The Pasadena Playhouse

39 S. El Molino Ave.    | map |

Pasadena, CA   91101

(626) 356-7529

The playhouse online:  |  twitter  |
                                  |  the playhouse blog  | on facebook  |

Opened: 1925. The company was founded in 1917 by Gilmore Brown. Prior to building this venue, the theatre had rented the Savoy Theatre, a building later known as the Oaks.

Architect:   Elmer Grey, who also designed the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Huntington Library and the CalTech campus.

Dwight Gibbs was associate architect. Mr. Gibbs later went on to design the Carthay Circle Theatre.

The building originally housed a 4 year accredited training program for actors, the School for Theatre Arts. At its height, the program presented productions on 5 separate stages. The Pasadena Playhouse was designated by the legislature as the "State Theatre of California" in 1937.

The Playhouse and school closed in 1969.  The City of Pasadena bought the building in 1975 and later transferred it to developer David Houk. After renovation a new production company was formed to utilize the building but a school was no longer part of the program.

The backstage and classroom areas have so much space beyond the current production requirements that some areas are leased out as offices with an entrance in the alley.

Seating: 684. In addition to the Main Stage, there's a 72 seat venue, the Carrie Hamilton Theatre, on the second level of the north wing, just off the courtyard.

Status: The Playhouse's resident company has been active in presenting both new plays as well as revivals. After financial problems and a closure in 2010, the company is again presenting a full season.

The building is still privately owned. Pasadena Heritage notes on their "advocacy watch list" that they hold a historic preservation easement on the building, which is on the National Register. The city controls the use of the building, which is leased to the Pasadena Playhouse producing company.

More information:  The Playhouse got a fine article with photos in the June 1929 issue of Architect and Engineer.  Floorplans of the building are also included.

Sandi Hemmerlein did a fine July 2015 Avoiding Regret photo essay on her visit to the theatre: "Backstage at Pasadena Playhouse."

Check out the website for the Pasadena Playhouse District which has a PDF for a district historic walking tour. 

Also there's a Wikipedia article on the Pasadena Playhouse.

Looking out into the courtyard
from the theatre entrance.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The lobby of the Pasadena Playhouse.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

[ click on any of these to enlarge ]

A view from the rear of the main floor.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The proscenium.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A look offstage right.
Taking a break during a loadin.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A detail of the ceiling in the balcony.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The rear of the United Artists Theatre.
Colorado Blvd. is to the right.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

    California State Library

The Library has four photos of the Playhouse
taken in 1925 by Frederick Martin. Here is
one of his courtyard shots. 
full size view

The Library has Mr. Martin's four
photos grouped as set # 001385735.

The Library also has 13 views from the Mott Studios
collection c.1930. Here it's a look at the lobby. 
full size view

The lounge area. 
full size view

 Here we're looking at the Mott Studios
shot of the proscenium box house left. 
full size view

A look at the proscenium and fire curtain. 
full size view

The 13 photos from Mott Studios appear in
 the Library's collection as set # 001387009.

    L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation  |  LAHTF on Facebook

A vintage view toward the rear of the house. 
full size view

This is a photo that the LAHTF was using to advertise
an "All About..." tour of the building in August 2011. The
organization lobbies for preservation of historic theatres
and regularly offers tours.

    Pasadena Digital History Collaboration   

An early look down from the balcony
 from an unknown photographer.
Also in the collection:

    Pomona Public Library

A 1944 Frasher Foto Postcard of the Pasadena
Playhouse. The photo is by Burton Frasher, Sr.
 full size view

    RFM Architects   

A sidewall view illustrating the restoration approach
taken by Richard F. McCann for then-owner David
Houk to restore period finishes. 
full size view & comments

    USC Archives

A 1927 look at the exterior
of the Pasadena Playhouse.
 full size view

A 1939 Dick Whittington photo
looking west on Colorado Blvd.
full size view

 Note the Playhouse signage on the right.
In the next block on the left is the United Artists
Theatre, hiding behind the palm trees. 

A view of the theatre looking west.
Yes, that's the stagehouse behind it.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

[ click any of these to enlarge ]

Another view of the courtyard.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A view of the north wing. The lower level is
used as a restaurant, above is the 72 seat
Carrie Hamilton Theatre.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

In the lobby looking toward house right.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The rear of the auditorium.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A look offstage left.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

A view from the back of the balcony.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The rear of the stagehouse of the
Pasadena Playhouse. We're looking east.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

The alley side of the stagehouse. Swivel 90
degrees to the right and you'd be looking
at the east side of the United Artists.

photo: Bill Counter - 2010

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    Card Cow

The Playhouse was the subject of many postcard
 views over the years.  This one is by Western
Publishing & Novelty Co.

full size view

Older views in the collection:
 |  postmarked 1949  |  another PH card  |  yet another  |


A postcard view of the Playhouse. It
could have been yours for $7.50.
Thanks to theatre sleuth Michelle
Gerdes for finding this one on eBay!

    L.A. Public Library Collection

A 1925 view of the courtyard from the Library's collection.
full size view

More exterior views in the Library's collection:
| another 1925 courtyard view  |  1928 courtyard view  |
1939 - Herman Schultheis  |   | 1940 -- courtyard and interior  |
 |  1951 -- from across the street  |  1979 view  |  1987 exterior  |

A 1925 look at the auditorium sidewall.
full size view

A 1925 photo of the proscenium and fire curtain.
The painting is by Pasadena artist Alson Clark.
full size view

Versions of these three photos also appear
 in the article about the Playhouse in the June
1929 issue of Architect and Engineer.

    L.A. Times

This lovely view looking across the balcony appeared
 with a 2010 story by Mike Boehm about the company's
 money woes: "Pasadena Playhouse To Close...

The photo is by Lawrence K. Ho of the Times.
full size view

    The Playhouse on MySpace

A vintage view of the auditorium. 
full size view

A look at the courtyard. 
full size view

    Supernatural Investigation Unit | on Facebook

A lovely shot toward the rear of the house on the
 Facebook events page for S.I.U.'s 2014 haunted tour
of the theatre. The photo is by Robert C Sotomayor.

A look at the prop department.


A nice look back into the auditorium in this
photo that accompanies the Wikipedia
article on the Pasadena Playhouse
full size view