Tower Theatre

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802 S. Broadway   | map |

Los Angeles, CA 90014 

(213) 629-2939

Website: The Tower's website, www.towertheaterla.com has a nice history of the theatre, rental information and great photos.

Architect: S. Charles Lee designed the Tower Theatre for H.L. Gumbiner, who would four years later hire him to do the much more opulent Los Angeles TheatreThe Tower was featured in the March 3, 1928 issue of Motion Picture News with a photo spread plus an article: "A Theatre Built on a Lot 50 x 150 Feet."



A photo of the architect from a December 28, 1929 Motion
Picture News article by S. Charles Lee that includes photos and
a discussion of the Tower's design. The article on the Internet
Archive: "Stretching The Building Fund and the Plot Area."

The previous building on the site, the Garrick Theatre, had been acquired by Gumbiner in 1921. He had plans to put a 12 story office building on the site but that didn't happen. He operated the Garrick until 1926 when plans were hatched for the Tower. Gumbiner had also previously been involved in the operation of the Cameo

Construction began March 6, 1927. Lee was 27 and this was his first theatre design. The lot is only 50 feet wide so he made it eye catching with a terracotta clock tower as well as elaborate detailing on both the Broadway and 8th Street sides of the building. 

His compact floor plan got almost 1000 seats plus retail store space onto a lot that had previously held the 650 seat Garrick Theatre. The Tower was designed for movies-- the "stage" is only 6 feet deep.


The balcony and main floor plans for the Tower
from the Motion Picture News article.

full size view

The stained glass above the entrance is dedicated to the art of movie making with, among other items, a roll of film unspooling. The Tower Theatre is a blend of French baroque, Moorish and Spanish design elements.  Construction cost was reported as $500,000.

Lee's design sported many up to date features. The theatre opened with a Carrier air conditioning system, an electric seat indicator panel, neon cove lighting, a balcony cry room and the organ console on a hydraulic lift.  Up behind the booth was a private screening room for the management to preview films.

Seating: 906

Opened: October 12, 1927 with  "The Gingham Girl" (a silent) as the initial attraction.  The film was accompanied by Stephen Boisclair on the Tower's two manual 10 rank Wurlitzer organ.  In 1931 the Tower's organ was removed and reinstalled at the Los Angeles Theatre.

The Tower was the first theatre downtown wired for sound and regularly ran Vitaphone short subjects.  A Vitaphone short of Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians was included on the opening program.  The original Vitaphone horn was too deep for the space available behind the screen so a hole was poked into the back wall and the rear of the horn allowed to protrude into an enclosure out into the alley. With later shallower equipment, the hole was patched but the outline can still be seen today.

The Tower soon got Movietone sound-on-film equipment and ran "What Price Glory," a 1926 release, after it ended its roadshow run at the Carthay Circle.  The film was not a "talkie" but did have a score and sound effects on the film.

The Tower hosted a sneak preview of Warner's "The Jazz Singer" prior to its first run engagement at the Criterion. It later got the "Jazz Singer" as a moveover  in April 1928.



An ad for a Vitaphone feature "The Lion And The Mouse"
at the Tower in July 1928 that Ken McIntyre found for the
Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. They're advertising
it as the first Vitaphone talking feature, meaning not
just isolated scenes as in "The Jazz Singer." 
full size view

Initially the Tower was operated by Gumbiner as an independent. By 1935, Metropolitan Theatres is involved in the operation as Gumbiner was having a tough go at it. He had lost control of the Los Angeles Theatre to Fox.

In 1946 Metropolitan subleased the building and it was renamed the Music Hall. It was frequently booked as a group with the Beverly Hills Music Hall and the Hawaii Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., then called the Hawaii Music Hall.  

In 1949 it was renamed the Newsreel after that policy was dropped at the Globe.  As the Newsreel, the theatre sported a TV lounge in the basement and a news tickertape on the upper level of the lobby. At some point the theatre got a larger screen out in front of the proscenium, adding draperies to make the arch at the front of the sounding board the new proscenium. Front exits under the side boxes were abandoned and new ones added deeper into the auditorium.

