with strange
geography. We enter a door at the Tower Theatre and find
ourselves, as shown here, in the Belasco lobby. We continue
on from here into the Tower auditorium.
 larger view

We get a brief glimpse of the Belasco interior in
"Being John Malkovich" (1999) which also features a
view from the stage of the Los Angeles Theatre. 

The Belasco has also been featured in "Swordfish" with
John Travolta (2001) and "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005).

In Christopher Nolan's "The Prestige" (Touchstone/Warner
Bros, 2006) with Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine we get
several  interior views of the Belasco.  It's functioning as the
(very cluttered) workshop for Jackman's final illusion. 




The Belasco in "The Prestige."  We're at balcony level.
Movie-Locations.com has a page on "The Prestige." The film
also features the Palace and Los Angeles Theatre interiors.
  
larger view



A main floor view from "The Prestige."
  larger view

Paul Rudd stages a Graham Parker concert at the
Belasco in Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" (Universal, 2012).



We're in Jersey but a club there somehow has a lobby
 identical to the Belasco's in Clint Eastwood's "Jersey Boys"
 (Warner Bros., 2014). The film features Christopher
Walken, here with his back to us.

The film also uses the Palace and Orpheum theatres.



Christopher Walken advises the guys in
another lobby shot from "Jersey Boys"


A number later in "Jersey Boys"
using the Belasco's auditorium.

IMDb has a page listing films that
have been shot at the Belasco.


The Belasco on Video: 



We get a lovely tracking shot starting on stage and
ending out in the street in David LaChapelle's 2002
video of Christina Aguilera singing "The Voice Within." 
Thanks to Steven Lepore for sending it our way.
 on YouTube


See our "The Voice Within" post on Theatres in Movies
for a larger view of the shot above and two additional views.

Also on YouTube see Don Solosan's terrific
"Belasco Theatre Construction Montage," a one
minute thirteen second tour via construction photos
taken by the George Adair Photo Service.


More Information:

See the Cinema Tour page on the Belasco for some more photos, including some nice interior shots by Bob Meza.

The Cinema Treasures page on the Belasco Theatre has lots of historical lore.  Jeff Bridges (aka vokoban) did the research on the Belasco's days as a movie theatre that finally got a page for this venerable building. Also see the Mayan Theatre page on Cinema Treasures for lots of discussion about the Belasco that went on before the theatre got its own page.

Fine photos by Elizabeth Daniels accompany Dakota Smith's March 2011 Curbed L.A. story about  the Belasco reopening: "After 26 years...."  See Steve Shriver's 2011 "Belasco Theatre & Downtown Walkabout" photo set for some nice views taken at the 2011 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building.

See the photo sets by Jeff Bridges, Al Domasin, Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr for lots of interesting views.

Danni Bayles-Yeager's Performing Arts Archive has a program from the play "Bad Girl," playing the Belasco in 1931

Thanks to the researchers of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation for some of the information above.







The Belasco, hiding behind a tree. The faded sign on
the right advertised a church -- gone since 1984.

photo: Bill Counter- 2007

 [ click the image above to enlarge ]


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     Architect and Engineer    

archive.org/details/architectenginee9128sanf



This late 1926 or early 1927 exterior view as well
as an auditorium shot appear in the January 1928 issue
 of Architect and Engineer. No Mayan next door yet.
full size view | both on Internet Archive

The photo also appears in the February 1927
 issue of Architect and Engineer as part of an ad
for Calacoustic sound absorbing plaster.

The California State Library also has several versions
of this Mott Studios photo in their 17 photo set #001415683.


     Sean Ault Archives by Osiris Press    



We get a look west across the Belasco stagehouse
in this c.1974 view from the Sean Ault collection.
 Below the faded Belasco letters on the back wall one
can still see a bit of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,"
 the theatre's opening attraction.
full size view
  | on FB/LATheatres

Thanks, Sean! Sean Ault is a noted historian of transit
 in the Los Angeles area.
You can see many more items
from his Osiris Press transit archive on YouTube.



     California State Library    

www.library.ca.gov



The State Library has many exterior photos of the Belasco
during construction including this June 15, 1926 view
of framing and form work.   All these construction
views are by George F. Adair Photo Service.
full size view




September 21, 1926. Excavation has begun
for the Mayan Theatre to the north.
full size view




An October 5, 1926 view after scaffolding
 has come down from the facade.
full size view


The Library has 22 construction views from the
George F. Adair Photo Service, cataloged in two sets:

| set # 001378567 - 16 views - catalog data page |
| set #001496390 - 6 views - catalog data page |

See Greybeard's Noirish Los Angeles post #13336 for a nice
time lapse sequence using some of these construction views.

