Empress Theatre

344 S. Spring St.   | map |    (also listed as 338 or 340 Spring St.)

Los Angeles, CA 90013

Opened: December 21, 1903 as Waldeck's Casino, a project of Jacob Waldeck, who previously worked at the Orpheum. The theatre was intended mostly for vaudeville with a 27' by 60' stage and a full orchestra employed.

The building also contained a billiard hall, a wax museum and had a roof garden.

A January 1904 ad for Waldeck's Casino
on Photos of Los Angeles. Thanks to
Ken McIntyre for locating it.
 full size view | on PoLA

By May of 1904 Waldeck is dead after a breakdown caused partially by the financial strain. Fights for control ensue. Then it's just known as the Casino. It's in the 1904 and 1905 city directories as the Casino.

By 1906 it's known as the Hotchkiss Theatre and by 1907 as the Los Angeles. It's still listed as the Los Angeles in the 1909, 1910 and 1911 city directories.

Note that the Lyceum Theatre, a block up the street, had opened as the Los Angeles Theatre in 1888, but in 1903 was renamed the Orpheum.

As of sometime in 1911 the operation was known as the Empress and running Sullivan and Considine vaudeville. Charlie Chaplin appeared here in his vaudeville act in 1913. It was the next to last engagement of his American tour. After a performance he had dinner with Mack Sennett, Mabel Normand and Fatty Arbuckle. Two weeks later he started in the movies.

Michael Hudson-Medina came up with the review of Charles "Chapman" at the Empress:

We're still calling it the Empress in the 1912 and 1914 city directories. In the 1915 city directory it's Loew's Empress (Marcus Loew was involved for a bit).  It was listed as Quinn's Empress in the 1916 city directory. In 1917 and 1918 it's just the Empress.

In 1919 it was Biola Hall, and late in 1919 it was known as the Zendejas, a venue for Spanish language productions. In 1920 it was the Novel (still running Spanish language productions). It's listed as the Novel in the 1921 city directory.

In 1920 and 1921 it was Gore's Capitol. It's still listed that way in the 1923 city directory. In the 1922 and 1929 directories it's just the Capitol.  It was also known as Waxman's and Waxman's Capitol.

Status: Closing date is unknown. Demolished prior to 1952. The L.A. Conservancy lists 1930 as a demolition date. In any case it's now a parking lot.

Architect: Abraham M. Edelman, who also did the Belasco (later called the Follies) on Main Street, right behind the Empress. He also, with a partner, did the Majestic on Broadway.

Seating: 1,100

Stage Specifications: The 1907-1908 Henry's Theatrical Guide (listing it as the Los Angeles Theatre) says the building at the time was illuminated with both gas and electricity. The proscenium was 30' wide x 24' high. Stage depth: 28'  Grid height: 36'   Wall to wall: 60'.  Also see the specs from the 1906-1907 Cahn's Guide shown below.  It's also listed in the 1908-1909 Julius Cahn Theatrical Guide -- again the heading calls it the Los Angeles but says dates should read "Waldeeks Casino Theatre."

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Capitol for amazing stories about Waldeck (the original promoter), bookings, hoodoo, financial problems, death, fights for control and lots more fun details unearthed by great research.  Lots of discussion by Jeff Bridges and other diligent researchers also surfaces on the Cinema Treasures page for Broadway's Cozy Theatre.

See the mention of the Novel and other venues offering Spanish language films and legit productions in "Handbook of Hispanic Cultures" on Google Books. It mentions the prime years for this theatre as a Spanish language theatre as from 1919 to 1924. Perhaps that should be just 1919 - 1920. Ken McIntyre has a post from 11/26/08 on the Cinema Treasures page about Main Street's Hidalgo Theatre that mentions the Novel.

     L.A. Public Library Collection    

An interior of the theatre (when it was the Casino)
from the Library's collection.  Not much decor to
 look at toward the back of the house. 
full size view

     USC Archives    


A 1908 view of the corner of 4th and Spring
has the Hotchkiss Theatre peeking around on
the far left side of the Hellman Building,
the large structure on the corner. 
full size view

The Hellman Bldg. is on the site of
Tally's Phonograph & Vitascope Parlor,
 388 S. Spring.

A detail from the USC image. The theatre also had
a billiard hall. In the full size view you can make
 out the "Billiards" sign on the roof just to the
right of the "Owl Cigar" sign in the foreground.

The Hellman Building photo above also
appears in the LAPL collection.

 A version is also in the California State Library
collection. Check out photo #13 of  set #001380395.

A view of a billboard for the Teatro Novel
from the USC Archives. They date it c.1920. 
full size view

The photo above, by C.C. Pierce, is also in
the collection of the Huntington Library.

 about photos from other
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     Jeff Bridges on Flickr    

A great map by Jeff  Bridges is an updated
of a 1906 Sanborn fire insurance map
showing the plan of
the Hotchkiss, backing up to the
Belasco/Follies Theatre on Main Street. 
full size view

     Cahn's Theatrical Guide    

On Google Books

Stage specs from the 1906-1907 edition of the guide.
  larger view

     Huntington Digital Library    

A 1913 view of the Empress in the Huntington Library
Collection. It's a photo by G. Haven Bishop taken for Southern
California Edison to advertise the joys of electric signage.
full size view

The Huntington identifies this as in Ocean Park (which also
at one time had an Empress). But look at the posters out in front
 advertising the Sullivan and Considine vaudeville -- and the
address of the Empress as "Spring St. near Fourth."  Also note
the "338" address on the awning of the storefront to the south.

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

| more of the So Cal Edison collection  |

A detail from the Huntington Library photo.
Click on it to enlarge.

Another detail from the Huntington Library photo.
Click on it to enlarge.

A Palmer Connor photo from 1957. We're looking
north on Spring from 4th St. with the white building
 beyond the Hellman Building on the corner evidently
 the re-purposed Empress Theatre building lobby.
The theatre itself is gone by this point. See the
 June 1956 Palmer Connor photo looking through a parking
lot on Spring that had been the Empress onto Main St.

Thanks to Fred H. for finding the 1957 view and including
 it as part of his Noirish Los Angeles post #21448.

     Theatre Historical Society    


A photo of the proscenium and boxes of, presumably,
the Empress Theatre. It appears in the 1st quarter
1985 issue of the THS magazine Marquee.
 The photo appeared in a news item on the back
 page of the issue from Bruce LaLanne discussing the
 then new Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Bruce notes that "Spring St. was once one of the leading theater
 streets in Los Angeles from the late 1880's to the early 1900's.
The area included the original LOS ANGELES Theater in 1888,
 renamed the ORPHEUM in 1903 by the Orpheum Circuit.

The CASINO Theater on Spring St. opened in December 1903,
was later renamed the LOS ANGELES, and featured Sullivan
 and Considine Circuit vaudeville."

The photo is not specifically identified as the Empress/Casino
but the design of the boxes rules out the possibility of it being
 a photo of the 1888 Los Angeles/Orpheum, a building that
 finished its life in 1941 as the Lyceum Theatre.

Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for digging the
 Marquee issue out of her archives.