The Tower name was restored to the building after a remodeling in 1965 followed a renewed interest in the business by a daughter of Mr. Gumbiner (Mrs. Vilius Randall) -- as well as the lapsing of the long term lease held by Metropolitan Theatres.

The remodel included a refurbished marquee and vertical sign, removal of auditorium murals, new seats, paint, carpets and sound system  The original center boxoffice was removed at this time and replaced with one at the south side of the new entrance doors.

After a period of lackluster business the venue was turned over to Pacific Theatres to operate, then later (again) by Metropolitan Theatres after Pacific got rid of their downtown holdings.



The Tower got a remodel in 1965. Thanks to Woody Wise
for posting the re-opening ad on our Los Angeles Theatres
Facebook page.  Click on the image for a larger view.

Check out Woody's Facebook page:
 Brotherhood of the Popcorn.

Current Status: The Tower closed as a theatre in 1988.  Since then, other than a fling as a church in 2002 and 2003, it has been used only occasionally for film shoots and special events. 

The building is part of the Delijani family's operating entity Broadway Theatre Group with Shahram Delijani heading the firm and Ed Baney as General Manager. The family is also the owner of the Los Angeles, State and Palace theatres.

The Delijanis have plans to revitalize all four of their theatres and have applied for liquor licenses and use permits that would, for operational purposes, designate the four buildings as a single complex. 
See the May 2013 LATheatres.blogspot post for a summary of what they'd like to do with the theatres.

A 2012 Los Angeles Downtown News story by Richard Guzman profiled Shahram Delijani and his family's plans to revive the building. In 2010 plans were before the city zoning administrators for reopening the Tower with a 7,429 sf basement bar/lounge, a 6,000 sf restaurant on the main floor and an 827 sf outdoor patio but the plans did not proceed at that time. In late 2009 the had owners applied for a liquor license.

In 2007 the exterior received a cleaning (as did the Palace's facade) and additional painting and storefront improvements have enhanced the look of the building.  The Tower has been owned by the Delijani family since 2007 when Michael Delijani acquired the building and the land under it. 

The seats on the main floor have been removed and there's a terraced floor in place installed in anticipation of use as a swap meet, a plan that fortunately never materialized.  The present wood dance floor dates from the filming of "Mambo Kings" in 1991. The original stage is hiding under the extension added on top and in front of it for the film.

The Tower Theatre in the Movies: 



Harold Lloyd stars in "Feet First" (Paramount, 1930). His
high altitude building-climbing sequence started on Broadway
south of the United Artists but somehow to get a different angle
we end up atop a building east of the Tower.

Here we're looking west on 8th St. with the Tower
up the street at Broadway and 8th. Note the frames for
signage (here empty) along the top of the 8th St. facade.
larger view



In Boris Sagal's "The Omega Man" (Warner Bros., 1971)
we see Charlton Heston cruising west on 8th St. past
the Tower Theatre in a traffic-free Los Angeles.
larger view



A great look down on the Tower in "The Omega Man"
-- before the top of the clock tower was removed. 
larger view



The Tower, Rialto and Orpheum appear briefly in Sidney
Poitier's "Let's Do It Again" (Warner Bros./First Artists, 1975)
although we're supposedly cruising around New Orleans.
larger view




A bit of the facade and marquee is all we get of the Tower in
this shot from the Peter Hyams film "Peeper" (Fox, 1976) as
Natalie Wood and a kidnapper head north on Broadway to go
inside the Globe Theatre. The film also stars Michael Caine.
larger view  |  a view of the vertical sign
 



The Tower is featured prominently in Arne Glimcher's
"Mambo Kings" (Warner Bros., 1992) as the Empire Ballroom
in New York City. The film features Antonio Banderas and
Armand Assante. Here we get a look at the lobby.
larger view




Here we're looking toward the stage from
the back of the main floor in "Mambo Kings."
larger view



A shot looking toward the rear of the
main floor in "Mambo Kings."
larger view  |  another view from the stage



A scene with Antonio Banderas and Armand
Assante at the back of the terraced main
floor in "Mambo Kings."
larger view

We get a look at the Tower's exterior
 in "Last Action Hero" (1993).




