The Belasco / Follies Theatre

337 S. Main St.   | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90013

Opened: August 29, 1904 as the Belasco Theatre. Initially it was devoted year round to productions by the Belasco Theater Company. The theatre was operated by Frederick Belasco (sometimes he spelled it Frederic), a brother of the more famous producer David.  

A 1905 program in the Performing Arts Archive lists the proprietors as Belasco, Mayer & Co. ( Frederic Belasco and M.E. Mayer). The Belasco family had many successes in San Francisco, including the operation of the Alcazar Theatre, before opening this house in Los Angeles.  By 1908 A.C. Jones has been added to the list of proprietors (and also as manager).

The cover of the program for "Heart of the Geisha"
 in September, 1905. It's from Danni Bayles-Yeager's
 collection in the Performing Arts Archive.

The program cover at the Belasco for the October, 1908
production of "Captain Swift" in the Performing Arts
Archive. It's from the collection of Danni Bayles-Yeager.
 "When Knighthood was in Flower" - January, 1906
David Warfield in "A Grand Army Man" - October, 1908

An early billboard on Los Angeles St. for a
Belasco Theater Company
production at their
 Main St. venue.
Ken McIntyre found it for
the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
full size view  |  on LAtheatres.blogspot

In the 1913, 14 and 15 city directories it's listed as the Republic Theatre. By 1919 it had been renamed the Follies. The Belasco family later re-surfaced with another theatre with their name on it when the new Belasco Theatre on S. Hill St. opened in 1926.

Frederick Belasco died in 1920. The Vancouver Sun had an obit: 

"FREDERICK BELASCO DEAD IN NEW YORK  Famous Theatre Manager Was Born on Vancouver Island in 1863.  San Francisco, Dec. 21 -- Frederick Belasco, lessee of the Alcazar Theatre here for many years and brother of David Belasco, New York theatrical producer, died at his home tonight from pneumonia. He had been associated with the theatrical enterprises on the Pacific Coast for more than thirty years. He was born on Vancouver Island in 1863 and was brought to San Francisco when a child. He is survived by his widow, six bothers, two sisters and a step-daughter. Funeral services will be held here Thursday."

Architect: Abraham M. Edelman, who also did the Empress on Spring St. and, with a partner, the Majestic on Broadway.  S. Charles Lee did some work in the 30s, possibly the facade modernization. 

Seating: 1,240 initially -- later down to 900.

This great map by Jeff  Bridges on Flickr is an updated
version of a 1906 Sanborn fire insurance map showing the
plan of the Belasco/Follies backing up against the Empress
(earlier the Hotchkiss Theatre) on Spring St.
full size view

The Belasco shows up on this nice chunk of a 1909
birds-eye view map archived by Jeff  Bridges on Flickr.
Main St. is running horizontally through
the middle of the image. 
full size view

Also in Jeff's Flickr album:
| Mainly Main maps  |

A section of a 1935 insurance map showing the
Follies Theatre.  Note the building they've annexed in the
upper right as a prop room. Thanksto Michelle Gerdes
for copying the map at the Los Angeles Public Library.
full size view  |  more maps

A Follies ad from the 1947 Project
Burlesque page: "Round 'em Up!" 
larger view

Another ad from the 1947 Project Burlesque page.  

A 1938 ad for Carrie Finnell and Betty Rowland at the Follies.
 It's featured in a  The Daily Mirror post by
Larry Harnisch about
Finnell, who weighed about 300 pounds and had "educated
muscles."  Or as the L.A. Times put it about a previous visit
 (in an item also included in Mr. Harnisch's post): "she
 established herself as a performer of unusual ability."
ad full size view
| the full article

"Hot and Bothered?" Thanks to Dennis Forkel on Vintage
Los Angeles for spotting this October 21, 1938 ad for the Follies
in the "Let's Go Places" section of the Hollywood Reporter.

A 1939 ad for the Follies on Ken McIntyre's
 Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
full size view 

A 1942 ad for the Follies
on Photos of Los Angeles.

full size view

A Follies Theatre ad, perhaps from the 40s,
appearing on Noirish Los Angeles with Betty
Rowland as the feature attraction. 
full size view

Ken McIntyre, for his Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page, found an L.A. Times article about the sad closing of the Follies in June 1942:

"Follies Theater, Famed Maker of Stars, Closes. Main St. Burlesque House, Los Angeles Landmark, Loses Fight to Hold City License.

The whistling and shouting stopped last night at 337 S. Main St.

The funny men took one last wallop at each other with their rubber bladders and stretched their ridiculous baggy pants in a final futile gesture. The girls wriggled from left to writhe across the runway and dropped their undermost veil with a farewell air.

When the curtain dropped, the bald heads in the front row filed solemly out and the place was empty once more.

TEARS STREAK MASCARA   But backstage the dressing rooms were full of 80 burlesque people--80. The cheeks of scantily clad chorus girls were tear streaked with mascara. 'Well, it's been 17 years,' said T.V. Dalton, the operator. 'Yeah,' said the doorman. 'Seventeen years.'

On those same boards -- when it was the Belasco -- trod many a star-to-be. Lewis Stone, Marjorie Rambeau, W.C. Fields, Hobart Bosworth, Henry B. Walthail, Edmunde Breese -- Paderewski, even, and Schumann-Heink.

IT CAME TO THIS  And then burlesque and slapstick comedy and strip-tease.  But last Friday in Superior Court, Dalton was denied an appeal from an order of the Police Commission suspending his license and was given until last night to end his show.

So last night they closed the Follies Theatre -- for good."

Actually, not for good -- the theatre was reopened (by 1944 if not earlier) and continued to run burlesque shows for decades. Burlesque historian Leslie Zemekis in her book "Behind the Burly Q" calls the Follies operators during its Burlesque days, the Dalton Brothers (Pete, Roy and Frank), "the Minskys of L.A." 

Earlier, the Dalton's had been State Fair concessionaires in Texas and had run a string of theatres out of Dallas. In the early 20's the Daltons had operated the former Pantages on Broadway as Dalton's Theatre. It's now called the Arcade.

A Follies ad from 1944 added to the
 Photos of Los Angeles collection.
full size view

Another Follies ad from Ken McIntyre on
Photos of Los Angeles is this one for Marion
Morgan: "More Curves than the Burma Road."
 full size view

"30 Girls - Hot and Careless"

Also see:
There was a break from Burlesque in early 1945 it was reported in Billboard. The Dalton Brothers had exited the business and the theatre subsequently had been operated by Follies Theatre Corporation and, later, by Los Angeles Amusement Co. As of early February it was to be a musical comedy house operated by Robert Biggs Jr. and his father Robert Biggs, Sr.  Burlesque eventually returned.

In December 1963 when the FBI was looking for a Stripper named Siri who was connected to Jack Ruby, they found out that she was Siri Putnam, who was then working at the Follies. Thanks to Sean Ault for the sleuthing on that data.

Stage Specifications: The 1907-1908 Henry's Theatrical Guide says the house was illuminated with both gas and electricity. Proscenium 40' wide x 28' high. Stage depth: 30'  Grid height: 65'   Wall to wall: 70'.

Status: Demolished May, 1974 after a long and happy career as a legit theatre, occasional movie venue and many years as a burlesque theatre.

Ken McIntyre located the May 31, 1974 article about the demolition:

"The end, when it came this weekend, was mercifully swift. A few well-aimed wrecking balls and the tottering old Follies Theater at 337 S. Main St. fell in upon itself like the collapsing star it was.

Built originally as the Belasco Theater and opened in 1904 as the Los Angeles home of the celebrated Belasco Stock Co., the landmark managed to cling to an aura of respectability only for little more than a decade. But as the theater district moved south, the Belasco name was withdrawn to be used on another theater in the 900 block of S. Hill St. and the Main St. house became forever more a home of burlesque.

From World War II on, it was a downhill slide for the musty old theater, as burlesque went the way of vaudeville and both were replaced with cheap skin flicks. The Follies was raided, closed and then reopened half a dozen times before it was finally abandoned to the bulldozers. The old Follies, the last burlesque house in Los Angeles, will fulfill its destiny as just another parking lot."

The Follies in the Movies:

A wonderful proscenium view of the Follies from
the B'hend & Kaufmann Archives/Terry Helgesen
Collection. It's a promotional still from the 1937 Mae
West film "Every Day's a Holiday" that once appeared
 on the L.A. Conservancy's  Facebook page. 

In "Foot Patrol" (Los Angeles Police Dept., c.1946) we
teach the new recruits that they need to keep an eye on
 various trouble spots, including the local burlesque houses.
See our Theatres In Movies post about
 "Foot Patrol" for more views of the Follies as well
as one of the Burbank, down the street.

We get some nice night views of the Follies in
 "Maidens of Fetish Street" (Cameo Pictures, 1966)
including this nice view up the vertical. The film
is also known as "Girls on F Street."

"After a burlesque stripper arouses his 'tormented desires,'
 Nick heads for The House of Fetish - where his idea of romance
 is to have a hooker pour molasses & ants over his head."
Visit Something Weird Video for more about the film.

 A look out a lonely hotel room toward
the Follies in "Maidens of Fetish Street."

 A big thanks to Beaudry including screenshots from
 the film in his Noirish Los Angeles post #29000.

"Maidens" also has views of the Galway and the Art Theatre.
See our "Maidens" Theatres In Movies post for those shots.

The Follies Theatre as seen in "Uptown Saturday Night"
(Warner Bros. / First Artists. 1974).  Main Street
is doubling for Chicago.
 larger view

See our Theatres in Movies post on "Uptown Saturday
Night" for two shots showing the Burbank Theatre.

More information: See the Follies Theatre page on Cinema Treasures for a nice discussion with many interesting posts including links to ads and photos.   Also see Jeff Bridges Mainly Main poster set on Flickr. 

Check out Leslie Zemekis' great 2013 article for Huffington Post "A  School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping" about life at the Follies (and after 1952 at the Burbank when the team moved down the street) with owner Robert Biggs, manager Lillian Hunt, and Lillian's daughter Pepper Aarvold, who grew up backstage. Also putting in appearances are Tempest Storm, Lily St. Cyr and Patti Wagon. Leslie is the author of "Behind The Burly Q."

See the 1947 Project ("Los Angeles de-mythified") article on Burlesque for lots of nice ads and clippings about the Follies.   

Check out the Hollywood Burlesque Festival page on Los Angeles Burlesque Theatres.

A 1927 story  about the Follies is in the right sidebar of a post by Jeff Bridges about the film "The Street With No Name."

The other theatre on Main St. famous as a burlesque house was the Burbank at 548 S. Main St. -- they frequently get confused.

Nearby: Just a bit north was the Regal Theatre and across the street was the Hippodrome Theatre.

    Wesselmann / Williams Collection   

Cliff Wesselmann was a longtime Los Angeles Daily
 News photographer. Gregory P. Williams is the author of
 the award winning book "The Story of Hollywood."

An article about Williams, the evolution of the book, and
 the purchase of the Cliff Wesselmann collection appeared
 in a 2011 story by Michael Hewitt in the O.C. Register.

| buy the book on AmazonGoogle Books preview |

A Cliff Wesselmann photo of the Follies. Betty Rowland,
the "Red Headed Ball of Fire" is the feature attraction.

The Cliff Wesselmann Collection / Gregory P. Williams
Partnership photo appears on page 49 of the
forum Noirish Los Angeles in a post by G. S. Jansen. The
page also has several other posts about the Burbank.
on Post #970 | on Flickr

Also see Ethereal Reality's Noirish Los Angeles post #6661.
The view above is also on Photos of Los Angeles.

An undated look at the girls on the runway at
the Follies. Again it's a view from the Wesselmann
 Collection / Williams Partnership. 
 full size view on Flickr | on FB/LATheatres

The view above  appears with Leslie Zemekis' 2013 article for
Huffington Post "A  School for Strippers: The ABCs of Stripping."

Both of the photos above appear in
 "Sins of the City - The Real Los Angeles Noir"
 by Jim Heimann, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999.
on Amazon  |

Also see:
| Betty in her prime | a 1946 L.A. performance - from Noirish LA post  #967 |

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     California State Library  

An early postcard view looking south on Main St.
The Follies can be seen on the right. Also note
the facade of the Hippodrome Theatre
right across the street.
full size view | data page

A detail from the photo above.

     Huntington Digital Library    

A view looking north from 4th in 1924.
full size view

This is another version of the USC Archives 1924 view.
On either site you can use the slider to get a larger
 image -- then you can pan around to explore details.

A detail from the view above -- click on it to enlarge. Note
the sign on the side of the Follies: "Comedy  Girls  Everything."

A June 1956 view from Spring St. through to Main and
 the back of the Follies. "80 People - Mostly Girls."  The
Westminster Hotel at 4th & Main is across the street.
The Van Nuys/Barclay Hotel is at the right. It's a
photo by Palmer Connor.
The vacant lot on Spring that we're looking through used
to be the site of the Empress Theatre, 344 S. Spring St.

Also in the Huntington collection:
| c.1905 facade view -- similar to USC & LAPL views  |

     L.A. Public Library Collection  

A look at the building in 1909 when it was
still the Belasco. It's a C.C. Pierce photo.
full size view

USC Archives has a higher resolution version
of the photo above. It's also in the collection of the
 Huntington Library, where they date it as 1905.

Also see the postcard version
of the shot
above in the "Visit To Old L.A." collection.

Here's a shot of the exterior as the Follies
in 1920 from the Library's collection. 
full size image

A bird's eye view in 1919. Go to the Library site's
full size view and you'll see the Follies (and
its vertical sign) in the lower left. 
 full size view

A closeup view of the Follies entrance in 1933.
full size view

A c. 1937 Herman Schultheis look upward
at the marquee of the Follies.
 full size view

The Follies in 1973 with the modernized facade.
Note the deco bars on the windows seen in the 1937
photo are no longer in place. It's a Victor Plukas photo.
full size view

Another 1973 shot looking
south on Main St.
full size view

A view showing the south side of the
in 1973.
full size view

A 70s facade shot from
the Library's collection.
full size view

     Photos of  Los Angeles

An early view appearing on Photos of Los Angeles
has us looking north on Main St. from 4th. The Follies,
then still called the Belasco, is on the left with its sign
on the south side of the building.
full size view  |  as a postcard

The card is also on LATheatres.blogspot as part of a
Los Angeles theatre postcard collection. The image is
 from the Pacific Electric Railway Historic Society.

An undated view of a show at the Follies. 

full size view

A neat photo of a 40s display at the Follies
discovered by Ken McIntyre.
full size view

The view above also appears on the Facebook
page of the Los Angeles Visionaries Association.

The display on the north
side of the entrance. 
full size view

     UCLA S. Charles Lee Archive      

A view of the Belasco/Follies proscenium
and boxes from the UCLA collection's great
S. Charles Lee Archive.  Dates of these photos
and photographer are unknown

A lobby view of the Belasco/Follies from the
UCLA collection's  S. Charles Lee Archive. Note
the wonderful displays in this photo advertising
the comic and ecdysiasts.  
full size view

A view of the proscenium.
 full size view

Here we're looking back into the house, again
in a photo from the S. Charles Lee Archive.  He
evidently did some remodeling of the Follies
Theatre in the 1930's -- perhaps the
 modernized facade. 
full size view

A look at the foyer at the rear
of the main floor.
full size view

     USC Archives    

A 1924 view looking north across 4th St. The Follies is
on the left up in the next block. Here at 4th and Main the
Hotel Van Nuys (now the Barclay) is on the left
and the Westminster on the right. 
full size view

The photo is also in the
Huntington Library collection.

A 1939 Dick Whittington view of the Follies.
We're looking north on Main St. 
full size view

The signage on the side of the theatre says:
 "80 people - mostly girls - 4 stage shows daily."

Also in the USC collection:
  | facade as the Belasco -  a higher resolution
 version of one in the LAPL collection |

| c.1917 looking up Main -- zoom in and you can
make out a "Vaudeville" vertical on the Follies |

 Anton Wagner - California Historical Society

Anton Wagner: Los Angeles 1932-33

A c.1932 look south toward the Follies taken
by Anton Wagner.  It's way down there.

full size view | on the CHS site

Also in the picture closer to us are the Wonderland
Theatre at 315 S. Main (later called the
Jade) and, the big
 building in the center, the Regal Theatre at 323 S. Main.

A detail from the photo above. Note "Burlesque"
on the vertical and signage on the marquee
 touting new lower prices.

Anton Wagner took hundreds of photos of the L.A. area in
1932 and 1933 for a thesis topic having to do with the way the
 area's topology influenced the character of its inhabitants.

     A Visit to Old L.A.  

This view of the Belasco Theatre is on the
Main Street portion of Brent Dickerson's
great early Los Angeles tour.  
full size view

A larger version of this postcard view appears on
 Photos of Los Angeles and is also on LATheatres.blogspot
 as part of a Los Angeles theatre postcard collection.

Looking for Main Street's other famous burlesque theatre?
Check out our page on the Burbank Theatre, 548 S. Main.