Criterion Theatre

642 S. Grand Ave.    | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90017

Opening: December 15, 1917 as the Kinema with Cecil B. DeMille's "The Woman God Forgot" with Geraldine Farrar. DeMille himself served as master of ceremonies. The opening of the theatre was covered on page 65 of the January 5, 1918 issue of Moving Picture World.

Architect: Architect William J. Dodd and engineer William Richards (Dodd and Richards) designed one of the earliest deluxe film houses downtown.  It was a project for the Kehrlein Brothers with Shirley C. Ward acting as contractor.

The theatre was designed specifically for films -- the stage was only 7' deep. Too bad that Grand Ave. never developed into a theatre district.

The L.A. Times on October 21, 1917 reported "Gallery
Stands a Severe Test" as 6,000 bags of concrete (1,500,000
pounds total) were placed on the balcony as a load test.

Thanks to John Crosse for finding the L.A. Times item. It appears in a 2012 Southern California Architectural History post of his that covers an amazing variety of theatrical topics (in addition to the Kinema opening) and includes discussion of personages as varied as Rudolph Schindler, Edward Weston and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Seating: 1,856

By 1918 Thomas Tally had control of the theatre. It's listed in the 1919 city directory as Tally's Kinema. By 1920 it was operating under the direction of the Gore Bros. and Sol Lesser. In the 1918, 1921 and 1922 directories it's just called the Kinema.

A Kinema ad from March 1920 in the
 Vintage Cinema Adverts collection
of Charmaine Zoe on Flickr.
 full size view

In 1923 it became the Criterion with "A Woman of Paris, " written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, as the gala re-opening attraction.

Vitaphone at the Criterion: In 1927 Warner Bros. leased the Criterion for the west coast premiere of "The Jazz Singer" on December 28, 1927.  Al Jolson put in an appearance at the premiere. 

An ad on the side of an unidentified building for
"The Jazz Singer" at the Criterion and "Sunrise" at the
Carthay Circle from the Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann
 Collection, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection.
full size view

"The Jazz Singer" was expected to run 6 months but lasted only until the end of February 1928, when it moved over 3 blocks to the Tower Theatre. See our Movie Links page for more on Vitaphone.

Becomes a Fox House: In March of 1928, the Criterion was taken over by Fox. An item in the March 28, 1928 issue of Variety said they were going to call it "The Movietone House"  and have "Sunrise" and the "Four Sons" as their first two features.  The article also mentioned that the sort of Fox presentations that had been playing the Carthay Circle ("at $1.50 top") would now go into the Criterion. They termed the format a "de luxe grind policy."

Soon William Fox took over the West Coast Theatres circuit and this house was folded in. In February 1929 it started to be advertised as the Fox Criterion.

70mm Fox Grandeur process at the Criterion: Parts of "Fox Movietone Follies of 1929" (or perhaps the whole film) were run in 70mm in New York at the Gaiety Theatre. Also on the program in New York was a 70mm Fox Movietone newsreel.

The film opened at the Criterion on May 24, 1929. It's unknown whether the Los Angeles premiere at the Criterion was in 70mm.  The "70mm & Wide Gauge: The Early Years" page on the informative website From Script to DVD lists the Criterion run but who knows?  The "Grandeur" page on discusses the "Follies" issue.

 Theatres running the Grandeur process used specially built Simplex projectors designed to accommodate the 5 perforations per frame widescreen process.

You'll find more on Fox Grandeur on the page for the Carthay Circle, which definitely got equipped (as did Grauman's Chinese). Also see our Movie Links page on the Hollywood Theatres website for more about the process.

Tally's involvement: Thomas Tally either had owned the building from 1919 to the end or had lost it and regained ownership. In any case, his name resurfaces in connection with the theatre from about 1933 onward. Between 1933 and 1938 it was being called Tally's Criterion.  See the Cameo Theatre page for a timeline of Tally's other exhibition adventures.

The theatre ended its days as the Grand Wilshire.

Status: Tally was advertising the property for sale in 1941. It was then demolished that year to make room for an office building.

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Criterion Theatre for lots of information unearthed by Joe Vogel, Jeff Bridges and a number of other contributors.

See the post by Nathan about the architects, Dodd and Richards, on the blog On Bunker HillPhotos of Los Angeles has several photos looking east along Wilshire (with the Criterion in the distance) before and after the Wilshire extension.

     Theatres in Los Angeles    

by Suzanne Tarbell Cooper,
Amy Ronnebeck Hall and Marc Wanamaker.
Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
www.arcadiapublishing.comgoogle books preview

This rare 1921 view of the Kinema Theater from Marc
Wanamaker's Bison Archives appears on page 37 of "Theatres
 in Los Angeles."  "Lessons in Love" starred Constance Talmadge.
Also on the bill was the "Royal Purple Syncopated Orchestra."

