Wiltern Theatre

    
3790 Wilshire Blvd.@ Western

Los Angeles, CA 90005   | map |

(213) 388-1400 

Website: livenation.com | on Facebook


Opened: Opened October 7, 1931 as the Warner Bros. Western Theatre with "Alexander Hamilton" as the opening attraction.  

The city refused to close Wilshire Blvd. for the opening, so Warner Bros. built a temporary bridge across the street as a grand entrance and called it "The Bridge of Stars." Stars at the opening included Dolores Costello, Loretta Young, Dorothy Mackaill, Joan Blondell and many more. Dick Powell was the MC and Jack Warner put in an appearance.



Coming to the premiere across the "Bridge of Stars"
for the premiere. It's a shot from the Universal
Newsreel coverage of the event. 
view on YouTube

The building had been commissioned in 1929 by real estate man Henry de Roulet and the Pellissier family. Since the 1880s the family had had an 80 acre ranch on the property, later subdivided as residential lots. A covenant on the property specified that there would be no commercial development until 1925. And there were legal battles in an attempt to extend that restriction. But finally the real estate office de Roulet had on the corner came down and the Wiltern went up.

The building was known as the Pellissier Building and clad with a special turquoise shade of Gladding-McBean terracotta that came to be known as Pellissier Green. Warner Bros had the theatre on a lease but closed it in May 1933 due to poor business.

It was reopened about a year later and called the Wil Tern or Wil-Tern. It was then operated by Fox West Coast (managed by Ben Bernstein) as well as spells by several independent operators.

The name eventually lost the hyphen and space, becoming the Wiltern Theatre. The redone signage had a hyphen in the name on the front of the marquee but the vertical signs didn't. The 1936 city directory still spelled it Wil-Tern.



"Wait and See Them at the Wiltern" It's a cover from a 1938 program
 that surfaced on eBay. This was after Warners had left and the theatre
was a second run venue. Among other things on the bill were a Bogart
film and a Porky pig cartoon. Thanks to both Sean Ault
and Michelle Gerdes for finding this one!  
larger view

Warner Bros. returned as operators in 1939 and it was advertised as Warner's Wiltern and later the Stanley Warner Wiltern.  The Warner theatres after the consent decree settlements of the 50s had ended up with a conglomerate assembled from the remains of several studio-owned circuits that was called RKO-Stanley Warner.

In 1956 the building was sold by the Pellissier family to Franklin Life insurance Co. and the building became known as the Franklin Life Building.  

Pacific Theatres acquired the theatre from Stanley Warner (along with most of the other southern California RKO-SW holdings) in 1968 and was the final operator for the building as a movie theatre.

It closed in 1979 and was stripped and slated for demolition. It was saved from the wrecking ball by a 1981 purchase by developer Wayne Ratkovich of (at the time) Ratkovich, Bowers & Perez and restored to its original opulence by theatre wiz Ray Shepardson and Los Angeles architect Brenda Levin. In addition to spending $4.8 million on the theatre, the office tower was also renovated as part of the project. The total renovation cost was $9.8 million.

The 1985 project included painting and work on decorative plaster and murals, reproducing original light fixtures, repairing a gaping 30' hole in the auditorium ceiling, reopening and then enlarging the orchestra pit, adding a backstage elevator, refurbishing the dressing rooms, enlarging the stage, installing new stage equipment, a new electrical service (with a transformer vault atop the stage left dressing rooms), carpet and seats. 

The building reopened in 1985 (under the management of Bill Graham Presents) with a UCLA sponsored engagement of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.



The program from the 1985 reopening from
 the Bill Gabel collection. He's got it on the
Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
 full size view
| on FB/LATheatres

Architects: G. Albert Lansburgh did the theatre, Morgan, Walls & Clements did the exterior, retail spaces and office tower, now known again as the Pellissier Building. Lansburgh had done an earlier theatre for Warners, the Warner Hollywood, which opened in 1928. See our blogspot posts for more by Lansburgh and MW&C.

The decorator for the theatre was Anthony Heinsbergen. His son Tony worked on the 1984-84 restoration.

Seating: 2,344 originally. It was fully reseated in 1985 but the main floor seats were removed in a 2002 re-do and the floor leveled into 5 terraces.

The balcony seats remain intact from the 1985 remodel.  In 1985, Bill Graham wanted the house mix position in the balcony so some seats were left out for that installation. That area was filled in when the mix position was relocated to the  main floor in 1991.

