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323 W. 6th St., 536 S. Hill Street and 553 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014 | map |
Opened: January 26, 1923 as Grauman's Metropolitan. On the
screen was "American Wife" with Gloria Swanson. The theatre was advertised as "The Showplace of the World."
On the great stage were Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians and other acts. The orchestra wasn't in a pit but on a big stage elevator. The screen and prologue action was behind. See the stage and booth page for more information.
The building extended 155 feet along 6th and 247 feet along Hill. The main entrance was on 6th while Hill got a much smaller marquee and a miniscule lobby. Those two entrances weren't enough. For a Broadway entrance an existing retail space was re-purposed for a lobby. You went up the stairs (or escalator) and across the alley, entering the theatre building at balcony lobby level. See our Broadway entrance page for more details.
Architect: The theatre was designed by William Lee Woollett (1872-1953), who had previously designed the Million Dollar for Sid Grauman. Edwin Bergstrom was responsible for the
building. Woollett was the son of an architect and he had a son and grandson who also entered the profession.
An undated photo of Mr. Woollett from
the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
full size view | another photo
The May 1921 issue of Architect and Engineer had an interesting story (and photo) "Immense False-Work Carries Concrete Trusses" that discussed the building's use of reinforced concrete trusses and the method of supporting them during the pour.
"Engineers, architects and builders in Southern California are watching with considerable interest the construction of Grauman's Metropolitan Theater. Early in July, 1920 excavation was started for the foundation, and rapid progress is being made so as to complete this structure in the fall of 1921.
A half-million board feet of selected Oregon pine is being used to erect the false-work which will support the eight large girders over the stage, and ten trusses 16 feet in depth, spaced 12 feet 6 inches center to center and spanning 136 feet 6 inches over the auditorium. Each truss will weigh 660 tons. A glance at the picture will convince the reader that this is the largest false-work ever used in this state on a reinforced concrete building..."
The false-work constructed to support the concrete
trusses of the stage and auditorium. The photo appeared
with the May 1921 Architect and Engineer article.
full size view | on Internet Archive
The new building is featured in an ad for L.A. Pressed Brick Co.,
the terracotta suppliers. It's on Google Books (from the Stanford
Library) in the Architectural Digest 1922 Survey Issue of
noteworthy southern California buildings.
full size view
Mr. Woollett talked about the building in an article in the May 1923 issue of Architect and Engineer titled "Concrete and Creative Architecture." In the same issue see "Grauman Theater, a Work of Art" by E. Bingham and an article about the stage lift: "Notable Stage Elevator Installation..."
Berkeley architect Bernard Maybeck paid the new theatre a visit and offered his "Reflections on the Grauman Metropolitan Theater, Los Angeles" in the June 1923 issue of Architect and Engineer:
"...In the year 1923 we build of concrete. Boxes made of wooden boards are filled with a cement mud, and when this has hardened the boards are removed, leaving a solid stone. The architect of the Grauman Metropolitan Theater is from his own confession a product of the West. He is a mirror of the desert, the mountains covered with sage brush, which are always before his eyes in Los Angeles. The Western Indian has put his stamp on his art, and the Oriental has added his exuberant admixture. All these influences are felt in the Grauman Theater. Here is a new art, if art can be new. Or rather it is a creation, not a copy of this or that in a pure style. The architect has taken the bare concrete forms as they are required for the support of balconies, floors and roofs, and without plastering or fake architectural construction, he has used the walls and structure for decorative purposes.
Photographs do not convey the story of the Grauman Metropolitan Theater. Any picture of any part should be in color. Better yet, go in person and visit this inspiring enclosure with the colored lighting, and you will feel the West -- all that is inspiring -- and then let your mind travel back to McDougal Street of New York, with children as numerous as the stars forming a blockade more embarrassing than the automobiles in Los Angeles business streets, and you wonder why they do not go to the great West. These thoughts and others come to your mind when you walk through the spaces of the Grauman Theater.
As a work of creative art, the Mezzanine Foyer is a good illustration. There is a sense of spaciousness, of order, of color, of grandeur that is indescribable. One part of the hall is low, the ceiling being the underside of the auditorium balcony; the trusses which carry the balcony are decorated without destroying their members, the high side opening into the lobby.
