Tally's Phonograph & Vitascope Parlor

311 S. Spring St.   | map |   1895?-1899
Los Angeles, CA 90013

339 S. Spring St.   | map |   1899- ?
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Opening date of the business is not known. Tally's 311 S. Spring address was in the south bay of the Ramona Hotel Building, which was a large Victorian structure on the SW corner of Spring and 3rd.  It's in the 1898 city directory.

In addition to phonographs, Thomas L. Tally also had (in 1895) positioned Kinetoscope and Mutoscope machines in the front of the premises that would display movies for one viewer at a time after insertion of a coin. 

The first successful exhibition of movies on a screen in Los Angeles was at the Grand Opera House (then known as the Orpheum) on July 6, 1896. Tally wasn't involved in the event at the Grand.  After the showings at the Grand Opera House the Edison Vitascope equipment went on tour for several weeks before ending up at Tally's.

The Vitascope at Tally's: In 1896, Tally curtained off the back of his phonograph parlor creating Tally's Theatre. It evidently was a rear projection setup.

His first showings were July 25, 1896 according to L.A. Herald and L.A. Times articles of the same date.  

"Tonight at Tally's Phonograph Parlor, 311 South Spring St, for the first time in Los Angeles, the great Corbett and Courtney prize fight will be reproduced upon a great screen through the medium of this great and marvelous invention. The men will be seen on the stage, life size, and every movement made by them in this great fight will be reproduced as seen in actual life.

"New York and London went wild over this wonderful invention and last week the Orpheum was packed to the walls with people anxious to see the wizard's greatest wonder, the vitascope. Come tonight and see the great Corbett fight. From this date on the fight will be exhibited every evening."

An article in Moving Picture World for July 15, 1916 (which gives an April, 1897 date) says:

"The projecting machine was an Edison Vitascope and the first picture ever projected 'The Black Diamond Express.'

Not wishing to darken the phonograph parlor during the exhibitions, the entire light throw from the lens to the screen was enclosed with a big tunnel of wood and black canvas which occupied the center space of the room. The people viewed the picture from the rear and a small auditorium with chairs had been arranged.

About 300 feet of films were used for the program which consisted of three subjects, one 50 feet long, one 100 feet and a feature picture of 150 feet. Most of the subjects were scenic films like 'Shooting the White Horse Rapids in Yukon River.' Admission charged was 10 cents."

An 1896 ad for Edison's Vitascope.
larger view

The ad is from the Wikipedia
article on the Vitascope.

The Vitascope projector marked a shift from peep show machines to a device that could project a picture to an audience watching on a big screen. Although marketed by Edison as his own invention, it was actually a machine put together by Thomas Armat and C. Francis Jenkins called the Phantoscope. The projector, under its new name, had made its debut in New York at Koster & Bial's Music Hall on April 23, 1896.

The Projecting Kinetoscope at Tally's: This gear was an improved model that was introduced by Edison in late 1896 and more widely available in early 1897.  With this improved model on the market, Edison abandoned the Vitascope.

The banner in the Los Angeles Public Library photo in the right column touts Tally's upgraded equipment: "The Mammoth Projecting Kinetoscope."

A much later ad (1913) for Edison
Kinetoscope equipment.
larger view

It's from the "History of Edison Motion Pictures"
article page on the "Decline of the Edison Co."

Tally Moves: Tally moved to 339 S. Spring St.  in 1899 and closed the 311 S. Spring location. The MPW article erroneously claims that his move "a year later" (which would have been 1898) was "to a location on First and Spring streets.." 

The 1900-1901 city directory's  alphabetical listings include Tally's Phonograph & Projectoscope Parlor with T.L. Tally as proprietor at 339 S. Spring and at 137 S. Main.  Nothing is known about that particular Main St. address.

Under "Phonograph Parlors" there's only one address, 339 S. Spring St.  The Los Angeles Herald for December 17, 1899 carries the new 339 S. Spring address in an ad for T.L. Tally's Phonograph Parlors.  Closing date is unknown.

See the Tally's Broadway page for a listing of his later exhibition adventures on Main Street and Broadway.

Status: The 338 S. Spring St. building has been demolished.  311 S. Spring St. is now the site of the Washington Building (1912).

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page for Tally's 311 S. Spring for lots of discussion about this location and the Tally's Electric Theatre on Main St. 

See "History of Edison Motion Pictures" for more about the Vitascope and the Edison Company's early film efforts.  The University of California Press book "Before the Nickelodeon" (online in its entirety) has a wealth of data and photos.

Wikipedia also has articles on the Vitascope and its predecessor, the Phantoscope.  See also their nice list of film formats.

USC Archives has a pdf of the Arcadia Publishing book "Historic Hotels of Los Angeles and Hollywood." The Ramona gets its shot on p.27 -- with an erroneous note that Tally's was not in the Ramona building but next door.

Thanks to Cezar Del Valle for his contributions!

     Charmaine Zoe on Flickr    


A view of the exterior of 311 S. Spring from the collection of
Terry Ramsaye has been preserved in Ms. Zoe's Flikr album.
 full size view

Ms. Zoe notes on Cinema Treasures: "I notice it has an awning
advertising the Great Corbett Fight – This would be James J. Corbett
when in 1894 he took part in the production of one of the first recorded
boxing events, a fight with Peter Courtney. This was filmed at the
Black Maria studio at West Orange, New Jersey, in the USA and
was produced by William K.L. Dickson." | about the film |

The photo is from “A Million and One Nights, a History
of the Motion Picture” by Terry Ramsaye.

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     Before the Nickelodeon    

"Before The Nickelodeon -
Edwin S. Porter and the Edison
Manufacturing Company"
by Charles  Musser

University of California Press, 1991

The Ramona Hotel in 1896. Tally's Vitascope Parlor
was over on the south bay at 311 S. Spring St. The
drawing appears in Chapter 4, page 85.
 full size view

A detail of the south bay
showing the Tally's signage.

In Chapter 4 of the book the first film showings
 in Los Angeles at the Grand Opera House/Orpheum are
 discussed. Head to page 81 for all the details.

Thanks to Godzilla, a Noirish Los Angeles contributor,
who included links to the book and illustrations in his
 Noirish Los Angeles post #15731 about Tally's on
 Spring and the later Electric Theatre on Main.

A view of Tally's without the theatre yet installed
in the back. It's a photo appearing in Chapter 4,
 page 86 of  "Before the Nickelodeon." The book
somehow dates this as 1898.
full size view | on the UC site

Thanks also to Cezar Del Valle for digging out
 the lower photo. He's a Brooklyn based theatres
 historian. Visit his Theatre Talks website.

     L.A. Public Library Collection    

  A photo from the Library collection of Tally's
Phonograph Parlor with the rear area draped off to
show movies - the "Mammoth Projecting Kinetoscope."  
  full size view

Tally cut holes in the drape at eye level for those
afraid to enter the darkened space beyond.

Cezar Del Valle notes : "The Vitascope was replaced by
the Projecting Kinetoscope in October 1896, making its debut
November 30 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The projector  was
on the market February 1897.
So we have some idea of date
for the Library photo.

 An undated view of the Ramona Hotel. We're
looking up 3rd on the right and south on Spring at
the left. Tally was down in the last bay on the left.

     A Visit To Old Los Angeles    


The Spring Street tour of this delightful website gives
us this view south on Spring from 2nd to 3rd.
full size view

The large Victorian building with the towers at the
center of the photo is the Ramona Hotel building, housing
the 311 S. Spring storefront of Thomas Tally. Closer to
us we also see the Lyceum Hall on the far right.