Carthay Circle Theatre

6316 San Vicente Blvd.  

Los Angeles, CA  90035   | map

Opened: The "Showplace of the Golden West" was opened May 18, 1926 with the premiere of C.B. DeMille's "Volga Boatman." The initial format was showings twice a day. The original address of the theatre was on Eulalia Boulevard. It was later renamed San Vicente. It was a project of developer J. Harvey McCarthy.  The fact that the theatre soon became widely known acted as free promotion for his newly developed Carthay residential district.

Initially an independent operation, by 1929 it was part of West Coast Theatres and was advertised as the Fox Carthay Circle. The circuit, merging with the William Fox empire, soon became known as Fox West Coast Theatres. The theatre stayed with the company and its successor National General Corporation until its demise.

The Carthay Circle rivaled the Chinese in terms of the number and importance of the premieres it held. Like the Chinese (and the Egyptian), the large open courtyard entrance provided a space conducive to handling premiere crowds and making elegant entrances.

Architect: Dwight Gibbs

Seating: 1,518

Status: Demolished in 1969 by NGC for construction an office building complex.  The last film to play was "Shoes of the Fisherman" in 1969.

Pipe Organ: It was a Wurlitzer 3/11. The music director for the theatre was Carli Elinor.

Lifts: Neighborhood historian Kent Adamson reports that "according to the notes at the Academy Library Fairbanks Special Collections, it had a double hydraulic elevator. The entire orchestra pit could rise from the basement, including the Wurlitzer organ, OR the organ could rise separately after the orchestra pit, (and rise higher)."  It's not known if this was actually a hydraulic system or the more typically used screw jack type of lift.

The Paper Ephemera collection of
 Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr includes
this Carthay Circle program cover.

A program for the "World Introductory Premiere"
of Raoul Walsh's "What Price Glory" in 1926 at the
Carthay Circle.  It was spotted by Mark London and
posted on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page.

A sign with triangular revolving panels advertising the
 theatre on Wilshire Blvd. in 1927. The copy, in addition
 to advertising "7th Heaven," also touted the music of
Carli Elinor and the prologues by Laughlin.
full size view

The sign is featured on the Noirish Los Angeles post #22028
post by Gaylord Wilshire where he also has views of the other
panels advertising Lockheed Brakes and a trip to Catalina.

Sound at the Carthay Circle: Evidently sound came to the theatre in the spring of 1928.  "Street Angel," an April 1928 release, played the theatre in Movietone.

The outside of the program for "Street Angel" with
Janet Gaynor, a William Fox production at the
theatre. It was an April 1928 release.
The inside of the "Street Angel" program. "...with the Most
Amazing Scientific Discovery of the Age -- MOVIETONE"
Many thanks to Lane Wallace
 for the "Street Angel" program.

The theatre was profiled in a four page article in the November 1928 issue of Architect and Engineer that begins:

"In the day time, the white loveliness of the new Carthay Circle Theater, Los Angeles, beckons for miles away and later in the blue of the night when the thousands of city lights are sparkling, the bright and far reaching illumination of the lofty tower forms a welcoming beacon of light. Simple, massive, and dignified, the building stands out because of its intrinsic beauty..."

The article goes on to note that the theme of the theatre is the early history of California, expressed in murals commissioned for the building as well as its collection of paintings and artifacts.

The Paper Ephemera collection of Eric Lynxwiler
 on Flickr includes this Carthay Circle program cover.
On the back page is copy telling the patrons about
the various paintings hung around the theatre. 
full size view

The paintings are "Depicting the Great Historical Events
 on California's Romantic and Colorful Road to Statehood."
The program also tells us that the Carthay Circle maintains
50 branch ticket offices throughout Southern California.

