RKO Hillstreet Theatre


801 S. Hill St. 
    | map |

Los Angeles, CA  90014


Opened: March 20, 1922 by the Orpheum circuit as the Hillstreet Theatre. This was a "Junior Orpheum" house with 5 act vaudeville shows and films throughout the day instead of just twice a day as in the more prestigious Orpheum locations.  The movie portion of the opening bill was "Why Announce Your Marriage" with Elaine Hammerstein.

Architect: G. Albert Lansburgh, who designed many theatres for Orpheum, including the 1926 Orpheum Theatre on Broadway.



A section of a 1935 insurance map from the Los Angeles
Public Library showing the Hillstreet Theatre. Note the
 back wall of the stage at an angle to the proscenium.
Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for the map photo!
full size view  |  more maps

Seating:
2,916

History: Some performers evidently didn't think much of the orchestra at the Hillstreet. Danni Bayles-Yeager, of Performing Arts Archive fame, came across
a piece in Katherine Beals book "Vaudeville Days" discussing a letter Beals wrote home in March 1927 about dancers rehearsing and killing time between shows in LA at the Hillstreet:
 
"Fortunately there was plenty of room. That was about the only thing in favor of the Hill Street Theatre, which had the world's worse orchestra.
To make matters worse, the theatre was having a birthday celebration -- 100 years of vaudeville. On Sunday night, March 21, just one week after we arrived in Los Angeles, there were a lot of personalities present and we weren't out until midnight. The final Sunday show all the old troupers were in the boxes and in the audience. They were introduced one by one and I recognized a few names." 

Sadly, Ms. Beals, a 20ish dancer at the time, didn't give us a list of the names of the "old troupers" who were there for the celebration.

 The Orpheum circuit got swallowed up in a 1928 merger by David Sarnoff of RCA and Joe Kennedy of the Film Booking Office (FBO) creating RKO. 

The Hillstreet was renamed the RKO Theatre with a reopening on September 11, 1929.  Later it was called the RKO Hillstreet.  While the Orpheum on Broadway went to a film only policy in 1930, the Hillstreet continued with vaudeville.


A 1930 ad for a film-only policy at the Orpheum and
a "9 Feature Show" including RKO vaudeville at the RKO
Hillstreet. The ad appears on Ken McIntyre's
 Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
 full size view

In early 1931 the Hillstreet was advertising "the only RKO vaudeville in Southern California."   RKO put vaudeville back into the Orpheum for a spell in 1932 before shutting the theatre down at the end of the year.



An ad for "Citizen Kane" (RKO, 1941) at the

El Capitan and the Hillstreet located by
Ken McIntyre for Photos of Los Angeles
full size view

The entrance and some other areas got a remodeling in 1947.



An ad for "It Came From Outer Space" in 3-D on
 the giant new "Wide Vision" screens at the Hillstreet
and the Pantages in 1953. Ken McIntyre found the
ad for his Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
full size view | onFB/LATheatres

  The ad above also appears on the Wide Screen Documentation
page of 3-D Film Archive, a delightful site curated by Bob Furmanek. 

During the the final years of operation under Metropolitan Theatres, it was again just called the Hillstreet Theatre. The RKO was removed from the vertical so that it in the 60s it just said "THEATRE."

Status: Closed in 1964 and demolished in 1965.

More Information: Cinema Treasures has lots of historical information on the RKO Hillstreet contributed by many resourceful researchers.



     Michelle Gerdes on Facebook    

www.facebook.com/losangelestheatres


A rare postcard view of the Hillstreet
from the Michelle Gerdes collection.
We're looking north on Hill.
 full size view


     L.A. Public Library Collection    

www.lapl.org



An exterior view from
1928 or 1929 in the Library's
collection. The theatre is advertising its RCA Photophone
sound system. 
The feature is Carole Lombard in "Ned
McCobb's Daughter," a December 1928 release.
 full size view



A look at the exterior in 1937.
full size view



A rainy day view by Herman Schultheis looking
west on 8th St. toward Olive. On the left, the Hillstreet
 is running "I'll Take Romance," a November 1937
release with Grace Moore and Melvyn Douglas.
 full size view



A 1945 exterior view in the Library's collection.
The marquee is touting "Josephine Baker In Person."