In Nick Cassavetes' "She's So Lovely" (Miramax, 1997) we
go dancing at the Tower with Sean Penn and Robin Wright

The theatre is used as a ballroom called the Suenolindo.
It's uncertain what city we're supposed to be in.
larger view




"Siberian Mist -- make it a double." Sean Penn
 and Robin Wright go dancing at the Suenolindo
Ballroom (the Tower Theatre) i
n "She's So Lovely." 
larger view


A shot from above of the Tower as the Suenolindo Ballroom
i
n Nick Cassavetes' "She's So Lovely" (Miramax, 1997).
larger view




A look up at the Tower's marquee and vertical sign in Antoine
Fuqua's "The Replacement Killers" (Columbia, 1998).  When we
go inside for the cartoons, however, we're at the Orpheum.
larger view


A crowd is lined up outside the Tower waiting to see the
Cartoon Festival in "The Replacement Killers."  Note we get a bit
of the Rialto marquee with Esther Williams in "La Sirena de
Millon Dolares" ("Million Dollar Mermaid," 1952) displayed.
larger view




A facade view near the end of "The Replacement Killers"
with Michael Rooker relating the terrible time he had at the
Cartoon Festival.  In the film we also see a lot of the Mayan
interior as well as views of the exterior of the Million Dollar
larger view



Edward Norton walks up 8th St. at the end of David Fincher's 
Fight Club" (Fox, 1999). In this shot we also get a bit of the
Olympic Theatre on the left.  On the right is the old
Hamburger / May Co. department store building.
larger view



The Tower makes an appearance as a New York City building
 in the Peter Hyams film "End Of Days" (Universal, 1999) with
Arnold Schwarzenegger. There seems to be a subway tunnel
and all sorts of deeper labyrinths underneath. At one
point we go through the Belasco lobby to get in. 
larger view  |  daytime view -- with the Rialto




Arnold Schwarzenegger heads into a very murky
Tower Theatre in "End Of Days." We also pay a visit to
the Los Angeles Theatre, where the Pope lives.
larger view



The gloomy vista toward the rear of
the auditorium in "End Of Days." 
larger view



The Tower is a New York City venue, the Bowery Ballroom,
in David McNally's "Coyote Ugly" (Touchstone Pictures, 2000). 
Here Piper Perabo's coyote friends are at the rear of the main floor
coming in to see her perform near the end of the film.
larger view



Piper Perabo performing on stage
at the Tower in"Coyote Ugly."
larger view



Naomi Watts and Laura Herring are in the balcony of the
Tower where it appears as a strange nightclub, Club Silencio,
in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive" (Universal, 2001).
 larger view

Tower Theatre General Manager Ed Baney notes that YouTube
has a clip of the song "Crying" from this portion of the film.



A look at the top of the proscenium
in "Mulholland Drive."
larger view


A view of one of the boxes flanking
the stage in "Mulholland Drive."
larger view



In Christopher Nolan's "Prestige" (Touchstone/Warner Bros, 2006)
we get an exterior view of the Tower that has been digitally altered
 to make it the Pantages in London.  Inside, we're at the Palace. 
London never had a Pantages, but maybe it should have. 
larger view



The Tower appears in Steven Soderbergh's "The Good
German" (Warner Bros., 2006) as a rundown old cinema
in the French Quarter of Berlin. Here Cate Blanchett
heads up to the booth for a rendezvous. 
larger view

"You can never really leave Berlin."




