Washington Theatre

845 E. Washington Blvd.    | map |

Pasadena, CA   91104

The News: The Pasadena Star-News had an October 29, 2017 story: "Restoration of Pasadena's historic Cinema 21 is nearly done, but it may never be used as a theater." It discussed the restoration of the building and the apartments behind but noted the theatre space itself may get put to other uses as it's unlikely they'll find an interested operator. Thanks to Linda Hammonds for spotting the story.

A photo from the PSN article.

Opened: The theatre was built in 1924 but the opening delayed until Washington Blvd. was paved in 1925. The venue featured vaudeville along with films -- "something on the stage every night."

Architects: Clarence L. Jay (designer of Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena) and Henry M. Patterson (designer of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood).

Seating: 900, all on one level.

The Washington was one of the first "suburban" theatres in the Pasadena area and is also a good example of an early mixed-use project with the building including retail shops, second floor offices and many apartments in a wing along the east side of the auditorium.

The theatre was operated by Fox West Coast and, later, by United Artists Theatre Circuit. In the 1960s, it got a name change to Cinema 21.

In 1972 the theatre became one of the the first black owned cinemas in southern California when it was acquired by Ralph Riddle. It became the major Pasadena venue for blaxploitation films as well as other action fare. 

In 1979, Metropolitan Theatres took over the lease and the format changed to Spanish language features. By the 80s, the theatre (and the neighborhood) were in decline. The theatre closed in 1989 after running adult films at the end. 

It was used as a rehearsal studio in 1991 and 1992 but the owner of the building was unwilling to invest in sufficient improvements to make the building viable as a concert venue. The second floor apartments were vacated in 1993 after mold related complaints.

Status: It's being renovated. People had been talking about it for years while it just sat there. Gagik and Jacqueline Buickians acquired the building in 2006 for $1.5 million. In 2010 it received city landmark status -- evidently covering only the exterior.  Pasadena Heritage lists it on its Advocacy Watchlist and notes that work some work on the building was halted at one point due to lack of permits.

Andre Colman's 2009 Pasadena Weekly story "Picture Imperfect" details the problems getting the project off the ground. He discusses the city's backing out of what once was a possible theatre/subsidized housing project due to lack of action by the building owners.

More information: See the Cinema Treasures page on the Washington Theatre for lots of interesting data, links and comments. The Cinema Tour page on the Washington has some 2003 exterior photos by Bob Meza.

For a nice selection of 2007 exterior photos see a7bat on Flickr. Several 2008 photos appear on the blog The Four Seasons.

See Matt Horman's 2010 Hometown Pasadena story "Cinema in Despair: The Washington Theatre" for a nice history of the building.

    Avenue To The Sky -- Lake Ave.   


A view of plasterwork above the proscenium by Thal Armathura.
It's a photo on his 2009 Washington Theatre blog post. 
full size view

Also in Thal's collection is this
1937 "reopening night" photo. 

Mr. Armathura quotes the the July 31, 1937 issue of Boxoffice
Magazine: "A thirty-day shutdown has been ordered for the
Washington Theatre, Pasadena. Crown City Theatres, operating the
house, has planned a $20,000 improvement budget, which will
include a new floor, marquee, seats, and other items."

A view looking toward the stage from Mr. Armathura's
2010 post "Washington Theatre Landmark - Interior Tour Held"
 full size view

A look toward the rear of the auditorium. 
full size view

See the post for many other interior
photos plus lots of interesting comments.

    L.A. Public Library Collection   


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

    Barry Kazmer Collection   

A wonderful 1924 construction view from Mr. Kazmer.
He seems to have vanished from Picasa but here's the photo:
full size view

The caption to the photo read: "The Washington Theater was
built at 841 East Washington Boulevard in the 1920s. The signs
on the sides of the theater are proof of the interconnectedness of
the economy - the building effort by contractor Willard Bell, Hammond
Lumber, and Hogan Finance and Mortgage, as well as all who helped
with the actual construction. Harold A. Parker photograph"

    Hometown Pasadena  


A 1940 view from the Archives,
Pasadena Museum of History. 
full size view  | on FB/LAtheatres

Admission in 1940 was 9 cents.

An early 70s view by Elliot M. Gold. It's from the
archives of the Pasadena Museum of History. 
  full size view

These two photos appear as part of Matt
 Horman's 2010 Hometown Pasadena story
"Cinema in Despair: The Washington Theatre."

A view of the Washington Theatre. We're looking west.

photo: Google Maps - 2011

Click to enlarge either of these or head to
Google Maps for an interactive view.

A view of the rear of the building.

photo: Google Maps - 2011

The apartment wing of the building is the large 3 story white
structure in the center of the photo. You can see the back of the
auditorium (red brick) off to the right. It doesn't currently look very prime,
 but the name of the street we're looking down is called Prime Ct.

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    American Classic Images   


A 1983 view from the American
Classic Images collection.
 full size view

    Deanna Bayless   


A 2010 look at the Washington from Deanna Bayless.
full size view  | on LATheatres.blogspot

    Creeplord on Flickr   

A view of the boxoffice from 2006. 
full size view

A look at the facade. 
full size view

Also by Creeplord:
 | rear of the building  |

    Huntington Digital Library   


A 1924 view of the Washington Theatre construction crew.
Note the attached apartment block behind that's underway
 as well. It's a Harold A. Parker photo taken for Patch Realty.
full size view

On the Huntington Library page you can
use the slider to get a larger image -- then you
can pan around to explore details.

    Corey Miller on Flickr   


A view of the Washington Theatre facade in 2009. Corey
Miller's photo appears in his "Theatre Signs" set. 
full size view

Also by Mr. Miller:
| marquee end detail  |

Also in the "Keepers of Pasadena" set on Flickr:
 |  2005 view by Portuguese Punk  |

    Photos of Los Angeles   

A look at the signage in 2008 by Ken McIntyre. 
full size view

A facade view by Ken, again in 2008. 
full size view