On the screen is "China Corsair."
  full size view



Looking north on Hill Street in 1950. We're too
 lazy to change the marquee: "2 TOP HITS."
 full size view




From the Library's collection: A view of the
proscenium and sidewall. LAPL dates
 the photo as 1928.
 full size view



The proscenium at the opening in 1922.
  full size view



A view toward the rear -- also from 1922.
 full size view



A 1928 lobby view from the LAPL.
  full size image



A ceiling dome detail from 1922.
 full size view

Also in the LAPL collection:

construction signage - c.1920  |  north on Hill - c.1925  |


     USC Archives    

digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm



A c.1920 USC Archives view looking west on 8th St.
from Hill. The signage on the left  advertises the
"Junior Orpheum" theatre soon to come.
full size view

We're having a close out sale prior to demolition of
the existing buildings for the RKO construction.

The photo above is also on Noirish Los Angeles
as Post #1185 and on Photos of Los Angeles.




A c. 1929-30 view south on Hill St. with the
Alhambra Theatre half way down the block
and the RKO Hillstreet further along at 8th.
 full size view




A detail of the Alhambra and the Hillstreet from the
USC photo above. In the distance note the signage
for the Belasco and Mayan with an arrow pointing
across to the east side of Hill St.
larger view



A wonderful Dick Whittington Studio
view from the late 30s. 
full size view




A 1939 glimpse of the marquee as we look west on 8th
 St. toward Olive. We're running "East Side of Heaven."
 Don't you love that changeable neon lettering? 
 full size view


A 1948 aerial view showing the RKO Hillstreet
Theatre building from the southwest. It's a
 photo from the L.A. Examiner.
full size view

The photo also appears is on the first page of
the always interesting Noirish Los Angeles forum.
| RKO Hilstreet  |



A detail from the 1948 aerial view showing the
  RKO Hillstreet Theatre building from the southwest.
We're looking at the stagehouse with the 3 smoke
vents and "RKO" lettering on the back wall.
larger view


Also in the USC Archives:
 |  looking north on Hill - c.1924  |
| night view - 1929 - looking north - "RKO Theatre" is on the left  | 
 | billboard - RKO vaudeville - 1931  |  ushers' uniforms - on roof - 1931  |
| entrance display cases - 1931  |
 | looking north on Hill St. - 1939  - the RKO Hillstreet on the left  |
 |  looking east on 8th from Olive - 1939  |
 |  looking north from Olympic -- a glimpse of the dome in 1939  |
 |  same view - a bit closer  |  display case and pickets - 1951  |












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     About.com    

www.about.com


Backstage at the Hillstreet in
1951 with Josephine Baker.
full size view

The photo above is part of the site's
 Josephine Baker Picture Gallery.


     Architectural Digest    



A look at the building in the magazine's 1922 survey
issue of noteworthy southern California buildings. 
It's from the Stanford Library and on Google Books.
 full size view
 
Also see:
same photo in an ad - L.A. Pressed Brick Co. |



     California State Library    



A view of the Hillstreet looking back toward the
rear of the auditorium in a Mott Studios photo
from the State Library collection.
full size image


A view of the balcony house right wall.
  full size image

 


Also in the State Library collection
is this view of the booth.  
full size view



     "Down To Earth" - Time Travel    

www.youtube.com/user/nicolewonders



Nicole Wonders has taken the 11 minutes of footage
shot by Columbia in 1946 for the Rita Hayworth film
"Down To Earth" and taken a modern trip through downtown
 Los Angeles on the same streets for a time travel comparison.