Inside Eric's program it turns out that our show is
the sound feature "The Barker,"  a December 1928 release
 from First National. with Milton Sills, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.,
Dorothy Mackaill and Betty Compson.
 full size view

  Moviemice, a site about all things Western Electric, gives us this
lovely late 20s or early 30s view of the Carthay Circle booth showing
off the Western Electric Vitaphone installation. The Universal bases
provided both sound-on-film and sound-on-disc capability.
Note the bank of house light dimmers down at the far end
of the booth. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding this one!

70mm Fox Grandeur in 1930:  The Carthay Circle was one of the few Los Angeles theatres (or theatres anywhere) to be equipped for the 70mm Fox Grandeur process. The Chinese and (possibly) the Criterion also had the gear. The Carthay got special prisms installed in front of the Grandeur projectors to (supposedly) eliminate the keystoning distortion caused by the 23 degree projection angle.

Among features screened in 70mm was the 1930 production "Happy Days" which had a seven week run opening February 28, 1930. They also ran a second feature in 35mm along with it.

A few frames from a 70mm print of "Happy Days."
 It's from the American Widescreen Museum's page
 "Seventy Millimeters," reprinting a February
1930 American Cinematographer article.

An illustration of the "triple vision" image you'd see with
 "Happy Days" in Grandeur at the Carthay -- on a screen of
"unprecedented proportions." The image and a story appeared
in the Hollywood Filmograph issue of March 1, 1930.
The article with the Grandeur photo in Hollywood Filmograph:
"In 1890 William Fox showed magic lantern slides in Fourteenth street, New York. In 1896 he presented Edison's first 'moom picksher.' In 1926 Fox-Case offered the first talking motion picture with the sound track on film.  Now, in 1930, the same William Fox presents Grandeur film, the long awaited triple-vision invention which, it is believed, will revolutionize entertainment and give spectators more thrills. The first 'Grandeur' is 'Happy Days,' an original melody romance which features Will Rogers, Ann Pennington, Janet Gaynor, Charles Farrell, Victor McLaglen, Edmond Lowe, Warner Baxter, and countless other Fox players who intrigued for the privilege of being in the picture.

Grandeur is said to further lessen the gap between illusion and real life. Its sponsors claim for it that it gives stereoscopic or third-dimension effects, together with the magnification of distance. The film, which is double the width of the old standard size film, permits of a wider and more deeply etched sound track which is said to give a more perfect reproduction of the human voice. The new invention is shown on a triple vision screen of unprecedented proportions which fills the entire proscenium arch of the Fox Carthay Circle Theatre."

Thanks to Mr. Ethereal Reality for finding the item and posting it as his Noirish Los Angeles post #26477.

Here is a photo of one the hand-built Simplex 70mm
projectors installed at the Carthay Circle Theatre in 1930.
full size view

This and the photo below are from the article
"Magnified Grandeur - The Widescreen 1926- 1931"
where David Coles gives a wonderful history
of this early widescreen process.

A view of the booth installation in
1930 at the Carthay Circle.
full size view

The images are from the AMPAS publication
"Recording Sound For Motion Pictures"
edited by Lester Cowan (1931).

More on early 70mm: is the site to visit for lots of interesting information about widescreen processes. Also see the From Script To DVD page "70mm & Wide Gauge: The Early Years" for a list of early wide film exhibition dates in Los Angeles.  And don't miss Bob Furmanek's 3-D Film Archive site where his Widescreen Documentation page reproduces an article (with photos) on Grandeur from The Motion Picture Projectionist.

See our Movie Links & Resources page on the Hollywood Theatres website for more about Fox Grandeur and other early 70mm processes. For more information also see the page on Grauman's Chinese Theatre, which also got a Grandeur installation. Most likely the same machines were just moved from the Carthay Circle to the Chinese.

"Snow White" at the Carthay Circle in 1937: Disney favored the house and held many premieres here including "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in 1937.

A Snow White ad discovered by Ken McIntyre
and added to his Photos of Los Angeles collection.

Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles
rounded up another "Snow White" ad.

Fantasound stereo at the Carthay Circle in 1941:  This theatre was one of the few in the country to exhibit Disney's "Fantasia" with the elaborate sound system that was intended by the studio.