The $2 million renovation in 2002 was a project of Clear Channel Entertainment, who then operated the theatre.  In addition to the main floor terraces, the project included flooring over the orchestra pit (which had been enlarged during the 1985 renovation) to provide a dance floor area.

A new deck was installed to bring the stage level up two feet to compensate for the change in sight lines caused by the terraces.  The L.A. Times had an August 2001 story about the renovations.

Status: It's a live music venue, now operated by Live Nation.

Pipe Organ: Kimball 4/37, now removed. It was last played in 1979. The organ had come from the Forum Theatre, also a Warner Bros. operation at the time. For information on the Wiltern organ and its 1962 restoration, see Bob Alder's informative website: wilterntheatrepipeorgan.bobalder.com.

The Wiltern in the Movies: The Wiltern Theatre has been used for lots of movie and commercial shoots. In "American Hot Wax" (Paramount,1978) it was the Brooklyn Paramount, complete with change of neon on the marquee and vertical signs.  


A shot showing the Wiltern's altered signage
in "American Hot Wax." It's a shot from the
Internet Movie Cars Database
larger view





A view of the poster for the film on
movieposter.com. It shows the
"Paramount" neon on the verticals. 
full size view


Also see a still from "American Hot Wax."




We're supposedly in New York (of course) in John
Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (Avco Embassy,
 1981) but the theatre we go to is the Fox St. Louis on
the outside. Inside, we're in the Wiltern lobby.




The locals are putting on a show in the Wiltern's
auditorium in a shot from "Escape From New York."
The film stars Kurt Russell and Lee Van Cleef.
Yes, it's pretty murky -- we don't see much.

"Get Crazy" with Malcolm McDowell (Embassy, 1983)
featured lots of views of the auditorium and lobby areas.


Walter Hill's "Streets of Fire" with Diane Lane (Universal,
1984)
used the theatre for some concert sequences but we
don't get to see much of the building. Here we get a
murky look from the stage into the auditorium.
 larger view



Rick Moranis backstage at the
dimmerboard in "Streets of Fire."
larger view



Mel Gibson and Danny Glover get a Pepsi and a
hot dog at Wilshire and Western in Richard Donner's
 "Lethal Weapon" (Warner Bros., 1987).

"Lethal Weapon" later features lots of mayhem on
Hollywood Blvd. with views of the Ritz and Vogue theatres.

The Wiltern is featured in the Chuck Norris thriller
"Hero and the Terror" (Golan-Globus Productions, 1988).


The Wiltern lobby is used as the lobby of the
Hotel Earle ("A Day or a Lifetime") in Joel and
Ethan Coen's "Barton Fink" (Fox, 1991)
. Here John
Turturro, just arrived in Los Angeles, is checking
in. Steve Buscemi plays the desk clerk. 
larger view




Looking down the lobby at the rear of the main
 floor toward the rotunda in "Barton Fink."

larger view



Looking from the rotunda along the lobby at the rear
of the main floor in "Barton Fink." The lighted entrance door
at the end of the lobby is a set piece added for the film.

larger view

"Barton Fink" also used the Orpheum,
doubling as a New York City theatre.

The Wiltern on Video: Check out Don Solosan's "Insider's Peek," a 5 minute tour of the building done as promotion for the 2014 Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation tour.

More Wiltern information: 

See the Cinema Treasures Wiltern Theater page for lots of interesting history and discussion.  The Cinema Tours page on the Wiltern Theatre has some nice photos from Bob Meza.

Sandi Hemmerlein's 2014 Avoiding Regret photo essays "The Wiltern Theatre, Public Areas" and "The Wiltern Theatre, Off Limits Areas" have lovely photos of the theatre.  Sandi's photos were taken during the August 2014 LAHTF tour. Also see Mike Hume's Wiltern Theatre photo set of the event on Flickr.  Aaron Blevins covered the event in a story in the Beverly Press.

The Wiltern Theatre page at Emporis has some specs for the building. See also the Wikipedia listing for the Wiltern.  And a fine exterior photo on Wikipedia.

Mary Mallory has a fine history of the theatre in her 2014 Daily Mirror article "Wiltern Theatre Jazzes Up Theatre Construction."

Wilshire and Western in the 20s:

Curbed L.A. had a story about a traffic circle (named 'Rosy') at Wilshire and Western in the 20s. Also see the story about the intersection, and its traffic, on Paradise Leased. Ethereal Reality's Noirish Los Angeles post #6470 also has views of the intersection in the 20s. There's a bit more on Hoss C's Noirish Los Angeles post #21722.


