San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

320 S. Mission Dr.    | map

San Gabriel, CA   91776

(626) 308-2865

Website:  |  history  |  photo gallery  |

Opened: March 5, 1927 as the Mission Play House by John Stephen McGroarty as a venue for his elaborate stage show about the founding of the California Missions.

The play didn't start with this building. The Los Angeles Public Library has a 1912 view of an earlier auditorium for the company.

At the end of 1932 (and 3,198 performances) the depression and an attempt to take the show to Broadway forced the group into bankruptcy and they lost the theatre to foreclosure.

It was a film house for more than a decade following the foreclosure. During World War II the dressing rooms were used as apartments. In August 1945 voters approved a measure to buy the theatre and it was renamed the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium. It was renamed the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse by the city in 2007.

In the 1925 through 1932 city directories it's listed as the San Gabriel Theatre at W. Mission Dr. corner W. Angeleno Ave. In 1937 it's listed as the Mission Playhouse at the current address.

Architects:  Arthur Burnett Benton and William J. Dodd. The theatre's elaborate interior features tapestries donated by the King of Spain and decoration inspired by Aztec and American Indian designs.The chandeliers are said to replicate the look of lanterns used on Spanish galleons.

Seating: 1,143 -- mostly on the main floor. There's a shallow balcony overhanging the back four rows.

Organ: The Wurlitzer in the theatre was donated in 1968 and got a restoration in 2009. It was originally installed in the Albee Theatre, Brooklyn.

Status: Alive and well as a performing arts center owned by the city of San Gabriel.

Stage Specs -- from the Playhouse's website:

Proscenium Width: 53'10"
Proscenium Height: 29'7" (at highest point)
Stage Depth: 48'1"
Apron Depth 6'3"
Center Line to S.R.: 46'1"
Center Line to S.L.: 46'1"
Floor: Black Tempered Masonite.

House Curtains: Main: Red Velour, 2nd Red (speakers curtain): Red Velour, 1 Flat Black Velour 60'X30' 4 sets Flat Black Legs 13'X30', 4 Flat Black Borders 58'X12', 1 Bounce Curtain 60'X30'

Black Scrim 50'X30'
Grid Height: 62'10"
Type: Single Purchase Counter Weight and Pin Rail (Hemp and Sand Bag)
Line Sets: 40 Counter and Approx. 10 Full Hemp Sets
Arbor Capacity: 1000 lb. Steel Weights and 750 lb. Iron Weights
House Pipes: 52' Long, 52' Pipe Travel
Operation: Stage Right Locking Rail. Loading from Pin Rail 20'9" from Deck

Capacity: Approximately 20 Musicians

Fixed Height (No Lift)

LOADING DOOR: Loading Door Upstage Center 11'5"X17'
Trucks: No Loading Dock is Available Trucks Park in Parking Lot and are offloaded and rolled down ramp to stage.

Location: Stage Right Second floor
Access: Stairs from parking lot and stairs from stage
Facilities: 1 Washer, 1 Dryer, iron & ironing boards

Star Dressing Rooms: 2 w/ reception rooms Showers and toilet included
Chorus Rooms: 2 w/ 16 stations each. Showers available on same floor or 1 floor down
Ensemble Rooms: 3 w/ 4 stations each, 1 w/ 5 stations, 2 w/ 8 stations each. Showers available on same floor or 1 floor down
Location: Stage Left 1floor up from stage and 2nd floor

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Mission Playhouse for many photos and comments.

The Huntington Library has a nice 1915 photo of an illuminated roof sign (presumably in downtown Los Angeles) for the San Gabriel Mission Play.

And don't miss Sandi Hemmerlein's 2015 Avoiding Regret photo essay "San Gabriel Mission Playhouse."

    California State Library

A c.1927 corner view from the Mott-Merge
 collection of the Library.
full size view

A c.1927 Mott Studios facade photo.
  full size view

The Library has two additional c.1927 Mott Studios
 views. All four are four are cataloged as set # 001386272.

A c.1928 postcard in the collection.
full size view | data page

    Ron Lim Photography

A 2011 view of the lobby by Ron Lim.

A look toward the rear of the auditorium.

An auditorium sidewall detail
by Ron Lim.

A glorious look toward the stage
and the theatre's ornate ceiling.
full size view

For larger views of these and more see
Ron's great 2011 Mission Playhouse page.

A look at the exterior of the
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.

photo: Google Maps - 2012

Click on the image to enlarge -- or
head to Google for an interactive view.

A 2002 look at the lobby by Betty Sword.
 It's in the collection of Cezar Del Valle.

Cezar is a Brooklyn-based theatre historian with a
serious interest in Los Angeles Theatres. For more
interesting material, check out his Theatre Talks blog.

A view toward the proscenium.

photo: Betty Sword - 2002

[ you can click on these photos for a larger view]

A look across the auditorium.

photo: Betty Sword - 2002

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.

    Matthew Cohen on Flickr

A 2009 exterior shot by Matt.
full size view

A fine look at the arches at the entrance.
full size view

Also see:
fountain in front  |

These are part of Matt's Theatres set.

    L.A. Public Library Collection

A construction view from above.
full size view

A 1940 view from the Library's collection
 of the Mission as a movie theatre.
full size view

Also in the LAPL collection:
| 1912 interior view  -- an earlier Playhouse auditorium |
| Ernest Douglas at the organ - 1928 |
1930 exterior - with performers in front  | 1930 facade view  |
| undated side view - showing auto park  |  another undated side view  |
| cast in front - undated  |  another cast shot  |
| undated facade view - no signage |  30s facade view  |
| another early facade view  |  yet another  |
| 1938 facade view - Burton O. Bert photo  |
| 40s facade view - Herman Schultheis photo |
| 40s view with parade - Herman Schultheis  |

The Library also has many views of performers
on stage if you search "Mission Playhouse."

    Mission Playhouse Website

The website has a great photo gallery. Here's a look at
the auditorium from the balcony that's on their "about" page.
full size view

    UCLA - L.A. Times Photo Collection |

The crowd for opening night in 1927.
full size view

    USC Archives

An April 1928 view of the facade. At the left
there's a poster for the "Mission Play."
full size view