Another balcony view as Cate Blanchett
leaves the booth in "The Good German." 
larger view



Looking up at Cate Blanchett -- and the
Tower's ceiling in "The Good German."
larger view


"The Good German" also shot some scenes
in various areas of the Warner Grand.



In "Dark Streets" (Samuel Goldwyn, 2008) the Tower is a major
player as a nightclub called, appropriately enough, The Tower.
 Bijou Phillips and others strut their stuff on a thrust stage
 at the Tower in many musical numbers.
larger view



A look up toward the Tower lobby ceiling in "Dark Streets."
Other nicely utilized downtown L.A. locations include the
Alexandria Hotel and the lounge areas of the Los Angeles.
  larger view 

Also from "Dark Streets":

another proscenium shot  | lobby stairs  |




The Tower is Club Figaro in "The Gangster Squad" (Warner Bros,
2013) with Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone. It's about the
LAPD vs. east coast crime figures in the 40s.  The photo, from Warner
Bros., appeared in an L.A. Times article about the film's locations.
larger view  |  on the Times website



The Tower's proscenium appears behind Emma Stone in
"Gangster Squad." The still from Warner Bros. is featured
in a Backstage.com post "Taking Potshots at Fact.." about the
movie. The draperies and chandeliers were added for the film.
 larger view


The Tower on Video:

See the 8 minutes of footage Sal Gomez shot during the 2012 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building in his "Tower Theatre Tour" on YouTube.

More Information:

The Cinema Treasures page on the Tower Theatre has ooodles of historical data and lots of photos. The Cinema Tour page on the Tower Theatre has a number of photos, including interiors by Mark Campbell. 

The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation page on the 2012 "all-about" tour of the Tower Theatre includes a nice history of the building.  Don't miss Escott Norton's 75 item set Tower Theatre Tour on Facebook, taken at the 2012 LAHTF tour.  Also on Facebook is Sal Soul-Pilot Gomez's 21 view Tower Theatre photo set.

Also related to the 2012 tour are Sandi Hemmerlein's fine posts (and evocative photos!) about the Tower on her Avoiding Regret blog:  lobby, house & balcony and backstage, booth and basement.

See the Facebook photo album by Ghost Hunters of Urban Los Angeles for many nice photos of the Tower, including many seldom seen nooks and crannies. The set also includes the Palace and the Los Angeles.



     USC Archives    

digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm


A 1928 view from the USC collection. 
full size view


The photo above also appears in a higher
resolution view in the Huntington Digital Library.





In the great USC Archives collection is this 1951
view of the Tower as the Newsreel Theatre.

full size view




An entrance detail taken from the USC photo above.
Note how little street frontage the Tower was using. Here
it's hemmed in by Coney's on one side and a jewelry
store on the other.
full size view





A great look east on 8th in 1939. It's a
Dick Whittington Studio photo.
full size view

Also in the USC Archives:
| 1931 looking south - Dick Whittington |
| another 1931 view-  same week |
looking west on 8th - 1939 |



     Vintage Los Angeles    

www.facebook.com/VintageLosAngeles



A  crisp 1956 view from the Richard Wojcik collection on Alison
Martino's always amazing Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles.
We're looking north. You can see the vertical for the Tower,
then called the Newsreel Theatre, in the middle of the photo.
full size view

In the foreground we see the Orpheum
running "The Man Who Knew Too Much."



Also from Mr. Wojcik's collection is this 1956 view
looking south from 7th St. The Tower (as the
Newsreel) is down a block on the left. 
full size view





A view of the theatre in 2007.

photo: Bill Counter

 [ click either of these to enlarge ]



A great view looking south on Broadway.

photo: Mark Peacock - 2009

See Mark's Vintage Theatres photo set for lots more great
work.
Also visit his website and the blog "On the Road."

The photo above also appears
 on Photos of Los Angeles.




 about photos from other
websites that appear on this page...

