The Ricardo Montalban Theatre

1615 Vine St.

Los Angeles, CA 90028

| map

(323) 871-2420

Website: | on Facebook | Rooftop Cinema |

Opened: January 19, 1927 as a legit operation, Wilkes' Vine St. Theatre.

Soon Wilkes was out of the picture and it was just called the Vine Street.  While it has been used for live theatre for most of its long life, it has also been a radio production studio and film house.

Architects: Myron Hunt and H.C. Chambers

Seating: 1,200 originally --  now down to 970.

Historian Mary Mallory notes: "The theatre is built on the site of the Robert Northam estate, later the Jacob Stern estate. The house was completed in 1901, and its barn on the other side of the street is now the Hollywood Heritage Museum across from the Hollywood Bowl."

In March, 1931 it became a cinema, the Mirror, under the direction of Howard Hughes' Hughes-Franklin circuit.  It ran double features with 3 changes a week. They did a remodel and flashily elaborate marquee was installed.

The circuit was run by Hughes and Harold B. Franklin, a former president of Fox West Coast Theatres. Among other theatres, they also operated the Studio (later the Holly Theatre) in Hollywood. The Pittsburgh Press ran a story about the formation of the circuit by the "young Texan" on December 29, 1930. 

By mid 1931 it became apparent that the movie business was terrible and getting seriously worse. They started liquidating their holdings. Franklin left the company near the end of 1931. The Motion Picture Producers archive notes that Franklin went on to positions with Keith Albee Orpheum and RKO. A collection of Franklin's papers is in the AMPAS Archives.

Hughes, of course, later ran RKO, among other adventures. The Hughes-Franklin circuit was supposed to run the Leimert but the company had fallen apart by the time that one opened in April 1932. It's still listed as the Mirror in the 1933 city directory.

By the mid-30s the Mirror had become the Studio Theatre and as late as the summer of 1936 was still running films.  Later in 1936 CBS took over and started calling it the CBS Radio Playhouse in addition to continuing with the Studio name on the signage.  From 1936 to 1939 the theatre was the home of the Al Jolson show. The fun marquee soon came off (and, with it, the Studio name) and was replaced by a simpler one with a moderne feel.

Huntington Hartford bought the building from CBS in 1953 and gave the place a "modernizing." It re-opened it as a legit venue in 1954 named after himself -- The Huntington Hartford Theatre

The Hartford had another spell as a film theatre in 1962 for the west coast premiere engagement of  Sidney Lumet's "Long Day's Journey Into Night," with Jason Robards, Katherine Hepburn and Ralph Richardson.

Filmgoers even got a program for "Long Day's Journey
Into Night," which opened December 18, 1962.  There's
 a page page about the film on the archive

There's a larger cover view from the collection of Daphne
Lowe/Pippa Anderson on our Facebook page.

In 1964 the theatre was sold to James Doolittle who at the time also operated the Greek Theatre. Later it was acquired by UCLA and renamed the James A. Doolittle Theatre

The Ricardo Montalban Foundation bought the building in 1999.

Status: Reopened in 2004 as the Ricardo Montalban with a resident troupe featuring works for young people, frequently in Spanish. A variety of film festivals, rentals and other programming round out the schedule.  The last several years have featured rooftop film screenings in the spring and summer.

The facade has been restored to its 1927 appearance and work is continuing on the interior.

The Montalban in the Movies: In "Lady Killer" with James Cagney (Warner Bros., 1933) we get a shot up Vine St. toward the theatre and Hollywood Blvd. just beyond. See John Bengtson's terrific Silent Locations article on "How James Cagney Filmed Lady Killer."

A frame from "Lady Killer" with the
 theatre boxed in red by John. 
full size view | on FB/LATheatres

In "Burlesque" (2010) we get lots of exterior shots of the north side of the theatre as an entrance for a mythical club.

More information: See the page on Cinema Treasures for a nice history of the building, fine research by Ken Roe and links to additional photos.  Gs Jansen did a great post on Noirish Los Angeles featuring many photos.

See the Yelp page on the Montalban for some other interesting photos.  Also see Radio City Hollywood.