An ad piece for "Fantasia" touting the "Multiplane
Technicolor" photography and "the new thrilling Fantasound."
It's from the Fantasound section page one section of
the American Widescreen Museum.

The projectors were interlocked via Selsyn motors with separate optical sound reproducers carrying stereo tracks for 3 stage channels plus surrounds. It was a complex system that also included variable gain amplifiers to increase the dynamic range.  A mono backup track was on the film with the picture.

The separate optical reproducer that carried
3 push-pull tracks plus a control track (to set
levels for the variable gain amplifiers). It's from
the Fantasound section page one section of
the American Widescreen Museum.

The Mark X version of the gear that was installed at the Carthay Circle also used notches on the sides of the film to cue relays to activate the horns in the left and right rear of the auditorium.  These auditorium horns could duplicate the information from the left and right stage channels or function with those signals alone (with the stage speakers shut off) as was the case with the "Ave Maria" number.

The 11 racks of RCA equipment at the Carthay Circle
for the roadshow of "Fantasia."
The photo appears in
larger size on page 3 of the American Widescreen
section on Fantasound.

The film opened in New York November 13, 1940 and at the Carthay Circle on January 30, 1941. Corbis has a photo of the premiere.

Due to the cost of the installations, disappointing boxoffice performance and looming war-related materials shortages most "Fantasia" engagements were mono optical. After this great experiment, we didn't see stereo sound in movie theatres again until "This Is Cinerama" arrived in 1952. 

Interestingly, there's evidence that Disney intended to release the film in a widescreen format. It didn't see that until a (cropped) version appeared in scope with 4 channel magnetic soundtracks in the early 50s.

Start your explorations of the American Widescreen Museum's Fantasound section:
  page 1  |  page 2  |  page 3  |

"Gone With The Wind" at the Carthay Circle:  David O. Selznick selected the Carthay Circle for the west coast premiere of "Gone With the Wind" on December 28, 1939.  The Atlanta premiere had been held December 15.

Legit at the Carthay Circle: The fully equipped stage at the theatre was occasionally used for legit shows. Kent Adamson reports legit use in the early 30s such as for "Murdered Alive"  with Bela Lugosi.

In the mid-50's, the Carthay Circle again had a run as a legit house with plays produced by Henry Duffy, who had run a major west coast string of legit theatres in the 1920's and 30's.  The stage event of 1955 was the death onstage of 47 year old Isabel Bonner during a hospital bed scene in "The Shrike." 

Mr. Adamson reports that Ether Waters appeared for a week in 1955 in her revue "An Evening With Ether Waters." Such legit use wasn't possible after the TODD-AO conversion of 1956.

70mm TODD-AO at the Carthay Circle in 1956: This was the third Los Angeles theatre equipped for TODD-AO, with "Around the World in 80 Days" opening December 22, 1956. 

Removal of the proscenium plasterwork in preparation for
the TODD-AO installation. This rare view is a Kent Adamson

photo on the
Carthay Circle History Facebook page.
full size view

The front of the house was draped with the large curved screen installed in front of the proscenium. A new projection booth was built on the main floor.

Many other 70mm roadshow runs followed including "Porgy and Bess" (1959), "Can-Can" (1960), "The Alamo" (1960), "El Cid" (1961), "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965) and "Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968-69).

The front of the house after the TODD-AO
installation. It's a photo added by Kent Adamson
to the Carthay Circle History Facebook page. 
full size view

See our Movie Links & Resources page on the Hollywood Theatres website for more about TODD-AO and other 70mm processes. Also see the TODD-AO discussion on the page for the Egyptian Theatre, the first such installation in Los Angeles.

Later, the Carthay Circle also got the 70mm moveover run of "The Sound of Music" (from the Fox Wilshire) in 1966 and a 70mm run of "Gone With the Wind" in 1967.