We've tried to give appropriate credit. Please
contact us if there are incorrect attributions, links that
no longer work or other issues. A link near each image will
direct you to a full size version on the website hosting it.
Assume that all the images are subject to copyright
restrictions.  Contact the webmaster of the site in
question concerning reproduction or other use.



     Architect and Engineer   

archive.org/search.php



A 1927 photo of the Tower with "The Gingham Girl,"
the theatre's opening attraction on the marquee. The shot
appears in the July 1928 issue of Architect and Engineer.

Also in the issue are a lobby photo and floorplan
and an auditorium view. In addition, there's an article
"Modern Tendencies in Theatre Design"
which includes a dome mural photo.


   Berger Conser Architectural Photography  

www.bergerconser.com


A 1992 look at the exterior from
Berger Conser Architectural Photography.
full size view

The photo is from Anne Conser and Robert
Berger's great book "The Last Remaining
Seats: Movie Palaces of Tinseltown."
more on the book

Also visit Robert Berger's website:
www.robertbergerphotography.com



     California State Library    

www.library.ca.gov



Here's a 1927 view of the vertical sign from the

 Mott-Merge collection of the State Library.
full size view



A view of the new building, looking
 east on 8th Street.  
full size view



A detail of the clock tower.
full size view




A look at the Broadway facade during the run
of Raoul Walsh's "What Price Glory" in 1927
from the Mott-Merge Collection.
 full size view



Another  Mott-Merge Collection "What Price Glory"
 photo.
On the marquee: "Movietone - See It - Hear It."
The film was a November 1926 release with a
Movietone track of music and sound effects.
full size view

The photo above also appears as part of an S. Charles Lee
 article on Internet Archive from the December 28, 1929
issue of Motion Picture News.



A detail of the ornament above the
entrance.The band of tall windows center
right are in the screening room area.

More 1927 views from the Mott-Merge
 Collection of the State Library:
 |  8th St. facade   |  8th St. window detail  |
 |  ornament and vertical detail |



A 1978 Tom Zimmerman photo of an
old
Tower "Newsreel Theatre" sign in the
 alley east of Broadway. 
full size view

The photo above also appears on Photos of Los Angeles
where Bill Gabel notes that the sign is on the back of the
 Rialto Theatre, just down the block from the Tower.

From William Reagh in the
California Library collection:
 |  Tower exterior - 1987 "Death Sport" & "Sweater Girls" |




     Huntington Digital Library    

hdl.huntington.org/cdm



A 1928 C.C. Pierce view looking south on Broadway.
We get the Tower, Rialto and, a bit farther down the
block, the "new" Orpheum.
full photo

On the Huntington  site you can enlarge
and pan around looking at the details.



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



     Internet Archive    

www-tracey.archive.org



  Downtown L.A. streets - 1946 is an 11 minute tour
giving us glimpses of lots of storefronts and theatres.
On the tour we get night vistas of 7th and 8th streets
(such as a look at the RKO Hillstreet) as well as a look
at all the theatres on the east side of Broadway. 

Here's a look at the Tower (then known as the Music Hall)
and, farther down Broadway, the Rialto. It's footage filmed
for process backgrounds for the 1947 Rita Hayworth film
"Down To Earth."
full size view

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"

And Hillsman Wright, of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre
Foundation, sends along links to a "then & now"
version of the footage by Nicole Wonders:
| part one  | part two  |  part three  |




     L.A. Public Library Collection    

www.lapl.org 



A 1931 exterior view. We're running
"Bachelor Apartment" with Irene Dunne
 and "Millie" with Helen Twelvetrees.
full size view 




Another version of the 1931 photo above
 giving us more of a look down Broadway.
full size view




A look west on 8th in the 30s
in a Herman Schultheis photo.
 full size view




A c.1938 look east on 8th St. from Hill with a glimpse
of the Olympic (15 cents admission) on the left. Down
 at 8th & Broadway we see the Tower Theatre. That's the
May Co. on the right. It's a Herman Schultheis photo.
 full size view