    Sean Ault Archives by Osiris Press    



The Wiltern as a 2300 seat art house? In this 1971
photo of the Wiltern from the Sean Ault collection
they're running Ingmar Bergman's "The Touch" with
"Blue Water, White Death" opening soon. 
full size view
| on FB/LATheatres



    California State Library Collection    

www.library.ca.gov   



A Mott Studios look at the 1931 opening night
 chaos. Note the bridge across Wilshire for the stars. 
full size view




A terrific Mott Studios view of the theatre's
opening as viewed from the southwest.
full size view

The photo above
also appears on Vintage Los Angeles.
It's also on a Department of Water and Power web page
devoted to early Los Angeles Buildings.

| this photo | another view |

An exterior view looking west by Mott Studios.
full size view

More Pellissier Building views by Mott
Studios in the Library's collection:
  | exterior at night - looking south on Western  |
| daytime - looking west | looking up the tower |
 
daylight view  - looking south on Western  |
exterior -  roof height view  |

Also in the collection:
| 1988 exterior looking west -- William Reagh  |
| 1986 view - Reagh |




    L.A. Public Library Collection    

www.lapl.org


A 1926 view of the corner of Wilshire and Western.
The office on the left corner is Henry de Roulet's
real estate office. It sits on the site of the Wiltern.
 full size view




A view of the Wiltern's opening from the Library's
collection. Note the "bridge of stars" across
Wilshire for the opening. 
full size view




A 1935 shot of the theatre running 
"No More Ladies" with Joan Crawford.
 full size view



It's 1978 and the Wiltern has "Corvette
 Summer" and "Avalanche" on the bill.
The photo is by Anne Laskey.
full size view

Entrance, marquee & vertical sign views:
 
| entrance - 1931 |  boxoffice and marquee soffit |
  | vertical - 1978 - Laskey | another vertical view - 1978 - Laskey |
| under the marquee - c. 1985 |

More building views:
| construction - 1930 |  opening week exterior |
  | another opening street view | floodlit exterior - 1931 |
| c1933 - as the Warner | 1930s Warner view - Barbara Stanwyck |
| another Warner exterior | Warner exterior - across the street |
| aerial view - the Wiltern | Sept. 1935 - Wiltern from across the street |
   | looking east - 1937 - 25 cents | looking east c.38 - Herman Schultheis |
| another looking east - c. 1938-39 |
| 1938 Wilshire side - Thrifty Drug | 1938 view - Foster and Kleiser Co.|
 | another aerial view -- a bit later -- added drive-in on the SW corner |
| another theatre + drive-in view - c.1939 | west from Serrano -- undated |
 | 1951 street view - looking East on Wilshire - Dick Whittington |
| looking east - 1956 - "Miracle in the Rain" | 1964 view - "Carpetbaggers" |
| 1980 Western facade - Ken Papaleo | 1983 night view - Anne Knudsen  |

 | 1985 floodlit for reopening - James Ruebsamen |
 | 80's color exterior - at night  | 1986 looking west - William Reagh  |




     Neat Stuff     

neat-stuff-blog.blogspot.com


A dazzling 1954 view looking east on Wilshire
toward the Wiltern from the Neat Stuff Blog. It's from
a 2009 post called "Vintage Los Angeles." 
The photo is from "nicepictures" on eBay.
full size view



    Photos of Los Angeles    

  www.facebook.com/groups/244565982234863/



A  view of the chaos at Wilshire and Western in 1930.
 We're looking east on Wilshire. Notice the "Warner Bros.
1500 seats" signage on the construction barricade at the right
 -- it ended up bigger! The photo was added by Ken McIntyre
 
to his Photos of Los Angeles collection on Facebook. 


A 1932 look at great signage for the premiere of
"The Kid in Spain" with Eddie Cantor.  It's a photo
from the Corbis Archives.
on Photos of L.A.


The photo above also appears
on Vintage Los Angeles.





It's 1948 and the Wiltern is running "June Bride"
with Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery. The
photo is from the Bill Gabel collection.
 
full size view | on Photos of L.A.



A 1956 view of the theatre the night of the
invitational preview for "Anything Goes"

full size view | on Photos of L.A.

The view above also appears in the Bruce
Torrence Hollywood Photographs collection.

| more HP theatre photos |




A photo from the Bill Gabel collection looking
north on Western. At the Wiltern: a 1965 Lee Marvin
 double feature -- "Ship of Fools" and "Cat Ballou."
 full size view | on Photos of L.A.




A lovely vertical sign detail added by Jijo Reed
to the Photos of Los Angeles collection. 
on Photos of L.A.



