Quinn's Superba

518 S. Broadway   | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90013

Opened: July 30, 1914. The L.A. Times reported that over $10,000 had been spent preparing Quinn's Superba.

Seating: 700 is one figure. Moving Picture World before the opening in 1914 gave capacity as 900.

The theatre was opened by pioneer theatreman John A. Quinn.  Earlier (1909 or 1910) Quinn had moved from Arizona and leased the Ideal Theatre (134 S. Spring St.). This was followed by a partnership with G.H. McLain that acquired the Bijou (553 S. Main St.) and the Banner (456 S. Main St.). 

By the end of 1910 the partners had split with Quinn retaining the Banner.  In 1911 Quinn took over the Garrick Theatre (the former Hyman Theatre) at 8th & Broadway. 

In 1912 Quinn was running Tally's (833 S. Broadway) and, according to a 1913 biography of him on rootsweb, hoped to build an office building atop it. Those plans didn't come to fruition.

A nice article on the Internet Archive about Quinn and his theatres is in the Moving Picture World issue of March 28, 1914. The article begins:

"Metaphorically speaking, the rise of J.A. Quinn, of Los Angeles, Cal., in the exhibition end of the moving picture industry may be compared to the speed of a meteor. Three years ago he came into the moving picture business in Los Angeles by purchasing the Bijou Theater which was a small moving picture theater with a seating capacity of one hundred and twenty-eight.

Now he owns four picture houses with seating capacities running from 900 to 1,500. This has been made possible by Mr. Quinn's metaphysical intuition and sound reasoning on what the public wants in the line of picture entertainment."

See our pages on the Garrick, Century on Main St. (later known as the Gayety) and the Lyceum on Spring St. for the article's comments on those Quinn venues. The 1914 article goes on to describe the forthcoming Superba:

"He is now building a moving picture theater at 518 to 524 South Broadway. This structure will be three stories in height and will have a frontage of eighty feet. The name of it will be the Superba, and it is expected to be opened in a couple of months.

The appointments and management of this new house will be in keeping with other Quinn theaters. The front of the theater will follow closely the architecture of the Colonial period. The interior of the lobby will be of the best selected onyx. The auditorium, which will have a seating capacity of nine hundred, will be illuminated by the indirect lighting system.

A drawing of the Superba that was part of the
1914 Moving Picture World article.

"The interior, as well as the front, will be elaborately decorated, and the stage equipment will consist of three complete sets of scenery and a large nitro-silver screen. A program of first run General Film Company's service will form the entertainment, and the pictures will be played to by one of the largest photoplay orchestras on the pacific Coast.

The prices will be ten and fifteen cents, and twenty cents for the loges. the Superba is situated right in the heart of the City of Los Angeles."

Discussing the Superba, Moving Picture World for July 15, 1916 notes:

"It is to the writer's opinion the most attractive houses on Broadway. The lobby is built entirely of onyx, with columns holding concealed lights. The lobby is most beautifully decorated and has program frames of hammered brass that alone cost over $600.

A gorgeous electric sign, 75 by 35 feet, is built on top of the roof. The Superba has a ten piece orchestra. The seating capacity is 700. B. Collier is the local manager."

With the opening of the Superba, this block on Broadway then had a cluster of four major theatres: Quinn's Superba, Clune's, Pantages and Tally's New Broadway.

A photo of J.A. Quinn in the 40s by Murillo.
It's from the collection of Marlaine
Hysell, Quinn's granddaughter.

Click on it for a larger view.

This decade of the 1910s witnessed an extraordinary building boom on Broadway not just for theatres but for other commercial structures as well. For the theatre business, it was a serious move west that soon relegated the Spring and Main Street houses to significantly less important status.

Quinn opened the theatre, soon got bored, and sold the venture to some local businessmen doing business as Broadway Amusement Co. His name was dropped from the title, leaving only Superba on the giant sign above the building. In September, 1915 he bought it back and was in business again with a feature called  "The Blindness of Virtue."  

In 1916 Quinn was also running the Empress Theatre on Spring St. Quinn was later involved on Broadway in the Rialto Theatre (1917).

In 1919 Carl Laemmle acquired the Superba lease for Universal Pictures Corporation.  The theatre closed December 11, 1922 to be turned into a restaurant called Tait's Coffee Shop after Laemmle sold the lease to John Tait. Tait was a noted restaurateur from San Francisco who was introducing the new concept of a "coffee shop" to Los Angeles. Tait's closed in June 1931.

Status: The building was demolished in mid-1931 for construction of the Roxie Theatre.

Quinn's grand daughter Marlaine Hysell reports that "Quinn founded a group called Better Motion Pictures of the World to 'encourage' better motion pictures.  He also was involved in promoting and developing Los Angeles for many years.  It appears that J.A.Q. did his fair share of string pulling and back room deal making too.

In 1920 John A. Quinn was in New York trying to drum up support for the Better Pictures Association of the World he was trying to get off the ground. It was in New York that he met and married my grandmother."

Quinn didn't return to Los Angeles until the fall of 1922 and evidently was not involved in theatre management following his return. In the 40s, Quinn was still an active booster for the future prospects of Los Angeles.  He died in 1945 at age 65.

