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.

In 1919 Thomas Tally had control of the theatre and it's listed in the 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 August of 1928, the Criterion became part of the West Coast Theatres chain and in February 1929 it became 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.

Architect: Architect William J. Dodd and engineer William Richards (Dodd and Richards) designed one of the earliest deluxe film houses downtown. And it was specifically for films -- the stage was only 7' deep. Too bad that Grand Ave. never developed into a theatre district.

Seating: 1,856

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 Fred also notes:  "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
 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 5/3/59 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.”

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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  |

     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