The Grauman Theater marks the beginning of a new era in Art; that is, we are beginning a creative period of molding the forms themselves into beauty. The thought stands out clearly, that as the business man is beginning to realize the value of art, the outlook for the future is promising. The time is rapidly passing when the layman shall dictate what the architect shall do. Instead, he will collaborate and enjoy the work as he sees it progress."
"Crane Beauty for a 'First Run' Theatre"
The theatre ("One of the most beautiful theatres in
America...") got a full page ad from the Crane Co. in the
June 30, 1923 Exhibitors Trade Review extolling the
virtues of its drinking fountains, toilets and steam valves.
The ad above comes from Cezar Del Valle's
Theatre Talks collection. Thanks, Cezar!
The September 1923 issue of The Building Review (on Internet Archive) features 5 small photos of the theatre with the article "Pioneers." The article cautions:
"...To the inspection of such a building as the Metropolitan Theater, one must bring an open mind. To prejudice, that is to say, to the admirer of scholastic consistency, the treatment here will be shocking. All sorts of traditions are violated; many styles and forms are used and combined; new methods of decorations have been created, or at least used as never before. Symbolism has been carries to an extreme. Few, if any can grasp the meaning and application of all these motifs, but the fact that they are symbolic is plain, and is bound to awaken interest and attention..."
Also in the September 1923 issue of The Building Review is "The Metropolitan Theater - A Digest From the Local Press." There's a continuation of the Press Digest on page 36 of the issue where, in addition to the press comments, there are several short articles about various features of the building as well as a piece by Woollett from the L.A. Examiner. The plates section of the issue has 12 full page photos plus drawings and plans. The plans are reproduced on our auditorium page.
The publication "Concrete in Architecture" (Portland Cement Association, 1927) features an article by Mr. Woollett along with 11 full page photos of the Metropolitan, many in color. It's on Internet Archive. Mr. Woollett talks about his design:
"... The thesis for the problem presupposes the fragments of an ancient temple or temples still standing -- into which is thrust the reinforced frame of a modern theatre. The isolated masses of the antiquated remains of the classic buildings are composed in groups so that they seem like choice fragments set up in a museum, yet they are part of the structure. The compositions in color, which arrive from the juxtaposition of these architectural fragments and the newer forms in concrete, are complex. The concrete wall surfaces are gilded and colored and decorated with murals and conventional patterns. The motifs used were taken from every known architectural style and modified to harmonize with the scheme as a whole.
If there is a law of harmony in line and color, there is also a law of dissonance. The law of dissonance is part of the universal law and constitutes a useful part of the laws of beauty. The antithesis, rather than the harmonies, have been used in the Metropolitan Theatre and a dissonance has been obtained which caused one architect to make the remark, 'Everything is just the opposite of what it ought to be.'..."
A lobby view from "Concrete in Architecture."
See the lobby page for more from the publication.
History in the mid-20s: In July 1924 Grauman sold his downtown holdings to Paramount Publix. Al
Kaufman, the brother-in-law of Jesse Lasky and a founding member of
Famous Players-Lasky, was appointed to manage the Metropolitan, Million Dollar and Rialto theatres for the company. Kaufman had earlier been their studio manager.
Like other west coast Publix theatres, the Metropolitan was soon operated by Fox West Coast for Paramount. Publix continued to use the Grauman name in advertising although Sid no longer participated in the theatre's operation.
Publix renovations of the late 20s included getting the orchestra off the stage and constructing a regular orchestra pit downstage of the proscenium. With the orchestra out of the way the movie screen could be moved farther downstage.
The organ installation was also revamped with grillework added in the sides of the proscenium for new organ chambers down lower. Grauman originally had all the sound drifting down through openings in the ceiling.
A wonderful 1927 ad from Cezar Del Valle's Theatre Talks
collection. It's a Fox West Coast ad noting that they are operating
the Metropolitan "In association with Publix Theatres."
full size view
A look at the cover of the Fox West Coast
"Now" magazine for July 15, 1927. It's from the
Cezar Del Valle collection. Thanks, Cezar!
full size view
The Motion Picture News issue of October 20, 1928 reported that the government wasn't happy with Fox having the west coast Publix houses and forcefully suggested that they be divested from Fox control.
