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The Tower is managed by Broadway Theatre Group:
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 Theatre. The 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.
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.
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.
Rudolph Maté's "D.O.A." (Cardinal Pictures/United
Artists, 1950) starts in San Francisco but about an hour
in we come to L.A. and get a ride down Broadway with
views of the Tower, Orpheum and Million Dollar.
Edmond O'Brien is trying to track down the guy
who gave him a lethal dose of radium.
larger view | entire film on Internet Archive
Note the "Welcome Orpheum Vaudeville" on the marquee.
It wasn't a show at the Tower but rather a plug for the return
of vaudeville in 1949 to the Orpheum Theatre down the block.
A moment later in "D.O.A." we get this slightly better
view of the theatre's original center boxoffice. The Tower,
at this point known as the Music Hall, is running "Black Magic"
with Orson Welles. Gregory Ratoff directed with, evidently,
lots of assistance by the uncredited Welles.
This "D.O.A." footage also appears as part of the title
sequence in Thom Andersen's "Los Angeles Plays Itself."
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.
A great look down on the Tower in "The Omega Man"
-- before the top of the clock tower was removed.
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.
The Tower is featured prominently in Arne Glimcher's
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
"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.
We get a look at the Tower's exterior
Here we're looking toward the stage from
the back of the main floor in "Mambo Kings."
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."
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.
A shot from above of the Tower as the Suenolindo Ballroom
in Nick Cassavetes' "She's So Lovely" (Miramax, 1997).
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.
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.
interior as well as views of the exterior of the Million Dollar.
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
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.
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.
The gloomy vista toward the rear of
the auditorium in "End Of Days."
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.
Piper Perabo performing on stage
at the Tower in"Coyote Ugly."
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).
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."
A view of one of the boxes flanking
the stage in "Mulholland Drive."
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.
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.
"You can never really leave Berlin."
Another balcony view as Cate Blanchett
leaves the booth in "The Good German."
Looking up at Cate Blanchett -- and the
Tower's ceiling in "The Good German."
"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.
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.
Also from "Dark Streets":
| another proscenium shot | lobby stairs |
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
more tower theatre pages:
| recent exterior views | lobby |
| lounges and basement | auditorium | booth level |
| attic | organ chambers | roof | tower |
A corner view of the S. Charles Lee's Tower Theatre.
photo: Bill Counter - 2007
[ click either of these to enlarge ]
A great view looking south on Broadway.
photo: Mark Peacock - 2009
The photo above also appears