Our information about 70mm runs at the Carthay Circle comes from a posting by Michael Coate on the Cinema Treasures website. For a great compilation of information about 70mm runs in Los Angeles theaters, see the 70mm in Los Angeles page on the website

The Carthay Circle in the Movies:

The Carthay Circle's fame as a Hollywood movie palace
for premieres is shown in Busby Berkeley's "Hollywood
Hotel" (Warner Bros., 1937) with Dick Powell.

larger view

In "Hollywood Hotel" we're supposedly going to
a premiere of the fictional film "Glamour Girl" but
in this shot it's revealed on the marquee that the
footage they're using is from the premiere of
"Life of Emile Zola" (also 1937).  
larger view

The Carthay Circle appears in the 1940
Our Gang comedy "The Big Premiere."

Doris Day outside the theatre in "Caprice" (Fox, 1976)
getting ready to do a bit of industrial espionage. Note that
the theatre is also running a movie called "Caprice" starring
Doris Day, an oddity that is left unexplained.
larger view

Doris Day taking a seat in the balcony in "Caprice." Note the
re-done side wall paneling and the beige drapes. Much of the
theatre's ornate Spanish style decor was "modernized" in the 50s.
larger view

In "Caprice" Doris Day gets into a fight with Irene
Tsu and Michael J. Pollard in the balcony. Ms. Day falls
over the edge and lands on a main floor patron below.

larger view

In the extreme lower right corner of the view above you get a bit of
the curve of the beige curtain that enveloped the whole front of the
auditorium -- all the way around to the front of the balcony. It was
installed as part of the renovations for the 1956 TODD-AO run of
"Around the World in 80 Days."  Also note the new "modernized"
treatment of the balcony soffit.

The Carthay Circle also appears in the
Dick Van Dyke Film "The Comic" (Columbia, 1969).

More information:  Check out the Cinema Treasures page for many fond recollections. There's a Carthay Circle History group on Facebook. Check out their photo album.


A 1940 look at the premiere for
Chaplin's "The Great Dictator"
full size view | data page | on FB/LATheatres

Thanks to GS Jansen who has the image
in his Noirish Los Angeles post #22347.

     From Script To DVD  

This great site's page on the Carthay Circle
has a
number of fine photos of the theatre
including this exterior view.
full size view

A view of the crowd for a sold out performance of "Can-Can" 
in 1960 from the Motion Picture Herald on the From Script
to DVD website's Carthay Circle Theatre page.
full size view

    Hollywood Photographs

Historic Theatres along Wilshire Boulevard --  The Carthay Circle

A 1931 view from the collection.
full size view

Also in the extensive Bruce Torrence
Hollywood Photographs collection:

aerial view - 1926  |  postcard exterior - 1947  |
 |  Carthay Circle -- 35 more exterior views  |
more theatre photographs  |

     Noirish Los Angeles    

Check out Ethereal Reality's post # 719 for a nice selection
of photos of the theatre.
Also see his post # 5770. One item on post
#719 is this ad extolling the virtues of the neighborhood. 
full size view

A postcard view of the theatre on post #719. 
full size view

Also see post #2584 by Sopas EJ for a nice
of some views from the LAPL.

     Photos of Los Angeles

A circa 1930 view added to the collection by
Ken McIntyre. The signage doesn't yet say "Fox."

full size view

The photo above also appears in BiffRayRock's
Noirish Los Angeles post #26417.

     USC Archives    

A nice undated view from USC showing the
of the theatre to the street and the
smaller retail
businesses in front. 
full size view

Another early undated view showing the
 side of the Carthay Circle Theatre. Note that
the roof
sign doesn't yet say "Fox." 
full size view

A 1926 view showing the entrance. It's from
 the Dick Whittington Studio and taken when
 the theatre
was running "What Price Glory." 
full size view
| another version

A wonderful c.1930 view taken from the roof
 looking northwest toward Hollywood. Wilshire Blvd.
 is two blocks away from us. The photo is from the
 California Historical Society.
full size view

A 1940 exterior by Dick Whittington.
  full size view

More from the USC Achives:
  | 1937 premiere - "Wee Willie Winkie"
  | another "Winkie" view - they have lots |
 | aerial view - c.1926 |

 The proscenium of the Carthay Circle in 1926.

photo: Bill Housos collection.

