California Theatre

810 S. Main St.   | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90014

Opened: December 24, 1918 as Miller's California Theatre.

It's in the 1918 city directory as Miller's New Theatre at 808 S. Main. 
In the 1919 and 1921 city directories the address is shown as 810-812 S. Main. 

It was leased in 1919 to Samuel Goldwyn, who employed the not yet famous "Roxy" Rothafel to manage the variety shows. 
Evidently that didn't last long as soon Fred Miller was back at the helm.

A 1922 trade magazine ad featuring Mr. Miller.
 It's a discovery of Charmaine Zoe that she includes in her
 Vintage Cinemas California album on Flickr. It's a wonderful
set of photos culled from various trade magazines.

A January 1923 program cover for the California,
the "Home of Goldwyn Pictures," with Miller as the
managing director.  It appears on our Los Angeles Theatres
 Facebook page and is from the Woody Wise collection. 
full size view

In 1924 both the California and the older Miller's Theatre (842 S. Main) were acquired by Marcus Loew with West Coast Theatres actually operating the venues for Loew's.  A 1925 program is in the collection of the Silent Film Still Archive.

Miller also ran the Carthay Circle, opening in 1926. Later that became a West Coast Theatres operation.

A lovely logo from the letterhead the theatre was using in
the mid-20s. Poppies!  Thanks to Sean Ault for the find.
 larger view

In 1930 the theatre was advertised as
Miller's New California as well as the California International Theatre. It was a major showcase for Spanish language features starting later in the 1930s and for a long period was operated by Frank Fouce.

The California Theatre retained its class long after the rest of the Main Street theatre district had deteriorated.

Architect: A.B. Rosenthal, who also designed the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara.

Seating: 2,000 initially. Later down to 1,650.

Status: Closed (as part of the Pussycat chain) in 1988. Demolished in 1989 despite a prolonged campaign by several preservation groups.

The California in the Movies:

We get some lovely aerial shots of abandoned downtown
Los Angeles in Boris Sagal's "The Omega Man" (Warner
 Bros., 1971)
. Here we're looking at the north side of the
California during the opening credits.
larger view

We also get several nice views of the Tower Theatre
and spend some time at the Olympic in "Omega Man."
See our Theatres In Movies post for those views.

The 1983 Orion Pictures remake of "Breathless" with
Richard Gere and Valerie Kaprisky has several scenes shot
 inside the California Theatre. We get a glimpse of the back
of the auditorium, spend some time making love on a pile
of curtains backstage while "Gun Crazy"(1949) is playing,
 and get this glimpse of the exterior.

larger view

Thanks to Chas Demster for the screenshot. It's on his blog
 Filming Locations of Chicago and Los Angeles where
he also has photos of many more "Breathless" locations.

More information: Lots of history about the life (and death) of the California Theatre is on the Cinema Treasures page.   Many researchers have contributed interesting facts and stories. See our page on Miller's Theatre for more views of the 9th / Main / Spring intersection.

Google Books has an issue of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers with a photo of the facade of the California in a reprint of a 1919 article.

     L.A. Public Library Collection

An early exterior shot from the
Library's great collection.   
full size image

It's 1918. "Welcome Our Boys In Blue"

An undated view -- having a smoke while
looking down on the California Theatre. 
full size view

A 20s view from the LAPL collection looking
 north at the intersection of 9th, Spring (on the
left) and Main St. (on the right).
full size view

Note the signage for the California Theatre on the triangular
building. At other times, the sign was for Miller's Theatre

A lobby view of the California from the
 Library's collection.
  full size image

The side wall of the auditorium.
 full size view

A view of the entrance in 1928.
full size view

The California in 1935 as a
Spanish language film house.
full size view

A lovely 60s view of the California.
full size view

Another 60s shot of the facade. 
    full size view

More from the LAPL collection:
 |  1935  view - from across the street | south from about 6th |
| 30s? movie premiere  | facade view 40s?  -- with trolley  |
 | back wall in 1989 |

     K Safer on Webshots

A view of the California Theatre
 facade by K. Safer.

full size view


A 1921 issue of The Transactions of the Society of
Motion Picture Engineers included the article "Lighting
 for Motion Picture Theatres" featuring this photo. They're
demonstrating the use of some new flood lights on the facade.
It's in a reprint edition of issues 10-14 on Google Books.
full size view | on Google Books

Thanks to Broan, who linked to
the photo on Cinema Treasures.