Renamed the Paramount: The Metropolitan name came off the building in January 1929 and the theatre became the Paramount. Publix was on a similar branding spree up the coast where their theatres called Seattle and Portland both became Paramounts as well. The January 23, 1929 ad in the L.A. Times said:
Tomorrow brings the realization of a step forward -- upward to the very top of a long cherished ambition. Los Angeles will be America's first city in entertainment. Publix, a great international institution, is bringing its wealth of entertainment to California that West may have the Best. The biggest diversified show West of Chicago....
2 PUBLIX STAGE PRODUCTIONS
COSTLY IMPROVEMENTS will give Los Angeles the most beautiful stage in America -- and the best equipped -- equipped to give you two complete Publix stage shows instead of one. Tomorrow you'll see Frank Cambria's "Beaux Arts Frolic" direct from New york -- featuring Bryant, Rains and Young and the Gamby-Hale Girls.
You'll see Paul Oscard's "Paramount Inagural Banquet," a Los Angeles Publix production featuring Handers and Millias, George Dewey Washington, Armida, Georgie Raft, Elmira Lane, Don Thrailkill and the Paramount Ballet. Both stage events accompanied by the Paramount Orchestra -- conducted by Raymond Paige.
America's most popular organist and Columbia Recording star. Concerts at every performance -- and every performance a musical event.
COME! JOIN THE STARS IN TOMORROW'S OVATION!..."
January 24, 1929 was the first day as the Paramount. Jean Arthur, Doris Hill and many other stars opened "the BIG DOORS" at 11am. The theatre got an article in the January 24 issue of the L.A. Times:
PARAMOUNT PLAYHOUSE A REALITY
Publix Corporation's Ace Theater Here Opens Today with All-Talkie
Completely rejuvenated at a cost of several thousands of dollars, the Paramount Theater, formerly the Metropolitan, will make its bow to Los Angeles theatergoers today. It will be the third playhouse controlled by Publix Theaters Corporation to be distinguished with the name which has long stood for par excellence in picture production.
Not alone will the newly named house boast of this added prestige but it will present under the new regime a show that will establish a new standard for entertainment locally, it is declared. Both on the screen and on the stage the highest type of attractions will hold sway from now on..."
The first film of the Paramount-branded era at the theatre was "The Doctor's Wife" with Ruth Chatterton and H.B. Warner.
The Fanchon & Marco era: From the mid-30s onward the Paramount was managed by the brother and sister team
Fanchon and Marco.
Starting in 1941 they also managed the Paramount in Hollywood, a newly remodeled version of what had been (and is now once again) the El
Capitan. The 6th & Hill venue was then sometimes advertised as the Paramount Downtown to distinguish it from the Hollywood Paramount.
The Paramount's orchestra leader Rube Wolf
Fanchon and Marco put the band back onstage and built a big apron out over the pit. For more about F & M see the family's Fanchon and Marco website curated by Steve Simon.
A nice 1935 poster for a big show at the
Paramount. Ken McIntyre found it for his
Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
slightly larger view | on Photos of LA
A 1938 ad on Photos of Los Angeles for the Paramount
running "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife" -- and Roy Rogers
in the Fanchon and Marco idea "Discoveries of 1938."
full size view | on Photos of LA
Paramount/Publix management returns: The Paramount circuit got the theatre back in 1952 and did a serious modernization both inside and out.
A 1953 ad for a 24 hour premiere for Warner's "House of Wax"
in 3-D and stereo sound. It also played the Hollywood Paramount
(now once again called the El Capitan). The ad appears on the
Wide Screen Documentation page of 3-D Film Archive,
a delightful site curated by Bob Furmanek.
full size view | on FB/LATheatres
AC at the Metropolitan: The
Metropolitan opened with an air conditioning system -- the
Carrier Corporation's first big theatre job. On the company's Carrier History site we get a bit of conflicting information about the initial installation.
While they note that "In May 1922 Willis Carrier unveiled his single most influential
innovation, the centrifugal refrigeration machine (or 'chiller')" and later give us a caption noting "Sid Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles offered moviegoers
luxury and comfort, courtesy of centrifugal chillers by Carrier," the text states that the initial refrigeration gear was the older "traditional ammonia refrigeration":
"Carrier set about conquering the theater industry in three giant steps.
First came the successful installation of comfort air at Sid Grauman's
Metropolitan Theatre in Los Angeles. While employing traditional ammonia
refrigeration, the installation introduced two striking advances in
modern air conditioning, bypass circulation and down-draft distribution
systems. Together these improvements changed the economics of theater
installations and improved the experience of moviegoers by replacing the
cold chill of "mushroom" vents at their feet with a gentle flow of air
from ceiling registers.