Bill notes that he purchased these two photos decades ago
from the Theatre Historical Society. A smaller version of the view
above also appeared in Architect and Engineer. See the links
to the article lower in this column.

 [ click on either of these photos for a larger view ]

  A rare view from the stage to the rear of the house.

photo: Bill Housos collection.

Thanks, Bill! 

 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.

     American Theatres of Today    

by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts

The two volumes were published in 1927 and 1930
 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co, New York.

Reprinted in one volume in 1977 and 1985 by
 the Vestal Press, New York.

Theatre Historical Society also did a reprint in 2009.

|  buy from Amazon |

A plan of the main floor of the Carthay Circle showing
 the arrangement on the site from Volume 2 of
 "American Theatres of Today." 
 larger view

The main floor plan also appears as part of a
 November 1928 article in Architect and Engineer.

A balcony plan
larger view

A section of the Carthay Circle.
larger view

The book has many other great photos
and plans of Los Angeles Theatres.

     Architect and Engineer

This theatre was profiled in a four page article in
the November 1928 issue of Architect and Engineer.

A lovely wide angle look at the Carthay
Circle proscenium from the balcony. It's a
 photo from the Padilla Co.
full size view | on Internet Archive

The article notes that the inspiration for the ceiling was a
Moorish textile pattern. The seats "are of a new design,
exceptionally comfortable and covered with black and
taupe velour with piping of orange velvet."  

The proscenium is intentionally simple right near the arch and
 "the ornament is kept well away from the opening and the stage picture
 is framed merely by a huge plaster cove entirely surrounding the opening
 finished in old gold. Massive columns covered with a freely wrought Mexican
design done in gold leaf stand at either side of this cove and uphold a great
 dark hood which extends across the entire proscenium opening."

The mural in front of the house left organ
chamber. The organ chamber murals as well as
the asbestos were by Frank Tenney Johnson.
full size view
| on Internet Archive

     Wendell Benedetti for LAHTF | group Facebook pageoffical FB page

This interesting 2010 view appearing in the LAHTF
 Facebook photo album was taken by Mr. Benedetti at
the United Artists. Hanging near the backwall of the stage
 is the fire curtain from the Carthay Circle,
painted by
 noted western artist Frank Tenney Johnson.

 full size view

The curtain is discussed by Hillsman Wright on Don Solosan's
2010 video about the United Artists, "
Insiders Peek #9."

It went into storage when the church sold the building for the
Ace Hotel project and still needs a new home. Jerome Adamson
 of Adamson-Duvannes Galleries (323-653-1015) is the agent.

     California State Library    

The State Library has many great 1927 views from
Mott Studios
including this photo of the Carthay
Circle Theatre lobby.

  full size view

A look at the lounge area.
full size view

Sculpture in the lounge.
 full size view

A great view of the auditorium from the balcony
  from the State Library's collection.  
 full size view

Another view from the balcony.
full size view

The proscenium as viewed from
the side of the main floor.
full size view

The mural house right.
 full size view

The mural house left.

A look at the ceiling of the auditorium. That's
the booth at the bottom of the photo
full size view

A look at the balcony soffit and the
seating at the rear of the main floor.
full size view

All of the Library's interior views (10 total, all shown
above) are cataloged as set # 001384380.

A delightful view of the exterior in 1927. It gives
the feeling of how new the development was
with lots of open
space to the right. Again it's
from the Mott Studios collection.

 full size view

A detail of the tower.
full size view

More State Library exterior photos:
In addition to the two exterior photos shown above, the Library's
set # 001384379 has 4 additional 1927 Mott Studios views. 
Also see a 1948 exterior shot by Bob Plunkett.