For film enthusiasts, the high point in "Down  To Earth," an
otherwise dreary film, is driving east on 8th St. past the RKO
Hillstreet where another Hayworth film, "Gilda" is playing.

Check it out on YouTube:
| part one  | part two  |  part three  |

Thanks to Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation for sending the link to this
time travel adventure our way!


     "Down To Earth" - Internet Archive    

http://www-tracey.archive.org



 Downtown L.A. streets - 1946 is an 11 minute tour giving
us glimpses of lots of storefronts and theatres.  In the
view above we're cruising east on 8th St. The RKO is
running "Gilda" with Susan Hayworth.
 larger view



Another look at the marquee,
looking west on 8th toward Hill.
larger view

On the tour we get night vistas of 7th and 8th streets as
well as (at the end) a look at all the theatres on the east side
of Broadway.  The footage was filmed for process backgrounds
for the 1947 Rita Hayworth film "Down To Earth."

The 11 minutes of background footage also appears
as a post on the site Ultra Swank and on You Tube
On You Tube is also the full feature: "Down To Earth."

another link to the footage  |



     Hollywood Historic Photos    

hollywoodhistoricphotos.ipower.com



A fine 1931 look at The RKO Theatre, as it was then called.
 Hillstreet would soon be added back into the name. Note no
 readerboard on the center of the marquee in this version.
 full size view  |  the data page | on FB/LAtheatres

Ken McIntyre found the photo in the collection
and also has it posted it on Photos of Los Angeles.



     Huntington Digital Library    

The entrance of the RKO Hillstreet in 1931.
It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo.
full size view

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

All the 8s hanging around are to advertise
that the show includes 8 RKO vaudeville acts --
"The only RKO vaudeville in Southern California."
The picture that week was "Behind Office Doors,"
a March 1931 release.


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



     Photos of Los Angeles    

facebook.com/groups/244565982234863


A great early view of the Hillstreet
discovered by Ken McIntyre.
full size view



A 1923 shot looking east on 8th St. added by Paul Wisman
 to the Photos of Los Angeles page.  The RKO Hillstreet
marquee is on the right. Note the Garrick is still at 8th &
Broadway -- the Tower Theatre is yet to come. 
full size view  |  on LA Theatres.blogspot



A wonderful look at the RKO signage in 1947 on
Ken McIntyre's Photos of Los Angeles. 
full size view



A closer look at the readerboard.
full size view



Around on the other side for "Gunfighters."
slightly larger view



A 1953 view of the Hillstreet marquee.
It's a view added by the amazing Ken McIntyre to
his Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page .
 full size view

Don't you love the "3D on giant WIDE VISION
screen and directional sound"?



An undated view looking east on 8th toward the RKO
at Hill St. Here on the near corner it's the
Commercial Exchange Building.
full size view  | version in the USC Archives




Looking north on Hill St. in the 60s. We get a bit of
the RKO Hillstreet signage on the left up at 8th & Hill. 
Note that the vertical only says "THEATRE"
without the RKO at the top.
full size view

The view above also appears in
the Flickr album A Box of Pictures.



The end of the line for the Hillstreet.
It's a 1965 photo that Ken McIntyre discovered.
On the marquee: Cleveland Wrecking Co. 
full size view



     Uncanny    

www.uncanny.net/~wetzel



This site has great tours of interurban rail lines and
 the downtown area near the Subway Terminal Building. 

Here you can see the Hillstreet (advertising "RKO
 Radio Pictures" behind the rail car on Tom Wetzel's
 tour of the Venice Short Line.      full size view

The photo above also appears
on Photos of Los Angeles.



     Vintage Los Angeles    



A wonderful view looking west on 8th St. from Broadway
in 1958. We've got the Olympic Theatre on the right and,
down at 8th & Hill, the RKO Hillstreet. It was posted by
 Richard Wojcik on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
 full size view

Richard notes that the RKO is playing "Old Yeller." 

The photo is part of the Kingsley Collection.
 |  west on 8th  |