COME AND DISCOVER ALL ABOUT THE PALACE
630 S. Broadway
Downtown Los Angeles
Saturday, February 28th,
Doors Open at 10 am
All About the Palace is part of the continuing 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.
A Brief History of the Palace
The intimate scale of the Palace Theatre in concert with its elegant French details compares to a 17th-century European opera house. With garland-draped columns, a color scheme of pale pastels, wall murals depicting pastoral scenes, and ceiling murals of whimsical girls, this 1911 theatre offers an unusually charming and graceful setting. As an early vaudeville house, built without amplified sound, it is designed so that no seat is further than 80 feet from the stage. While the interior is French, the exterior is loosely styled after a Florentine Renaissance palazzo, with multicolored terra cotta swags, flowers, fairies and theatrical masks illustrating the spirit of entertainment.
From its beginning in the late 1800s, the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit ruled the west coast. The most popular singers, dancers and comediennes played the circuit which extended from the Midwest through the West to the Pacific. The crowning stop for the most elite was to play in Los Angeles. The first Orpheum Theatre was built in Los Angeles in the 1880s.
When the second L.A. Orpheum Theatre burned down, another larger more ornate palace was built. Opening in 1911 our theatre was originally named the Orpheum. It is the oldest of the remaining Orpheum theaters in the United States.
Every major vaudeville star on the Orpheum circuit performed in this theatre. The names in light included: the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Sarah Bernhardt, Bob Hope, Al Jolson and Will Rogers. When Harry Houdini performed his stage magic and death-defying escapes, an ambulance was kept parked on the curb in case of emergency.
The principal architect was G. Albert Lansburgh, who later also designed the new Orpheum Theatre down the block. He was a principal theatre designer in the west between 1909 and 1930. His local work includes the Warner Bros. Theatre Building in Hollywood, and the interiors of the Wiltern and El Capitan theatres.
While the interior is French, the exterior is loosely styled after a Florentine Renaissance palazzo, with multicolored terra cotta swags, flowers, fairies and theatrical masks illustrating the spirit of entertainment. The façade includes four panels depicting the muses of Song, Dance, Music and Drama (sculpted by Domingo Mora, a Spaniard whose work also decorated New York’s old Metropolitan Opera House.)
G. Albert Lansburgh built the theatre with fire safety in mind. In 1906 there was a devastating fire in a Chicago theater during a children's matinee show. Because of the poor standard of fire-safety codes such as exit doors that only opened inwards--the patrons were trapped inside and all perished. As a direct response to new fire concerns and codes, the Palace was built with 22 fire escape exits and has one of the first sprinkler systems built in the city.
This specific style of decor is indicative of G. Albert Lansburgh’s work. He loved to use recessed lighting that can be seen in the three mural domes in the ceiling. Reflectors were built around the bulbs to give a kind of "holy glow". As you look at the borders of the balcony you can see bare bulbs; this was not a cheap decorative technique. It was actually very exciting for a theater to have electricity at the turn of the century, so they showed them off.
In 1911, the theater could house 2,200 people on the orchestra and two balconies, the mezzanine and the gallery. The gallery is a rare artifact of the generally tolerant Los Angeles. There is some controversy whether it was used as a minority balcony for people who were not white or if it was a "third class" balcony for the poor with cheaper seating. Either way, the gallery had a separate entrance from the alley and separate restrooms. The gallery was closed in the forties when the theatre was renovated to be movie theatre. Today the theater utilizes 1050 seats in the orchestra and mezzanine only.
The Palace Theatre was built with one big flaw; there is not enough lobby space to accommodate socializing before or after a show. In 1926, a new Orpheum theatre was built two blocks down the street. The third Orpheum was renamed the Palace Theatre. It transformed into a silent movie theater showing a continuous bill of newsreels and shorts. Later, it became a first run movie house for features with sound.
The theater was built in 1911 with beautiful box seating along the sides of the auditorium. When the primary entertainment shifted to film, the box seats were removed because they had ridiculously bad sightlines for movie viewing. They were replaced with two beautiful murals done by Anthony Heinsbergen, a famous Los Angeles muralist.
One interesting feature is the Women’s Lounge. It has glass doors that overlook the theatre entrance. In 1911 women were not permitted by custom to go to the theater unescorted. Women were also not permitted to travel with a young man without a chaperone. This room protects against these social pitfalls. The windows looking into the foyer were designed to help women watch for their dates.
After a long history as a first run movie theatre, the history of the theatre declined with the decline of Broadway and its once flourishing entertainment district. The theatre continued with second run films and Spanish language films until it closed in the mid nineties. The theatre has continued as a featured location for films and television. In the coming year the Palace Theatre will reopen as a live performance venue, once again serving all of Los Angeles.
Attend All About the Palace to learn more!