Million Dollar Theatre
307 S. Broadway
Downtown Los Angeles

Saturday, March 23th

Tours at 9am & Noon


All About the Million Dollar Theater is the second in the ongoing series of monthly meetings to be set in historic theatres throughout Southern California. The “All About” meetings support the LAHTF mission to raise awareness and encourage public participation in protecting, preserving, restoring and sustaining Southern California’s historic theatres.

Parking information

Better yet, take the Red Line. 4th Street stop.

A Brief History of the Million Dollar Theatre

Sid Grauman's first major theatre was named Grauman's Theatre when it opened on February 1, 1918 with William S. Hart in "The Silent Man" Following the hype over its price tag, it soon became known as Grauman's Million Dollar Theatre, although it was not officially named this until 1922. The auditorium was built behind the twelve story Edison office building, the exterior is a magnificent example, of a variation of Spanish Rococo style, known as Churrigueresque. Deeply molded features decorate the theatre entrance and higher up on the facade are heroic figures of the arts, with symbols of western Americana, such as bison head, eagles and longhorn steer skulls, all the work of sculptor Joseph Mora.

The auditorium which is 106 feet long and 103 feet wide is decorated in a similar style to the exterior and has a curved proscenium arch 40 feet wide and 40 feet high. The ceiling has a coffered dome and there are numerous statues and niches. The organ grilles on the side walls are in the style of Spanish Colonial altar screens. Architect William Lee Woollett is credited with the design of the interior. The proscenium, with its flanking columns, and the coffered ceiling, foreshadowed the later design by Woollett for Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre (later Paramount) which was his most fantastical achievement in movie palace design. The eclectic, fantasy design of the Million Dollar Theatre in 1918 contrasted with the more conventional, neoclassic look of most movie palaces at that time. By the end of the 1920's, exotic themes and atmospherics were the rage in movie palace design, and many early movie palaces looked dated, but the Million Dollar Theatre still looked fresh and almost a century later, still wows.

Although designed specifically as a movie palace, full stage facilities were installed. Within two months of opening, Sid Grauman began to stage spectacular prologues prior to the film show on the 35 feet deep stage, which was 103 feet wide. Seating was provided for 1,400 in the orchestra and 945 in the balcony. An unusual feature was the positioning of the projection booth at the front of the balcony, rather than the usual position at the rear of the balcony. This gave a shorter throw to the screen which resulted in a brighter picture. Initially a small 2 manual, 7 rank Wurlitzer organ was installed and it was opened by Jesse Crawford. This organ proved to be inadequate, and it was replaced on 23rd December 1918 by a larger 2 manual 16 rank Wurlitzer organ. The original organ was transferred to the Rialto Theatre on South Broadway, which Grauman also operated.

Among the famous names who attended the opening night were: Jesse L. Lasky, Thomas Ince, Mack Sennett, Hal Roach, Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle.

Grauman sold his interests in his downtown Los Angeles theatres (the Million Dollar, Rialto and Metropolitan-later Paramount) to Paramount-Publix in 1924, in order to focus on Hollywood, notably running the Egyptian Theatre and planning the Chinese Theatre. In 1929, Paramount transferred the huge chandelier that had been hanging in the short-lived Broadway lobby entrance of Grauman's Metropolitan Theatre (later Paramount), and hung it in the domed ceiling of the auditorium of the Million Dollar Theatre. The theatre was leased out to Fox West Coast Theatres briefly, but by 1930 the Great Depression was hurting theatres and they closed it down. Late in 1930 it was taken over by an independent operator named Lazarus. By 1941 it was being operated by Popkin & Ringer Bros. who operated nine other theatres in downtown and had their headquarters at the Million Dollar Theatre.

In 1945, the theatre was taken over by Metropolitan Theatres, who breathed a new lease of life into the building by presenting live shows starring Billy Holiday, Cab Calloway and Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra. From the summer of 1950, the Million Dollar became a film and stage venue exclusively for Spanish speaking audiences. It was the first downtown Los Angeles theatre to have this policy and stars such as Maria Felix and Delores Del Rio appeared on stage. During the early 1960's, the foyer area was 'modernised' with a drop ceiling suspended, and the walls were covered, all of which hides the original plaster decoration. From 1975 it was showing new general release films, dubbed into Spanish and live Mexican vaudeville shows one week in every month. Metropolitan Theatres closed the Million Dollar Theatre on March 1, 1993.

The Million Dollar Theatre was immediately taken over by a church and damage was done by painting over chandeliers and original wall murals with white paint. The name 'Million Dollar' was removed from the marquee at this time. In 1998, the church moved out and down Broadway to the former (Loews) State Theatre. The Million Dollar Theatre was shuttered.

In October 2005, the Million Dollar Theatre was leased by former nightclub owner Robert Voskanian and work soon began on a renovation of the theatre. As of the end of February 2008, one million plus dollars had been spent to refurbish the Million Dollar Theatre. New marble flooring was installed, the proscenium's stone archway was refurbished, and the theatre was redecorated with a new red and gold paint scheme.

The Million Dollar Theatre reopened on February 28, 2008 with a performance by Mexican singer and Latin Grammy Award winner Pepe Aguilar. There are plans to host film screenings, movie premieres, stage performances and concerts.

by Ken Roe and Howard Haas
Courtesy of Cinema Treasures Follow this link for more Million $ photos
Architect: Albert Carey Martin Sr., William Lee Woollett


Attend to learn more about the Million Dollar Theater!



Million Dollar Theatre
307 S. Broadway
Downtown Los Angeles

Saturday, March 23th

Tours Times
9:00 am & Noon

Join us as we explore Sid Grauman’s first Los Angeles movie palace. The M$ set a new standard for the national movie palace building boom that swept the U.S. during the 1920’s. Designed by architect William Lee Woollett, the M$ is unique – a daring mixture of styles,art and colors. Described as a Spanish cathedral set in a Greek temple, the interior was a riot of rich colors, original art works and lush patron amenities. The M$ is currently closed to the public. Don’t miss this chance to see this amazing work of art.

More than any other Broadway theatre, the many glories of the M$ are faded or completely hidden from view. Ed Kelsey will highlight the history, illustrate the many interior alterations and celebrate what remains. We’ll take you behind the scenes - from the basement to the balcony - and share the hidden treasures of L.A.’s most unusual movie palace.

Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience a breathtaking masterwork. Sign on as a new volunteer, spend extra time inside and see even more! Email to sign up.

The Million Dollar Theater (circa 1918)