A detail of the top of the sign by Jijo Reed. 
on Photos of L.A.



A wonderful c.2006 look at the Wiltern
added to the collection by Julie Owens.

on Photos of L.A.



A 2012 neon detail by Ken McIntyre.  
  full size view | on Photos of L.A.



A lovely 2012 detail from Ken McIntyre of
 the great plasterwork of the marquee soffit.
  full size view
| on Photos of L.A.

Also on Photos of Los Angeles:
vertical sign - 2012 - Ken McIntyre  |




    Vintage Los Angeles    




A 1940 view of the Wiltern from

the Richard Wojcik collection. 
full size view





A great 1958 view of the Wiltern running "No Time
For Sergeants" with Andy Griffith and Nick Adams.
That's Mr. Adams in the photo.  It's from the Bruce
Kimmel collection on Vintage Los Angeles.

full size view



Two views of the desolate building in the early 80s added
to the Vintage Los Angeles collection by Meredith Jacobson
Marciano. At top, it's for sale with someone thinking the
stripped and damaged building would reopen in 1981.

At bottom, the Wilshire street level facade after the building
had been sold to developer Wayne Ratkovich. After a massive
capital infusion, the restored theatre debuted in May 1985. 
full size views | on FB/LAtheatres







The Wiltern Theatre - one of L.A.'s
great
art deco Movie palaces.

photo: Bill Counter - 2007

   [click on any of these images to enlarge]

The view up one of the Wiltern's vertical signs.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2014

Sandi Hemmerlein's 2014 Avoiding Regret photo essays
"Wiltern Theatre, Public Areas" and "Wiltern, Off Limits Areas"
have lovely photos of the theatre.  Sandi's photos were taken
during the 2014 LAHTF tour.
Thanks, Sandi!


The Wilshire side of the Pellissier Building.


photo: Mike Hume - 2014

Thanks, Mike!  The photo is part of Mike's fine Wiltern Theatre set
on Flickr taken during the 2014 LAHTF "all-about" tour of the building.

The Wiltern boxoffice.

photo: Wendell Benedetti - Los Angeles
Historic Theatre Foundation- 2014

The photo originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.
Also see his photo of the front door panels. Thanks, Wendell!

The LAHTF is actively involved in the study and preservation
of the many vintage theatres in the Los Angeles area. The group
frequently supports events and offers tours of the buildings.
www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official FB page

Looking west along Wilshire on a rainy evening.

photo: Bill Counter - 2012


One of the terrific deco display cases.

photo: Bill Counter - 2007



Another boxoffice view. Don't you
love the marquee soffit?

photo: Bill Counter - 2007



A soffit detail.

photo: Sandi Hemmerlein -
Avoiding Regret - 2014



Several of the front doors.

photo: Bill Counter - 2007




Looking west on Wilshire -
one of the two vertical signs
.

photo: Bill Counter - 2007
 

 [click on any of these images to enlarge]



The wide angle view from marquee soffit to the top.

photo: Mike Hume - 2014


A night view of the sign on Wilshire.

photo: Bill Counter - 2012



 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.




    Big Orange Landmarks    

bigorangelandmarks.blogspot.com



Floyd Bariscale has done another great
article with his Pellisier Building post. This
 exterior view is one of his many fine photos.
 full size view

Also see Mr. Bariscale's
 Pellisier Bldg.set on Flickr.



   Levin & Associates Architects   

www.levinarch.com



Brenda Levin's Levin and Associates was the architectural
 firm for the
1985 renovation of the Wiltern.  On the firm's
 
Wiltern Theatre page is this great view of the marquee.     
 
full size view



   more from the LAHTF  

www.lahtf.org | group Facebook page | official FB page


A 2013 gaze up at one of the Wiltern's
 vertical signs by Jenny Goodwin.
A 2013 look at the marquee by Ms. Goodwin.
full size view



The Wiltern signage and Pellissier Building on
the day of the August 17, 2014 LAHTF tour.
 It's a photo by Stephen Russo. 
full size view


Also see:
| LAHTF tour line - Wendell Benedetti |



    Eric Lynxwiler on Flickr    

 flickr.com/photos/79761301@N00


Eric's collection includes this great postcard
of the Wiltern. Here we're looking west toward
Wilshire and Western. full size view

Browse through his Wilshire Blvd. set for a great
stroll along the boulevard. There are photos, postcards,
restaurant menus, matchbook covers and lots more. 

The card above also appears in Brian McCray's
dazzling
Hollywood Postcards set.



    Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights    

ladailymirror.com


Mary Mallory has a fine history of the
theatre in her 2014 Daily Mirror article "Wiltern
Theatre Jazzes Up Theatre Construction."


Here we're up on the "Bridge of Stars" for the
opening. It's a photo from Mary's collection.



    Ken McIntyre on Photobucket    

s132.photobucket.com/user/kencmcintyre



A 2002 marquee shot from Ken McIntyre. The "See
You In The Fall" means they were busy ripping out the
 main floor seats and re-doing the floor with terraces.
full size view | on photobucket

Check out the Photos of Los Angeles
page Ken curates on Facebook.




    Noirish Los Angeles    

skyscraperpage.com/forum/showthread.php?t=170279



A 1972 look south on Western toward
what was then called the Franklin Life Building.
Mr. Ethereal Reality found it on eBay and has it
on his Noirish Los Angeles post # 23935.



    Public Art in L.A.    

www.publicartinla.com 

This terrific website has lots of photos
of signage and historic buildings. Check
out the Wilshire Neon Signs page.



On the site is this great 2009 view of
 the Wilshire side of the signage

at night by Don Howe.
full size view


    Tejana on Flickr    

 www.flickr.com/photos/tejana/sets/321380/  


A 2006 view of the top of the Pellissier Building
by Tejana as part of the Wilshire Beauty set. 
full size view



A nice 2007 view of the marquee at night.
 
full size view

Also by Tejana:
 |
another night marquee shot  | vertical sign  |



    USC Archives    

 digitallibrary.usc.edu/cdm


Framing going up for the Pellissier building.
It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo.
full size view





A nice 1931 view from the USC Archives.
full size view




A look under the marquee during opening
week from the USC Archives. It's a California
Historical Society photo. 
full size view



"25 cents Two Major Features" "Free Parking"
 
A fine 1934 look at the theatre during its days
as a second run house after Warner Bros. left.
 It's a Dick Whittington Studio photo.
There are
 also several other takes in the series.
The Wiltern is running "Emma" with Marie Dressler, a
January 1932 release, and "The Most Precious Thing in
 Life," a June 1934 release with Jean Arthur.

Thanks to Michelle Gerdes for spotting the view
above as a Wiltern Theatre post on Instagram. It
also
appears on a 2013 blog post by Martin Turnbull.




An aerial view from 1936. The
stagehouse is over on the right
.
 full size view




A 1938 Dick Whittington Studio photo
 looking west toward the Wiltern. That's the
 stagehouse over on the left.
 full size view


Also from the USC Archives:

| excavation | fencing - from a distance | formwork |
| construction - west on Wilshire |
construction - topping out the office tower |
nearing completion |
| 1932 birdseye view - looking east - Kay Francis "Man Wanted" |
| late 30s view looking east - from Manhattan Pl.- as the Wiltern |
| looking west - c.1938 | 1939 looking east - "Return of the Cisco Kid" |
  | marquee work - Oct 11, 1939 - "Warners" going up |
| looking west - October 11, 1939
| 1948 birdseye view - looking east | 



    The Wiltern    

www.livenation.com | on Facebook | on Instagram


A lovely shot of the marquee soffit by Beerener.
full size view


Also on Instagram by the Wiltern:
| proscenium from the balcony |



    Ray Shepardson 1944-2014   

Theatre genius Ray Shepardson ("Formerly of almost every
 theatre in America") had been instrumental
in saving more historic
 theatres in this country than any
other individual. Ray directed the
1984-85 Wiltern restoration project
, along with architect Brenda
 Levin, for developer (and local hero) Wayne
Ratkovich. 


Ray in a 2010 Chicago Tribune photo.
full size view

Shepardson projects included Cleveland's Playhouse Square, the
St. Louis Fox, the Detroit Fox, the State and Orpheum in Minneapolis,
the Chicago Theatre and many, many more. See the website for Ray's

Market Value Productions for more information about his work.
There's also a nice theatre restoration Flickr album.


| "Remembering Ray Shapardson.."  - Cleveland Plain Dealer's account
of Ray's memorial service:
"...a helluva show for a great showman" |
| "Farewell to Ray Shepardson..." - an article by Paul Barrosse
|
 | Chicago Tribune obituary | Cleveland Plain Dealer obituary |
| Chicago Sun-Times | Cleveland Scene | Cleveland Arts Prize - 1985 |







more wiltern theatre pages:
| lobby areas | auditorium |
| stage & stage basement |
other basement areas |