     Card Cow

A nice night view of the Carthay Circle. 
full size view

The miner card also appears in Brian McCray's
Hollywood Postcards collection

A "world premiere" view on this great site. 
full size view

A version of the card above also
appears on Vintage Cinema Ads.

Another look at the gold miner. 
full size view

      Carthay Circle History on Facebook

A matchbook cover for the Carthay ("Showplace of the
Golden West") and the Chinese spotted on e-Bay by Mark London
and posted on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page. 
full size view

A view of the entrance neon added
to the photo album by Nile Hight. 
full size view

A strange view added to the Carthay Circle History
 collection by Kent Adamson. Some of the shops near
the theatre had already been demolished and work was
underway on a new building. The theatre is still
operating -- running "Mary Poppins" (1964).
full size view

Also of interest:
| 1925 - dedication?  | color video clip -- theatre exterior |
| 30s lantern slide |

      Cinema Treasures    


This colorful postcard of the exterior is from
this great website's page on the Carthay Circle.

Another version of the card is
in the Elizabeth Fuller collection.

     Elizabeth Fuller -- Old L.A. Postcards  

This great postcard view of the Carthay Circle Theatre
is from the Elizabeth Fuller collection.  She has amassed a
wonderful collection of L.A. postcards -- 659 at last count. 
 full size view

Another card from the Fuller collection showing
a premiere at the Carthay Circle.
 full size view

 The card above also appears in several other collections:

  | The blog Chexydecimal -- includes a recent street view  |

Brian McCray's Hollywood Postcards -- a brighter version  |

An early Carthay Circle postcard view
from the Fuller collection.

full size view

Also in the Fuller collection:
  | another night view | day view with the miner |

     Huntington Digital Library    

A small piece of a 1933 Pettits Studio panorama taken at the
corner of La Cienega and Pico. In this detail we're looking northeast
across La Cienega to the Pico Fairway driving range and the theatre
 beyond. It's in the HDL's Verner collection of Panoramic Negatives.
  larger detail view | full photo on the HDL site

Thanks to BifRayRock who found the image in the HDL
collection and included it in his Noirish Los Angeles post #26417.

     L.A. Public Library Collection

Floodlit for a premiere--from
the Library's collection.

full size view

A 1930 view looking south from McCarthy Vista toward
the Pioneer statue, a piece by Henry Lion honoring the
 1849 California pioneers. The Carthay Circle Theatre is
beyond the statue, across San Vicente Blvd.

A look at one of the lounge areas. 
full size view

The mezzanine lounge in 1942.
full size view

Sculpture in the lounge, 1962. Her
nickname was "California Sunshine."

  full size view

A proscenium view, also
in the LAPL collection.
full size view

A view of the main drape in 1926.
  full size view

A 1942 look at the ceiling. 
full size view

More exterior views from the LAPL photo collection:

| ready for opening | floodlit at night | from the street |
| outside the entrance - Herman Schultheis | searchlights - another premiere |
 | another floodlit view  | 1929 reflection in pool - Padilla Co. photo  |
 | night view - reflecting pool and statue  |  pond and statue by day |
 | canopy to entrance - Herman Schultheis  | 1937 exterior |
 | 1938 tower floodlit  | 1940 premiere | 1943 premiere - "Song of Bernadette" |
 | fans in 1944 - "Wilson"  |  "Wilson" premiere night | view from parking lot  |
 | entrance 1949 - with marine band | 1949 premiere - "The Heiress"  |
 | marquee 1955 - "The Shrike"  |  

Aerial views:
| 1926 aerial view | closer view  | 

....and lots more if you look through the Library's photo collection.

     UCLA Library    

From the UCLA Library's collection
"Changing Times-Los Angeles in Photographs 1920-1990"
comes this view of the 1937 premiere of "Zola."
The photo comes to the UCLA Collection from
the Los Angeles Times.
  full size view