RKO Hillstreet Theatre

801 S. Hill St. 
    | map |

Los Angeles, CA  90014

Opened: March 20, 1922 by the Orpheum circuit as the Hillstreet Theatre. The movie portion of the opening bill was "Why Announce Your Marriage?" with Elaine Hammerstein.

This was a "Junior Orpheum" house with 5 act vaudeville shows and films continuous throughout the day instead of just vaudeville twice a day (and no films) as in the more prestigious Orpheum locations. 

Architect: G. Albert Lansburgh, who designed many theatres for Orpheum, including the 1926 Orpheum Theatre on Broadway. The new theatre was profiled in the November 1922 issue of Architect and Engineer in the article "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect."

A ground floor plan for the Hillstreet appeared in the article
  "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect"
in the November 1922 edition of Architect  and Engineer. Note the
 asymmetrical layout.  That's Hill St. on the left side of the plan.
full size view | on Internet Archive

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

Lansburgh also designed a near twin of the Hillstreet for the Orpheum circuit the same year in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Theatre. See the Golden Gate Theatre album on the Bay Area Historic Theatres Facebook page for photos and information.


History: Orpheum soon got into a merger with the Keith Albee circuit and for a few years the combine was called Keith-Albee-Orpheum.

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 theatre got a page in the 1928 Memphis Orpheum opening night program where it was noted that:

"No expense was spared to make the Hillstreet the most beautiful and up-to-date on the Pacific Coast, as well as one of the largest. It has been operating with a popular price policy, alternating vaudeville and feature photoplays from noon until 11 p.m. 

The theatre has a modern ventilating plant and operated twelve months a year. It has a capacity of 3,000. The Hillstreet is part of a large building owned by the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit, whose offices are among the most eagerly sought in Los Angeles. 

In addition to the land on which the Hillstreet stands the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Circuit owns a large adjoining plot of land on Olive Street. As in many other instances the erection of the Hillstreet Theatre stimulated property development in this vicinity. Since the ground was broken for the Hillstreet Theatre millions of dollars of improvements have been added in this district."

The Keith-Albee-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 mid-1930 and early 1931 and 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 theatre's entrance and some other areas got a remodeling in 1947.

In the Josephine Baker Picture Gallery on
the site
About.com  we get a shot of Josephine
 Baker backstage at the Hillstreet in 1951. 
full size view

A photo of Ms. Baker onstage at the Hillstreet in 1951 by
Arnold Hylen. The photo comes from Hylen's grand-neice
Greta Gustaffson  -- her mother is onstage. It's one of two
shots Greta posted on Photos of Los Angeles.
The two photos are also on Vintage Los Angeles:
 photo #1 | photo #2

Thanks to Steve Gerdes for spotting these.
There's also a shot of Ms. Baker up on a stage lift at
the Hillstreet appearing on Photos of Los Angeles.

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 | on FB/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."

The Hillstreet in the Movies: For film enthusiasts, the high point in "Down To Earth" (Columbia, 1947), an otherwise dreary film starring Rita Hayworth, is driving east on 8th St. past the RKO Hillstreet where another Hayworth film, "Gilda" is playing.

We see the theatre out the back window of a taxi Rita is riding in via a process shot. The eleven minutes of background footage Columbia shot of downtown Los Angeles in 1946 is much more interesting to watch than the movie itself. It's on Internet Archive as "Downtown Los Angeles Streets - 1946." It's a great tour giving us glimpses of lots of vanished storefronts and theatres. Internet Archive also has another link to the footage. It also appears as a post on the site Ultra Swank

A look at the marquee as we pass the corner
and continue west on 8th past Hill St..
larger view

A bit farther east on 8th St. as we head towards Broadway.
The RKO is running "Gilda" with Susan Hayworth.
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.  See our
 Theatres In Movies post for several shots of the Olympic Theatre.

Nicole Dial has taken the 11 minutes of footage shot
by Columbia in 1946 for "Down To Earth" and taken a
modern trip through downtown L.A. on the same streets
for a time travel comparison. It's 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!

As the Martians get close to the city we get this shot east
on 8th St. in "The War of the Worlds" (Paramount, 1953). 
That's the Hillstreet vertical on the right and the Olympic
Theatre down in the block between Hill St. and Broadway.

See our Theatres In Movies post about
"The War of the Worlds" for another shot of the Olympic
as well as a glimpse of the Mason Theatre stagehouse.