And don't miss Don Solosan's terrific
 "Belasco Theatre Construction Montage," a one minute
 thirteen second tour via the construction photos.



A 1926 or early '27 look at the Belasco with the opening
 attraction, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," on the marquee.
Note there's no Mayan Theatre next door yet.  It's part of a
17 photo set #001415683 that also includes interior views.
The photo above also appeared on Photos of L.A.
and on our Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page.




Another early view -- here with the readerboard
 advertising Belasco's "The Son-Daughter." Note the
construction fence for the Mayan at the far left.
full size view
| data page

The view above also appeared on Photos of L.A.
 and on our  Los Angeles Theatres
Facebook page.




A look at the boxoffice windows --"Gentlemen
Prefer Blondes" is on the milk glass display.
It's a Mott Studios photo.
full size view | data page

See the following sets for more facade
and ticket lobby views by Mott Studios:

| set # 001415683 - 17 views, including 11 exteriors - data page |
| set # 001415656 - 16 views, including 3 of the ticket lobby - data page |
| set # 001415584 - 10 views, with the ticket lobby view above - data page |
| set # 01411639 - 3 similar ticket lobby views to above - data page |
| set # 001415568 - 16 auditorium views  - data page |


     Life Magazine    

time.com/photography/life/


A 1926 facade view shot for Life.
The marquee has "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"
on it, the opening attraction. Note the builder's sign
still in one of the as-yet unrented storefronts.
full size view | on Google/Life  Images



     L.A. Public Library Collection    

www.lapl.org



A c.1927 exterior view from the Library's
collection.
Note the Mayan to the left.
 
full size view





An early look at the entrance. On the boards:
David Belasco's production of "The Bachelor
Father."  The photo is in the Library's Security
 Pacific National Bank Collection.
 full size view




A 1989 "For Lease" facade view after a
church group had vacated the building.
It's a Steve Grayson photo.
full size view


More LAPL exterior views:
| facade and vertical sign - airbrushed sky - "Blondes" |
|
from across the street - "The Bachelor Father" |
 | 1927 -- Belasco and Mayan - looking south
|
| north on Hill - 1930 - "Journey's End" |
| Mayan and Belasco c.1937 - Mayan: "Days Without End" - Schultheis |
|
facade 1938  - Federal Music Theatre - "Androcles & The Lion - All
Negro Cast" -- note "Dancing Academy" on the 2nd floor awnings  |

| facade 1938 - less damaged copy of "Androcles" |


     Photos of Los Angeles    

www.facebook.com/groups/244565982234863



Looking north on Hill St. in February 1944.
It's a photo added to the Photos of Los Angeles
 collection by Ken McIntyre. Yes, that's
 snow on the ground. 
full size view


The view was offered on eBay. Ethereal Reality
had it on his Noirish Los Angeles post #3326.


     USC Archives    

 digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm


An early view of the Belasco looking north.
Note that we're still building the stagehouse
of the Mayan next door.  USC dates this as
1939 but 1927 would be more like it.
full size view




A 1931 view of the Belasco and Mayan stagehouses.
 In the distance to the left of the Western Pacific Bldg.
 is the Trinity/Embassy auditorium. It's part of
a three segment panorama.
 full size view




An undated view of the south side of the Belasco
from the USC Archives.
In this photo one can see a
bit of the RKO Hillstreet up at 8th & Hill.

 full size view




A 1939 view up Hill St. from the south.
The photo is by the Dick Whittington Studio.

Note the signage on the stagehouse:
"Legitimate Drama."
 
full size view




Another 1939 Dick Whittington view
-- here looking east on 11th.
full size view



 
A late 30s view from the USC Archive looking
 north on Hill St.
Note the "Dancing" vertical sign
for the ballroom space. The
sign on the front over
 their entrance
says "Dancing Academy."
full size view

Also in the USC Archives:
| facade view - "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" |
| looking north - 1930 -- from Chamber of Commerce building  |
looking north - from C of C - early undated view  |
looking north - 1932 -- from the C of C Building  |
looking north on Hill - c. 1933  |   lo0king north from C of C - 1937  |
stagehouses - north from Broadway & 11th - c. 1939  |

  more belasco theatre pages:
 |
  recent exterior views  |  lobby areas  |  dance studio  |
 |  auditorium  | 
stage  |  basement  |

  next door: