Merced Theatre

420  N. Main St. 
   | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90012

The News:  The theatre is getting turned into a home for L.A.'s public access cable channel.

City website:  The City's website has lots of historical information on buildings around the Merced Theatre.  See the historic structures page for lots of facts and photos.

Opened: January 30, 1871.  The Merced is the oldest surviving theatre building in Los Angeles. But certainly not the city's first theatre, as is often claimed.  Ticket prices ranged from 50 cents in the balcony to $1.00 for main floor seats. The opening attraction was "Fanchon The Little Cricket."

William Abbott named the venue after his wife Maria Merced (or Mercedes) Garcia. The building had retail on the ground floor (Abbott's furniture store), the theatre on the second and living space for the Abbott family on the top floor.

It was also known as the Teatro Merced and Mercedes Theatre.  Before the last round of street renumbering in the 1890s the address was 310 N. Main St. Main St. was originally called Calle Principal.

The Merced was the center of Los Angeles theatrical activity from 1871 until 1876.  The Merced declined after 1876 when the Wood's Opera House opened four doors south.  The Merced closed New Year's Day 1877 due to the Woods competition as well as a smallpox epidemic.

Architect: Ezra F. Kysor designed the Italianate structure to complement the Pico house next door, which he had also designed. Kysor, along with up and coming theatre architect Octavius Morgan, later designed the Grand Opera House.

The theatre space was 35 x 100 feet with a 35 x 25 foot stage. Four boxes lined the side walls and access was possible directly to the next-door Pico House for hotel guests.

Seating: 400

Status:  Slated to become the home for the City of Los Angeles public access TV station Cityview, Channel 35.  Roto Architects is doing the design. But it'll be a long process. Expect a year for the design phase and two for construction.

The original theatre space on the second floor will be the main studio with a 70 seat venue available on the ground floor for community events. The project also includes using the Masonic Hall on the south side of the theatre.

Adrian Glick Kudler did an April 2014 story on Curbed L.A. Eddie Kim in Downtown L.A. News  also had a story on the renovation process in April.

LA Times had a story about the changes in April 2013.   LAHTF's David Saffer had picked up on an earlier 2013 L.A. Downtown News story about the possibility of the theatre getting this tenant.

The facade was restored in the 60s and limited interior work was done in the 80s.  The building sits with a Masonic Hall on one side and the Pico House (1870) on the other. It had been vacant for decades due to lawsuits and other problems.  The building was subjected to a Historic American Buildings Survey in 1937 and they noted, even at that date, the upper floors had been altered repeatedly.

Richard Guzman, writing in the Los Angeles Downtown News in August 2010, had a story about the prospects for getting the buildings on the block occupied again: "City to Look For Pico-Garnier Block Developer."

The initial bid process received no takers at the end of 2010. But officials continued talking to several parties that expressed interest. See the Downtown News update: "None Bid...."  At the end of the road no private developer was interested.  Stay tuned for action on the adjacent Pico House, vacant also for decades.

Another exterior view of Merced Theatre building.
The first floor was originally a furniture store.

photo: Lanna Pian - 2011

These views by Ms. Pian were taken in September, 2011 during a survey
visit by the Los Angeles Conservancy Historic Theatres Committee.

A closer view of the house right wall
near the former stage area.

photo: Lanna Pian - 2011

The double stack of doorways at the temporary stairs are
new -- they're associated with an added stairwell that provides
 a second exit from the upper floors.

 [ click on any of these photos to enlarge ]

Standing where the stage would have been and looking
toward Main St. and the rear of the seating area.

photo: Lanna Pian - 2011

There were balconies on each side and at the rear of the
 auditorium. It's unknown what's inside all that drywalled area.
Ductwork? Wall reinforcement for the Pico House?

The 80s "restoration" included exterior rehab and  a seismic
retrofitting. A new electrical service as well as sprinkler and alarm
systems were installed. Ductwork was installed but evidently not any
 heating or cooling equipment. Over a period of 20 years, the City
spent approximately $11 million stabilizing the buildings on the block.

The City of Los Angeles had been actively looking for a tenant
 after having the buildings
on this block the subject of a decades-long
lawsuit brought by an unhappy developer.
They settled on their
 public access TV station renovating the building for studio space.

New steel added to stabilize the building.
We're looking at the house left (north) wall near
the Main St. end of the space.

photo: Lanna Pian - 2011

The opening that has been filled with concrete blocks would
have connected the theatre to the Pico House next door.

Thanks, Lanna!

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     California State Library

This 1910 view of the Theatre Merced
is in the State's collection.  
 full size view  | data page

A 1950 view of the Merced
 by Arnold Hylen.  
full size view | data page

Another shot by Mr. Hylen - c.1950.
full size view | data page

Also in the State Library collection:
 | 1871 stereo view - William Godfrey -- no canopy
  yet-- perhaps an 1870 construction view  |
| 1877 stereo view - Carleton Watkins  |
| 1965 Pico House & Merced Theatre - William Reagh  |

     La Nopalera

A terrific map of the Plaza area showing current
streets as well as ones that have vanished. 
larger view of this detailfull map

For more on this site, check the links on the
 navigation bar on the left side of the home page.
Or head to the Plaza Tour and the Photo Gallery
 (which also has other interesting maps).

Thanks to GS Jansen who had the map posted on
 the Noirish Los Angeles forum as his post #4314.

     Library of Congress

 See the Library of Congress's Merced Theatre
collection for drawings and a photo.

An elevation of the Merced, part of the Library's

1937 Historic American Buildings Survey materials.
 larger view

The Library of Congress has floor plans for the
 3 floors of the Merced Theatre building.
 larger view

A rear elevation and 3rd story detail.
full size view

Also see:
| 1937 photo - Henry Withey | data pages - pdf |

The Library of Congress plans of the Merced also
appear on Westcork's Noirish Los Angeles post #14172.

     Noirish Los Angeles

The Merced Theatre (with "SIGNS" on the side) flanked,
on the left, by the Pico House and, on the right, by the
Masonic Hall during the early 50s construction of the 101.

Thanks to Mr. Ethereal Reality, who found the extraordinary
photo on eBay for his Noirish Los Angeles post #17274.

     USC Archives

A 1957 view of (left to right) the Pico
House, the Merced Theatre and the Masonic
 Hall. The image is from the Herald
Examiner collection. 
full size view

Also in the USC Archives:
| 1869 view - Pico House but no Merced yet |
view from the west - c. 1873-75  |
  |  1876 view  - from Fort Moore Hill  |  c.1909 view  |

     A Visit To Old Los Angeles

Los Angeles Theatres Downtown: The Merced

A great view of the Pico House, Merced Theatre and
 Masonic Hall on Brent Dickerson's grand tour of early
Los Angeles. It's on "Page 1: Arrival." At the bottom
 of the page there's an index of episodes.

 The photo is of interest as most other views
 of the building seem to have been taken after the
 canopy in front of the theatre was lopped off.
full size view

The Los Angeles Public Library has another version
of the photo which they date as an 1870 view.  Also see the
 State Library stereo view-- evidently taken before the building
 was completed, although they date it as 1871.

     You Are Here

A rare view of the building lit at night.
Here Martin has captured it well.
 full size view

See Martin's Historic El Pueblo page and
Theatres page for indexes to more of his great work.

A view of the Merced Theatre
. That's the Pico House
on the left and the Masonic Hall on the right.

photo: Bill Counter
- 2010

 [ click on any of these photos to enlarge ]

A closer look at the Merced Theatre facade.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010 

The Merced at night.

photo: Hunter Kerhart - 2014

That's a bit of the Pico House near us and
the Masonic Hall beyond the theatre.

Keep up with Hunter's explorations: | on Flickr  |
on Facebook

The rear of the theatre building viewed from
the south.
The Pico house adjoins to the right.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The auditorium was on the second floor. Note the little
structure right behind the tree at the center of the photo.
 It's a former dressing room and restroom area.

The back set of stairs (here seen coming down between
the two trees on the left) were added during the restoration
 work of the 60s.

Note that, compared to the HABS plans of 1937 in the Library
of Congress collection, we've lost a couple of windows on the back
wall in the dressing room area. Also, in 1937 anyway, the middle
window of the three on the main floor's back wall was a doorway.

The 2nd floor theatre space in
the Merced Theatre building.

photo: Lanna Pian - 2011

We're looking east, toward the stage end of the space. Stage
height probably matched the flooring height at the top of that
set of temporary stairs.

Doors on the house right wall at main floor level originally
opened up into dressing room and restroom spaces. Up on balcony
level, there's a veranda beyond as well as access to the new alley stairs.


A view looking east from farther back at what
 would have been the rear of the auditorium.

photo courtesy of Michael Hudson-Medina

Over on the far right are the stairs going down to Main St.
 Between that area and the jog of the south wall would have
been another set of stairs continuing up to the balcony.

Thanks, Michael!

     Sean Ault Collection   

Thanks to Sean Ault for sending this colorful
undated  shot of the former theatre our way.
You'll also find the photo as a post by Sean
on Photos of Los Angeles and as Ethereal Reality's
 Noirish Los Angeles post #29723 and post #29724.

     Michael Hayashi on Facebook

A fine c.1878 look south on Main with the Pico House,
Merced Theatre and Masonic Hall in the foreground. In the
distance we get a view of the Baker Block. Thanks, Michael!
full size view | on Michael's FB page

     Arnold Hylen - Images of an Era

Thank to Greta Gustafson for this view north on Main taken
 by Arnold Hylen perhaps in the early 40s. The building nearest
 us once housed Wood's Opera House. The Merced Theatre
 is the building with the signage on the side saying "
David" and "Here." Beyond is the Pico House.
full size view | on Facebook

     Huntington Digital Library

The Pico House, Merced Theatre and Masonic
 Hall in a 1953 slide by Palmer Connor.
 full size view

A February 1960 look north from Arcadia St.
as the Masonic Hall, Merced Theatre and Pico
 House undergo exterior restoration. The
slide is by Palmer Connor.

full size view

Another February 1960 slide by Mr. Connor.
A detail from an undated slide showing restoration
work continuing on the rear of the building.
 larger detail view | full image

More in the collection by Mr. Connor:
| from across the freeway - March 1961 |
rear view from the south - 1961 |

     Los Angeles Love Affair

On Jamie Diane Poster's Merced Theatre page we get
 a look at the rear of the auditorium space. Note that the
 two center "windows" were once doors going out onto
 the top of the canopy overlooking Main St.

     L.A. Public Library Collection

An 1888 view of the Pico House, Merced
Theatre and Masonic Temple. The big hulk
  south in the next block is the Baker Block.
 full size view

Note the banner on the 2nd
floor: "Dancing Academy."

A 1920 street view. The corner building
on the right is the Orchard Hotel. The squat
building just to the left of it is the former home
of Wood's Opera House. The Merced and
Pico House are further down the street.
full size view

A 1921 alley (Sanchez St.) view. The tallest
building on the left in the distance is the
Merced Theatre. Farther beyond just before
the Plaza is the Pico House.
full size view

Close to us on the left, we get the edge of the
hotel building at the corner of Main and  Arcadia St.
The second building with the blank wall on the second
floor is the stage end of Wood's Opera House.

A 1945 view from the Library's collection.
It's a photo by William Reagh.  The squat two
story building on the end is the former
Wood's Opera House.
full size view

Also in the Library's collection:
 | 1870 view -- perhaps a bit later |  1915 facade view  |
| 20s facade view  | another 20s exterior view |
| 1960 - behind construction fence - William Reagh  |
 | 60s view - looking south   | 1968 - William Reagh  |

More Information about the Merced Theatre
and other buildings in the Plaza area:

Flying Wedge's Noirish Los Angeles post #14168 about the Merced Theatre has a lovely array of photos and real estate maps showing the Merced.  The Library of Congress plans of the Merced appear on Westcork's Noirish Los Angeles post #14172.

Floyd Bariscale on Flickr -- see Floyd's great Plaza photo set.

Big Orange Landmarks  - Mr. Bariscale's informative article on the Plaza Park area.

The City Project blog -- photos and info

The City Project on Flickr - El Pueblo photo set

Las Angelitas -- a history of various buildings in the area.

L.A. History - our page on the Garnier / Plaza Building across the street.

L.A. History - our page on the Brunswig Building across the street.

"Merced Theater" (PDF) -- Lois Ann Woodward's 1936 research report on the theatre from the State of California Department of Natural Resources.

Wikimapia - info and photos - including an aerial view.

Wikipedia -- photo of courtyard next to the theatre

Wikipedia - Merced facade photo

Wikipedia - Pico House Article

Wikipedia -- article on the Plaza Historic District

You Are There - index to Martin's photos of buildings in the area.

A Visit to Old Los Angeles -- explore the buildings of the Plaza area via old photos and postcards.