Whittier Theatre

11612  Whittier Blvd.
  | map |  

Whittier, CA 90601

Opened: July 31, 1929 as McNees Theatre. The opening attraction was "From Headquarters" with Monte Blue along with several vaudeville acts.  The building had a full stage.

An old address for the building was 1410 W. Whittier Blvd. The street got renumbered.  The complex was constructed on property that was once part of the McNees ranch. Whittier Amusement Co. was the building's initial owner.

The theatre is listed as the Warner Bros. Whittier in the 1930/31 and 1932 city directories. In  the 1934 directory it's just the Whittier.  The theatre was known in later years as Bruen's Whittier and finally just as the Whittier Theatre.

Steven Otto notes that locals referred to it as the Whittier Walk-In to distinguish it from the drive-in.

Pacific Theatres was the operator after October 1969.  Doerken Properties was the landlord after July 1, 1987. In its final years, the Whittier was no longer getting first run bookings and was running as a bargain house.

The Historic American Buildings Survey had this to say about the Whittier Theatre:

"The Whittier Theatre was the largest and most elaborate movie theater complex in Whittier. It was significant as an example of a local architect's interpretation both of the prevailing trend toward grand-scale movie palace construction and of the enormous popularity of the Spanish colonial architectural style in Southern California in the early 20th century. It was one of few motion picture theaters to have incorporated "atmospheric" effects in the auditorium lighting to simulate sunset, moving clouds, and a starlit sky. Its tower was a local landmark, visible even from the Interstate 605 freeway, more than a mile to the west. For decades, the theater and its adjacent shops were part of the cultural life not only of Whittier but of the adjoining local communities as well. Throughout its history, the theater reflected national trends in family entertainment. Built during the era of the transition from vaudeville and silent films to "talkies," the theater experienced its golden years in the decades of the 1930s and 1940s, declining with the growing popularity of television and video rentals."

Architect: David S. Bushnell of Whittier designed the Spanish revival themed complex of shops around a patio that led back to the atmospheric theatre. The original construction budget was $160,000.S. Charles Lee was involved in a 1947 remodeling. 

HABS notes on page 7 of their datasheets that "the interior of the theatre was meant to evoke the courtyard of a Spanish hacienda, with stuccoed walls, ornamental tile and ironwork, balconies, and tile roof projections from the auditorium's side walls."

The HABS report notes that the Whittier Daily News reported in a November 19, 1987 article that "the cloud machine apparatus that projected the atmospheric effects on the auditorium ceiling had not been working for several years, and many of the ceiling stars had disappeared."

Seating: 1,016, almost all on one level. There were two small private boxes on either side of the booth but not a real balcony.

Status: Demolished. It sustained some damage in the October 1, 1987 Whittier earthquake and didn't reopen following that. The consensus was that the building was eminently repairable.

Old Spaghetti Factory was interested in moving in, the City of Whittier was going to buy the building. And then it fell apart. The owner preferred to redevelop the property with new strip mall buildings. The demolition didn't happen until four years after the earthquake.

More Information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Whittier for many memories of moviegoing there. See an article from the Whittier Conservancy about the failure to save the building. Another auditorium view from Woodhaven Historic is on eBay.

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    American Classic Images    


A 1983 look at the building from
American Classic Images.
full size view | on Photos of LA

Another 1983 shot from the collection.

Also see:
| 1983 - "Tootsie" |

    Photos of Los Angeles   


A 1947 look at the Whittier running Disney's "Fun
and Fancy Free" with Edgar Bergen and Dinah Shore.
full size view
| on FB/LATheatres

The card can also be seen in the
Library of Congress collection.

    Whittier Public Library   

cityofwhittier.org/depts/library | local history page

An Elvin Porter photo of the auditorium
taken in November 1987.
full size view

Another 1987 shot by Mr. Porter.
full size view

A look at the patio in 1987 from
the Whittier City Archives.
full size view

The Whittier Theatre awaiting salvation.

photo: Steven Otto - early 1990

[ click on the photo for a larger view ]

The building wasn't saved despite an interested tenant,
Old Spaghetti Factory. The complex was demolished in 1991.

A 1984 photo by Matt Spero taken when
the theatre was running as a bargain house.

Thanks, Matt!

    Library of Congress   


The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) has an overview
page on the Whittier Theatre with links to the data pages and photos
in their collection. Their photo collection has 53 photos and floorplans
of the theatre. All the photos, except for one postcard and the
aerial view below, are post 1987 earthquake shots.

A 1940s aerial photo of the complex.

A 1988 facade view. Note the earthquake
damage to the store building at the left.
 full size view

The east side of the building.

Looking into the courtyard. Yes that hulk sitting
there at the entrance is the fallen marquee.
full size view

The vista up along the tower and the vertical sign.

The theatre's boxoffice and entrance at the end of the
 patio.There are stairs to the left of the boxoffice to get up to
the booth and private viewing areas on either side of it.

A look down the lobby. That's the snackbar straight
ahead with the auditorium off  to the left.
 full size view

A 1988 view looking toward the stage.
A post-earthquake vista toward
the rear of the auditorium.
A house right wall detail.