Hollywood Photographs  

A  c.1936 photo in the Bruce Torrence collection
with the theatre as the Studio Theatre in use
 for the CBS Radio Playhouse. 

More from the Bruce Torrence
 Hollywood Photographs Collection:

 | 1927 facade | looking south in '27 - also in the LAPL collection |
| a premiere in 1927 | 1927 side view from south |
| 1928 facade view  |  1938 exterior  |
| day view 1954 - as the Huntington Hartford |
  |  1954 night view | 1972 exterior | 1976 exterior  |
  | 1987 exterior - as the Doolittle  |

| more theatre photos from the collection |

Mid Century Modern

Thanks to Hector Acuna for this lovely 40s look
north on Vine. The theatre is down there in the distance
with a "CBS" sign hanging off the corner of the building.

Noirish Los Angeles

A nice Noirish Los Angeles post # 5180 by Mr. Ere
featured this photo of the Montalban, here in its CBS days.
 The photo comes from "Cavalcade of Broadcasting" by Curtis
Mitchell, Follet Publishing Co., Chicago, 1970, p. 91.
full size view

The view appears, with an anecdote, on
Flickr and also on Photos of Los Angeles.
It's also on Vintage Los Angeles.

That's the Plaza Hotel off to the right.

A photo located on eBay by Mr. Ethereal Reality.
It's on his post #24722. We're looking east along
Selma St. toward Vine. That's the backstage wall of
 the Montalban saying CBS.
full size view | on Noirish Los Angeles

A fine view located on eBay by Mr. Ethereal Reality and
posted by him Noirish Los Angeles post #27183. Dorothy
Gish is appearing at the Hartford in "The Man."

Photos of Los Angeles

We get to see a bit of the theatre in this great
1948 view looking north on Vine St. 
full size view

A 1949 aerial view looking north on Vine toward
 Hollywood Blvd. The theatre, with KNX (the CBS affiliate)
 painted on the stagehouse, is just this side of the Plaza Hotel.
full size view  | on LAtheatres.blogspot

A great 50s noirish look north on Vine St.
full size view  | on FB/LAtheatres

A 1984 look north on Vine discovered by Ken McIntyre.
Angelyne is on the billboard south of the theatre,
which was then still called the Huntington Hartford.
 full size view | on FB/LAtheatres

Also see:
looking north on Vine - 1939 - Dick Whittington  |
| "Texaco Town"  |

Rooftop Cinema Club

A look at the stylish film theatre on the roof --
with wireless headsets for the patrons. Both these
photos appear on the Rooftop Cinema website.
full size view

The photo, with a credit to the Montalban,
appeared with a March 2016 Hollywood Reporter story
 "Rooftop Film Club to Return to Hollywood's Montalban Theatre."

A look at the Montalban from above.

The Story of Hollywood   

An Illustrated History
by Gregory Paul Williams

This photo in Mr. Williams' book is perhaps the only surviving
view of the theatre with its fancy marquee as the Mirror Theatre.
The signage remained but was revamped when it became the
 Studio Theatre. The marquee was soon removed and replaced
with a simple moderne style canopy.

Here we're advertising "All The Best Talkies." The
features are "Ladies of the Jury" and Tod Browning's
 "Freaks," both February 1932 releases.

Thanks to Bobby Cole for posting a nice version of the photo
on the LAHTF Facebook page. Earlier, Ken McIntyre, while
 researching for Cinema Treasures, had spotted the photo
 and put it on Photobucket.

UCLA Archives

A lovely 1938 view of the Montalban during its
CBS Radio
Playhouse years.  It was on a now-vanished
 UCLA page called "Remapping
full size view

A 1948 Frasher Foto Card looking north on Vine St.
toward the CBS Studio Theatre and Hollywood Blvd. 
The Burton Frasher photo is in the collection of the
Pomona Library and appears on UCLA's Calisphere.
full size view | the zoom version

Vintage Los Angeles

A view prior to the 1954 reopening as the
Huntington Hartford. It was posted by Robert
Switzer on Vintage Los Angeles. 
full size view

A 1960 view of the Huntington Hartford
marquee as we look north toward Hollywood
Blvd. Thanks to Richard Wojcik for the find! 
    on Vintage L.A. | on Mid Century Modern

A 1976 "Equus" view from the Richard Wojcik
collection on Vintage Los Angeles.