     USC Archives

A view of the north side of the
building from the USC Archives in a
 Dick Whittington Studio photo.
 full size view

Los Angeles Theatres -- the California  Theatre on Main St.

Another Dick Whittington shot. Here it's 1939 and we're
at the intersection of Main and Spring. Looking north
on Main we see the south side of the California.
full size view

Take a peek at the far right side of the image for a
glimpse at the marquee of the Roosevelt Theatre
(former Miller's) at 842 S. Main.

Looking north on Spring in another 1939
Dick Whittington photo. We get a bit
of the California at right.
full size view

A 1922 look at the California's entrance, evidently for
the premiere of "A Tailor Made Man" with Charles Ray.

photo: Sean Butay, WalterFilm

Thanks, Sean! 

WalterFilm features original vintage movie
posters, lobby cards and other film memorabilia. | WalterFilm on Facebook

[ click on these photos for a larger view ]

An undated view toward the stage of the California.

photo: Bill Housos collection

It looks like most of the interior decoration has been stripped out in
various modernization programs. Don't you love the Statue of Liberty
 right of the proscenium?  Michael Hudson-Medina notes that on the
 left we have Mexico City's famous statue the Angel of Independence.

 Bill notes that he purchased the two California Theatre
 photos decades ago from the Theatre Historical Society.

Thanks, Bill!

The rear of the auditorium in the theatre's later days.

photo: Bill Housos collection

Note the main floor booth -- with ports that look
 like they were enlarged for Cinemascope.

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     American Classic Images

A great 1980 view of the facade in the
   American Classic Images collection.
 full size view

A 1983 night marquee shot.
 full size view

     California State Library

Here's a 1965 exterior by William Reagh
 in the State Library collection.  
 full size view | data page

Another view from Mr. Reagh.
 full size view | data page

     Ken McIntyre on Photobucket

A view of the boxoffice in the 70's.
  full size view | on Photobucket

     Noirish Los Angeles | Noirish LA forum

A perhaps late 60s view looking north from 9th &
Spring onto Main with the California up the block.
In the upper right corner there's a bit of the
 Miller's Theatre sign still there.
full size view

Looking north from under the
California Theatre marquee.
full size view

These are both part of Beaudry's
Noirish Los Angeles post #19325 where
he also has a nice set of current views
for comparison.  Thanks!

     Pattern Bar on Facebook

A great view looking down at the Spring/Main/9th intersection
with the California over on the right. Also note the roof sign
and vertical for Miller's Theatre in the lower right.
full size view | on Facebook

Check out their History Album 1887-1951 for
more vintage views of the neighborhood.

     Photos of Los Angeles

The May 1919 issue of "American Globe"
magazine with the California on the cover. 
full size view

A late 30s photo by the Dick Whittington Studio, a
find of Ken McIntyre. That's Spring on the left and Main
on the right. We get a bit of the California up the block on
the right -- including an edge view of its roof sign.

A look at the theatre in the 70s when it was
operated as part of the Pussycat chain. 
full size view

Los Angeles Movie Palaces -- The California Theatre

A crisp 1983 view of the California Theatre facade.
It was discovered by Kenneth McIntyre and appears
 on his Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles.
full size view

We're running "The Outsiders" and "Lone Wolf
McQuade" as the top half of a 4 feature bill.

     Saturday Evening Post    

A Saturday Evening Post ad for Klearflax carpeting featured
a photo of the California's main floor and a testimonial from
Mr. Miller, the manager.  At the time of the ad, the theatre had
been open 135 weeks, putting us in mid-1921.
full size view

"Los Angeles is, quite naturally, the home of one of the most
beautiful moving picture theatres in the world -- the California....
6,000,000 people walked upon this carpet during a period of 135
 weeks -- an average of 50,000 a week, and not one cent of
expense for mending or repairing it!"

A closer look at the photo.

Thanks to Sean Ault for locating
the ad and sending it our way.

     Theatres in Los Angeles    

by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper,
Amy Ronnebeck Hall and Marc Wanamaker.
Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
arcadia publishinggoogle books preview

A 1956 look at the north side of the building.
The photo also appears on our Los Angeles Theatres
Facebook page and on Photos of Los Angeles.