The Palace Theatre in Dallas and The Texan in
Houston represented the second important step, becoming the first
theaters to successfully install complete Carrier systems including
centrifugal chillers, down-draft and bypass...As it turned out, movie theaters often became the place that people experienced comfort cooling for the very first time."
Traditionally, in pre-AC days, you'd put a furnace in the basement and mushrooms under the seats for the supply air. Exhaust was out the ceiling to the roof, generally with no recirculation ("bypass circulation" in Carrier lingo) of the heated air.
Despite Carrier's assertion of the superiority of the "down-draft" method (supply air from the ceiling, exhaust via mushrooms under the seats) many later theatres were satisfactorily designed using the mushrooms below for supply air. The Chicago Theatre and the Wiltern Theatre come to mind as examples. Thanks to Michael Hudson-Medina for finding the Carrier AC information!
Status: Closed in 1960. Demolished in 1962. The site was vacant for years but now is the location of the high-rise International Jewelry Center.
More Information: See Cinema Treasures for an informative discussion about the history of the Metropolitan. The page has over 60 photos.
Cruising the Past has a nice spread on the Metropolitan illustrated largely with Los Angeles Public Library photos.
See the delightful Noirish Los Angeles post "Pershing Square Over The Years" by Kevin W. for lots of great photos from different archives.
Hunter Kerhart's "South on Spring" has a fine photo essay "Demolishing The Largest Movie Theatre in Los Angeles."
Azusa Pacific University has a Woollett Collection.
A c.1957 look north on Hill toward
6th St. and the Paramount.
full size view
Another shot north from the same set.
Both of these views also appear on
the Classic Hollywood Facebook page.
Thanks to Michelle Gerdes of the LAHTF for figuring
out the provenance of these. The lower photo was on
Photos of Los Angeles plus a re-post without attribution.
A look at 6th & Hill in 1929 with the new Paramount
signage. The theatre is running "The Canary Murder
Case" (a February 1929 release) with William
Powell and Louise Brooks.
full size view | a re-post
A 30s view looking east across Olive on 6th
toward the Paramount. It was added to the Photos
of Los Angeles collection by Douglas Rudd.
full size view | a re-post
full size view | on Photos of L.A.
A 1940 view looking south along the Hill St. side
of the building. We're recruiting for the 160th Infantry
National Guard. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for discovering
the photo for the Photos of Los Angeles page.
| Hill St. streetcar - 1946 - "Kitty"|
| east on 6th - 1963 - after demolition |
A dazzling look at the great marquee of the Metropolitan
(now renamed the Paramount) in 1933. We're running "Three
Cornered Moon" with Claudette Colbert -- plus we get the
Sunkist Beauties on stage and more!
full size view
The photo was taken by George Mann of the comedy
dance team Barto and Mann. Note Mr. Mann's name on
the marquee. It's in Brad's great theatre marquees set.
Mr. Mann was Brad Smith's father. Mr. Smith's wife, Dianne
Woods, has taken on the task of preserving and organizing the Mann
photos in the George Mann Archive. Don't miss a chance to browse
the archive for a wonderful look at a lost theatrical world.
Thanks to Michael Hudson-Medina for locating
the source of this one. The photo also appears
on Ken McIntyre's Photos of Los Angeles.
A wonderful 1958 view looking east
on 6th toward Broadway.
photo: Richard Wojcik collection
Playing at the Paramount are "The Naked and the Dead"
and "The Respectful Prostitute." The photo originally appeared
on Vintage Los Angeles. Thanks, Richard!
[ click on any of these photos for a larger view ]
Looking north on Hill St. toward 6th
and the Paramount Theatre in 1956.
photo: Sean Ault Archives by Osiris Press
Pershing Square is off to the right. The Paramount (until 1928 known as
the Metropolitan) is running "Giant" with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson
and James Dean. There was also an entrance off to the right on 6th St.
Thanks, Sean! You'll find more items from
Sean's collection lower in this column.
Demolition of the Metropolitan in 1962 -- a major loss
for downtown Los Angeles. The Metropolitan was the
largest of the city's movie palaces.
photo: Richard Wojcik collection
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