His business card in the 40s, from
 collection of Marlaine Hysell.

The back of the card.

Inside the foldout card.

More on the Superba: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Superba for superb (!) research by Vokoban (Jeff Bridges) and Nick Bradshaw.  They have unearthed some interesting articles about the theatre from the L.A. Times archives.

For more on the adjacent theatres, see the pages on the Cameo (1910, originally Clune's), the Arcade (1910 - formerly Pantages and Dalton's), Garnett (formerly Tally's New Broadway).

More on J.A. Quinn: See a 1913 bio of Mr. Quinn on rootsweb.

     Los Angeles Theatres    


A superb view of the Superba added to our
Facebook page by Christopher John Lillian.
full size view

     Noirish LA - Skyscraperpage.com    

skyscraperpage.com | forum.skyscraperpage.com

Beaudry (Nathan Marsak) has this wonderful
 c.1915 night postcard in his collection. We're
looking south on Broadway at the Superba,
Clune's and the Pantages. 
full size view | on Flickr

He's posted it on the Skyscraperpage forum thread
  Noirish LA - page 59. Head to his posts on that page
 for more great Los Angeles postcard views.

     Theatre Talks - Cezar Del Valle    

 www.theatretalks.com | on Facebook

A dazzling night view of Quinn's Superba (in the center) and,
to the right, Clune's -- later the Cameo. And we get the Pantages
(later the Arcade Theatre) vertical saying "Vaudeville" on the
far right. The card bears a 1916 copyright date.
full size view

A version of the card above also appears on Brent Dickerson's
Broadway Tour Part 3 where there are also views of the
interiors of Clune's (Cameo) and the Palace:
Quinn's Superba  |

   Charmaine Zoe's Marvelous Melange   


The lobby and front of the Superba all decked
 out in Oriental mode for the 1920 run of "Locked
 Lips," a Universal release.
 full size view | on Flickr

Another view of the Superba under Universal
management in 1920. The caption reads "The Superba
 Theatre of Los Angeles during the showing of the Universal
feature 'The Girl in 29' with Frank Mayo."
 full size view | on Flickr

 Thanks to Charmaine Zoe for including these
photos in her Vintage Cinemas: California Flickr set
of treasures found in various trade magazines.

A dazzling 1920 view of the Superba, Clune's (Cameo) and
the Pantages (Arcade) on Wikipedia Commons.

The photo is from the New York Times Archive.
 full size view

Note that in this photo the earlier "Quinn's" vertical is gone.
 In addition,  Quinn's name is missing from the roof sign.

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     B'hend and Kaufmann Archives     


A 1919 photo acquired from Allen Michaan of the
Superba's entrance during the run of "The Brute Breaker."

It's in the Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection,
a part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection.
full size view  |  on FB/LAtheatres

     California State Library    


The State Library Collection has this great view of
the block taken by Martin Behrman prior to 1920.
 full size view | data page

Note at this point the roof sign just says
"Superba" rather than "Quinn's Superba."

     Elizabeth Fuller's Old L.A. Postcards    


Elizabeth Fuller's Old Los Angeles Postcard collection
has this nice 20s view of the Arcade Building and Dalton's
Theatre (former Pantages, later the Arcade) beyond. 

Beyond Dalton's is Clune's (later the Cameo).  Just north
of the Cameo is Tait's restaurant -- in the building that
until 1922 housed Quinn's Superba. They retained
Quinn's  distinctive roof sign.
 full size view

A brighter version of the card appears on Vintage Los Angeles.
It's from Brian McCray's glorious postcard collection.
Dalton's (Arcade) / Cameo / Superba |

     Huntington Digital Library    

A wonderful 1915 view unearthed by Ken McIntyre.
Beyond the Superba are the Cameo and the Pantages. It's
 a G. Haven Bishop photo for Southern California Edison
Company that's in the collection of the Huntington Library.

larger view

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

A detail from the 1915 Huntington Library view.
Click on it to enlarge.

A closer look at the entrance from the 1915
Huntington Library view. Click on it to enlarge.

Another terrific 1915 G. Haven Bishop view
from the Huntington Library.
 full size view

A detail of the signage from the photo above.
Click on it to enlarge.

A detail of the entrance.
Click on it to enlarge.

A 1916 view by G. Haven Bishop. Here we're
looking north along Broadway at the Pantages,
Clune's and Superba theatres. 
full size view

Note that the Arcade Building hasn't yet been
built on the corner of 6th & Broadway.

A detail from the 1916 Huntington Library photo.
Click on it to enlarge.

Also in the collection:
looking north 1928 -- Clune's signage visible  |

     USC Archives    


Historic Los Angeles Theatres -- The Superba

A 1928 look at the east side of the 500 block
with the Superba building now Tait's restaurant.
It's a photo from the California Historical Society.  
full size view

A detail from the USC image.
larger view

Note that they kept the Superba roof sign but
changed it to "Tait's Coffee Shop." Beyond the Superba
building, note the Cameo and what was then Dalton's Theatre
(formerly Pantages, later in 1928 it became the Arcade).

also on the 500 block:
| Roxie - on the Superba site | Cameo | Arcade |