A full size view of the photo appears as a post
 by Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles.

     USC Archives

An aerial view by the Dick Whittington Studio gets
 us a view of the Fox Criterion down in the lower left.
On the side of  the building we're advertising a Lon
Chaney film. Also note the roof sign.
full size view

Thanks to Ethereal Reality, who posted
the view on Noirish Los Angeles., where he
 also has other Criterion views.

USC also has another aerial view from Dick Whitington
Studio c. 1930 that's more of a panorama. The Biltmore,
the Criterion and many downtown buildings are visible.

A number of the buildings are identified on Hoss C's
 Noirish Los Angeles post #24347 where he's come up
with a different version from the Library of Congress,
taken from the Richfield Building.

     Program - October 30, 1920    

-- from the Fred McSpadden Collection --

The cover of the Kinema program of  October 30, 1920 from the
Fred McSpadden Collection.  In these programs Fred is listed as
the theatre's "press representative."

On the screen was "Nomads of the North." 

 [ click on this or any of the pages below for an
enlarged view -- your browser should then allow you
to click again on the image for more detail ]

page 1

pages 2 and 3

pages 4 and 5

pages 6 and 7

pages 8 and 9

pages 10 and 11

pages 12 and 13

pages 14 and 15

page 16 and inside rear cover

rear cover

This great 1920 exterior view is from the collection
of Fred McSpadden, longtime
theatre manager.  

[ click to enlarge ]

Fred's notes on the back indicate that he was on the house staff
here as "doorman and asst. mgr."  On the back he also wrote: "Note
STEAM URNS each side of front - At night steam flowed - with
colored lights shooting thru steam."

Also on the back: "Photo by J.C. Milligan, 422 1/2 S. Broadway,
Los Angeles, California  PLEASE CREDIT."  So we have.

The photo and the programs reproduced below come to us through the
generosity of Bill Buehler of the Tucson Fox Theatre Memories Project.
Thanks, Bill!

Fred was quoted in the Arizona Daily Star
of May 3, 1959 talking about the Kinema:

 “I had best time of my life there…any afternoon of the week you could
expect Charlie Chapman, Lon Chaney, Mary Pickford or some other famous
 star to show up for a matinee. They would just walk in and sit down.”

Ushers at the Kinema in 1921

photo: Stacey Hartley collection

Usher Bernice Cooper at the Kinema in 1921

photo: Stacey Hartley collection

[ click on either of these to enlarge ]

Many thanks to Stacey for contributing these two
photos. Bernice Cooper was her grandmother.

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     L.A. Public Library Collection    

An early view of the theatre still as the
Kinema, from the Library collection.
full size view


A 1929 exterior shot from the
run of "Fox Movietone Follies"
full size view

A small size version of the photo above also appears
on the Internet Archive in the Motion Picture News
 issue of December 28, 1929 as part of an article
"Harold B. Franklin Analyzes Theatre Personality."

A nice exterior view of "The House of Hits"
adorned with a wreath supposedly from Joan Crawford,
whose 1930 film "Paid" was then playing.  
full size view

Also in the Library's collection:
1924 aerial view - theatre is at bottom right -- just to
the left of the building with the billboard on the roof  |

     Motion Picture Herald    

A look at the entrance of the Criterion for "Bad Girl"
 featured in a two page spread about the great uses
the theatre was making of its display case area in the
 October 3, 1931 issue of the Motion Picture Herald.
 full size view | on Internet Archive

"Your Show Window!  Are You Using It?" Another
view from the October 3, 1931 article. The feature
that week was Cecil B. DeMille's "Madam Satan."
full size view | on Internet Archive

The article also has smaller photos showing details of the way
the display cases were dressed for "A Connecticut Yankee,"
"All Quiet on the Western Front," "Transatlantic" and "Secret Six."

"Criterion Says It With Big Letters"  A fine spread in the October
10, 1931 issue of Motion Picture Herald showing the impact of large
changeable letters on the facade of "The House of Hits."
 Note also the changeable copy up on the roof sign. 
 full size view | on Internet Archive

     Program - January 8, 1921    

-- from the Fred McSpadden Collection -- 

The program cover for the January 8, 1921 issue.  

On the screen that week was "Dangerous Business." 

page 1

pages 2 and 3

pages 4 and 5

pages 6 and 7

pages 8 and 9

pages 10 and 11

pages 12 and 13

pages 14 and 15

page 16 and  inside rear cover

rear cover

| Grand Theatre - 730 S. Grand |
Trinity Auditorium - 855 S. Grand |