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.

     Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr    


A fine 1947 look at the RKO marquee during
the run of "The Other Love" with Barbara Stanwyck.
Note that spiffy remodeled entrance and boxoffice
full size view | in LAHTF's Flickr set

For a real treat, browse through Eric's L.A. Theatres
set on Flickr -- over 400 great shots.  And check out
his Downtown Los Angeles set as well.

     Metro Library and Archive    


A 1958 photo of a LAMTA crew installing a
bus stop sign. We're looking south in the 700
block of Hill St. toward the theatre.

Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for finding
the photo above in the Metro collection.

     Noirish Los Angeles    

www.skyscraperpage.com | Noirish LA forum

Ethereal Reality found this view of the back of the
Hillstreet on e-bay and has it on post #17729. A  guest
 had taken it looking out a window at the Stillwell
Hotel on Grand. Note the curtain on the left.
A detail of the stagehouse and smoke vents
provided by Mr. ER. And look at that fine ductwork
snaking up from the theatre to the fan room on
the roof of the office building.

Need a postcard of the Stillwell?
Chuckaluck has it on his post #20674.

     Photos of Los Angeles    


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

Vaudeville girls in front of the entrance to the Hillstreet
 in 1930. Note the signage proclaiming this house to be the
only RKO Vaudeville in L.A. -- none at the Orpheum at this
point. And RKO left the Orpheum for good at the end of '32.
 Thanks to Benny Ballejo for finding the photo.
The screen portion of the program advertised in the shot
above is Mickey McGuire (Mickey Rooney) in the short
 "Mickey's Merry Men," a July 1930 release.

A wonderful look at the RKO signage in 1947 on
Ken McIntyre's Photos of Los Angeles.  Note in this
view (and the one below) the remodeled entrance.
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

     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's from Richard
Wojcik on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
  He notes that the RKO is playing "Old Yeller." 
 full size view

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

   Charmaine Zoe's Marvelous Melange   


The Hillstreet from above in 1926.  Thanks
 to Charmaine Zoe for including the photo in
her Vintage Cinemas: California Flickr set
of treasures from various trade magazines.
full size view | on FB/LATheatres

The doomed Hillstreet Theatre in July 1965.

photo: Sean Ault Collection

"Critics acclaim return engagement -- Fresh from smash hit
 at Biltmore
Cleveland Wrecking Co. brings down the house"

[ click on the image for a larger view ]

Thanks, Sean!  The photo was on eBay where it was
spotted by Mr. Ethereal Reality. He's got it in
 his Noirish Los Angeles post #27560.

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     Architect and Engineer    


The November 1922 issue of A and E featured a story on
 "Recent Theatres Designed by G. Albert Lansburgh, Architect."

The newly completed Hillstreet.
Other photos with the article include a view across
the auditorium, a ceiling detail,  a proscenium shot and
a balcony lobby view. The Los Angeles Public Library
has better versions of all of these.

     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 view

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


Also in the State Library collection
is this view of the booth.  
On the Library's site you'll find these
three views indexed as set #001387137.

     Michelle Gerdes on Facebook    


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

     Hollywood Historic Photos    


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  | 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.

     Keith Albee Orpheum    


The opening program for the new Memphis Orpheum
in 1928 featured a page for each of the major theatres in the
circuit. The Historic Memphis site has the full program.
full size page view | the full program

     L.A. Public Library Collection    


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 19
51 exterior view in the Library's collection. The
marquee is touting "Josephine Baker In Person."
On the
screen for the rest of the program 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 but it's actually 1922.
 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 1922 lobby view from the LAPL.
  full size image

A ceiling dome detail from 1922.
 full size view

The interior photos above also appear in the
November 1922 issue Architect and Engineer.

Also in the LAPL collection:

construction signage - c.1920  |  north on Hill - c.1925  |
| from 9th & Grand - c.1927 | north on Hill from 9th - 1927  |
| east on 8th from Broadway - 40s - Olympic and the Hillstreet |
| 9th & Olive corner - 1927 - Hillstreet dome in the background |



The Hillstreet, advertising "RKO Radio Pictures,"
 behind the rail car. It's a photo on Tom Wetzel's tour
of the Venice Short Line.  His site has great tours of
interurban rail lines and the downtown area
the Subway Terminal Building.
full size view 

The photo above also appears
on Photos of Los Angeles.

     USC Archives    


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  |