A 1979 view from the Richard Wojcik collection.
The theatre is running "First Monday in October"
 with Jane Fonda and Eva Marie Saint.
 full size view

Thanks again, Richard!

Also see:
1929 program - Franklin Pangborn in "The Youngest"  |
| "I Do, I Do" 1973 - Richard Wojcik collection |

The facade of the Montalban Theatre. 

photo: Bill Counter - 2007

[ click to enlarge ]

about the photos from other websites...

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

Architect and Engineer

An ad for Calacoustic sound absorbing plaster in the March
1927 issue of Architect and Engineer featured this look back
 into the auditorium of the Wilkes Vine St. Theatre. 
 larger view | the ad on Internet Archive

California State Library

A 1941 postcard of the theatre, here as the CBS Radio
Playhouse, and its next door neighbor, Al Levy's Tavern.

ElectroSpark on Flickr

It's 1953 and we're looking north on Vine St.
in this great view in ElectroSpark's collection. The
Vine St. / Montalban is just beyond the "Santa Fe"
 sign. Beyond the theatre is the Plaza Hotel. 
full size view

This photo has also been
posted on Photos of Los Angeles.

Hollywood Historic Photos

  A look at the Huntington Hartford during the
1958 run of "Advise and Consent."
full size view | data page

L.A. Public Library Photo Collection 

A 1926 construction view taken from the
Plaza Hotel north of the site. 
full size view

Thanks to Gs Jansen for posting these
top two photos on  Noirish Los Angeles.

A look at the facade as the building
 nears completion. 
full size view

A 1927 facade view. Note "Wilkes" on
the south vertical -- soon to be changed.
full size view

An exterior shot of the theatre as the Vine St.
 from the Library's wonderful collection. The
play at the theatre is "Philadelphia."
  full size view

Looking south in 1927.
full size view

A look north toward Hollywood Blvd.
during the run of "Philadelphia" in 1927.
full size view

Note "Wilkes" is already gone from the south vertical
in the photo above -- it's now just the Vine St. Theatre.

A 1930 view of the facade.
full size view

A c.1936 view of the marquee when the theatre was
 the Studio. Here the Al Jolson show is on the marquee.
 It used the theatre from 1936 until 1939.
 full size view

On the end panel: "CBS Radio Playhouse." Later there
 was a remodel and the elaborate marquee removed.

A 1937 view from across the street.
Note the new simpler marquee.
full size view

The popular spot to the right of the
theatre was Mike Lyman's Play Room.

An undated view looking north on Vine St.
with Claudette Colbert inspecting Christmas
decorations. Behind her we see the stagehouse
of what was then called the Mirror Theatre.
 full size view

A lovely 50s shot by Mark Morris looking north on
Vine. Note the construction fence -- the theatre is
getting turned into the Huntington Hartford.
 full size view

A 1954 photo of the Huntington
 Hartford's opening. 

full size image

The lobby bar in 1954.
full size view

Looking down from the balcony level of
the lobby after the 1954 renovations.
full size view

 Looking down on the stage in 1954.
full size view

The view across the auditorium. It's James
 Doolittle in a Delmar Watson photo.
full size view

An undated look at the Montalban's stagehouse.

in the Library's collection:
early construction site view  |
 |  looking north c.1936 - as the Studio Theatre  |
| looking north
- as the KNX CBS Radio Playhouse  |
looking south c.1937 -  KNX -"Hollywood Hotel"  - Herman Schultheis  |
CBS Radio Playhouse - "Texaco Town" |
looking south 
- CBS Radio Playhouse  |
| drawing - 1954 renovation  |
crowd for opening - 1954  |
another night view - 1954
| 1982 exterior - Paul Chinn |
Noel Coward backstage - 1958  |

USC Archives

A view looking north on Vine St. from the USC
collection. Here the theatre is known as the Studio.
 full size view

A 1954 backstage view.
  full size view

A 1954 proscenium view. 
full size view

The 1954 images are part of a 14 photo set
 by Lapp from the Herald Examiner Collection.