Also from the LAPL collection: The Tower in

1946 when it was called the Music Hall. Note
the
Rialto just down the block and the
Orpheum
vertical beyond.  
full size view




This 1950 photo of the Tower's newsreel days
 is by William Reagh.  Signage from this era is still
 visible at the top of the building.   full size view

More exteriors in the Library's collection:

exterior view - "The Gingham Girl" "Opening Tonight"|
| east on 8th - "What Price Glory" - 1927 |
early exterior - "The Little Snob" | from higher up -"The Country Doctor" |
1938 exterior - "Life of Emile Zola" |  closer take - "Zola"  |
| 1940 view - looking south on Broadway to the Tower  |
1952 exterior - with parade on 8th  |
| 1977 exterior - "The Mack" & "The Bod Squad" -- William Reagh  |
1987 exterior - "Death Sport" & "Sweater Girls" - William Reagh  |
| looking north - undated "Tasty Tacos" | undated upper facade view  |



     Metro Transportation Library    

flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/with/2951216028/


A summer 1945 view looking north on Broadway.
 It's part of the Metro Downtown Los Angeles set.
That's the Tower over on the right.
full size view  |  on FB/LAtheatres

The Tower is running "Having Wonderful Crime" with
George Murphy and Pat O'Brien.  Note the storefront over
 at the Merritt Building on the left as Mayflower Donuts. 
And down Broadway on the right you can see the Globe
 Theatre, here named the Newsreel.




    Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society    

www.pacificelectric.org


A 1953 look at the Tower in its "Newsreel" days.
The Rialto down the Street is running "The Moon
is Blue" with William Holden and David Niven.
The photo is from the Jack Finn collection.
full size view  photo data 

The photo above also appears
on Photos of Los Angeles.



     Photos of Los Angeles    

www.facebook.com/groups/244565982234863



Patton on Broadway in 1945 for his welcome home
parade. Note that the Tower is sporting a marquee face using
white on black milk glass letters. In 1946 it wold get modernized
when the theatre was renamed the Music Hall. 
full size view


Historic Los Angeles Theatres -- The Tower (1927) at 8th & Broadway.

A wonderful 1958 view of the Tower when
it was called the Newsreel. It's a view of the
Dodgers welcome parade.
full size view 



Another 1958 Dodgers parade shot. On the
marquee: "Castro Cuba Rebels" and
 "Leningrad Today."
full size view  |  on FB/LAtheatres

The photo above also appears on
an L.A. Times "50 years ago" blog post.




     Theatre Talks - Cezar Del Valle    

www.theatretalks.com | theatretalks.blogspot.com



A glorious late 20s postcard looking up Broadway in Cezar's
collection.  We get the Rialto marquee on the right. Beyond you
can see the Tower marquee advertising "Featuring Vitaphone."
full size view

Cezar is a Brooklyn-based theatre historian. For other interesting
material see his website Theatre Talks and visit him on Facebook.




     Theatres in Los Angeles    



A view of the facade of the Tower Theatre as the
Newsreel on p. 13 of  "Theatres in Los Angeles" by
Suzanne Tarbell Cooper, Amy Ronnebeck Hall and
Marc Wanamaker. Arcadia Publishing, 2008.
 On Google books: full size view




     UCLA - S. Charles Lee Archive    

http://digital.library.ucla.edu/sclee  |   UCLA Calisphere



A nice photo of the side of the building while under
construction from UCLA's  S. Charles Lee Archive.   
full size image



The scaffolding as viewed from above in May 1927. 
full size view




The Tower running "What Price Glory."
 full size view  |  on UCLA Calisphere 

On the marquee: "Movietone - See It Hear It"

More exterior views in the
S. Charles Lee archive:

front view scaffolded  | exterior sketch  |
floor plans  |



 
 




 


more tower theatre pages:
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 | lounges and basement | auditorium | booth level
|
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attic | organ chambers | roof  |  tower  |