The Arcade Theater Turns 100 years old


HAPPY BIRTHDAY from the L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation

A gem of a theatre and unique on L.A. ’s Broadway, the Arcade (Pantages) hits the century mark on Saturday, 9/25/10. The Arcade provides a much needed complement to the 2000 seat theatres that predominate on the street. Built for Vaudeville and live theatre, the interior is reminiscent of a 19th century opera house and is largely intact, though suffering from neglect and deferred maintenance.  The auditorium is currently used for storage. The Lobby’s Maxfield Parrish-like murals are still present beneath ceilings and walls added later. An electronics store rents the Lobby space.


The Arcade is one of 19 historic theatres in the Broadway area downtown. Only NYC and London have more theatres so close together. The LAHTF aims to re-activate the theatres following models used in Cleveland, 42nd Street , Boston , Chicago , Columbus and other cities to create a powerful new economic engine to enhance ongoing Historic Core revitalization efforts.


The Pantages ( Arcade ) Theatre Opening Night Program, September 25, 1910

Barnold’s Dog and Monkey Actors in “A Hot Time in Dogville”

Sophie Tucker, singer and comedienne

Maurice Burkhart, character-singing comedian

MacLean and Bryant “17-20 on the Black” gambling sketch

Lelliott Brothers, comedy musical sketch

Yalto Duo, novelty whirlwind dancers



534 South Broadway


The Arcade Theatre marked the entry into Southern California by Vaudeville independent Alexander Pantages. When it opened in 1910 as the Pantages, it was one of a growing number of Vaudeville, legit and moving picture houses that were to populate Los Angeles ‘ thriving downtown retail and entertainment district. The theatre was built for Pantages by William Garland, an Irish immigrant and retired railroad entrepreneur turned real estate developer. A one-time director of the Security Trust and Savings Bank, and a member of both the respectable California Club and the Jonathan Club, Garland apparently had a yen for the theatre. He built at last three of them in Los Angeles ; the Pantages on Broadway (19l0), the Morosco (now the Club 740) on Broadway (1913), and the Pantages at 7th and Hill Streets (1919).  A pioneer in many ways, Pantages’ choice of the 500 block of Broadway for his theatre was one of the first footholds of what was to become the city’s most important theatre street. The Cameo next door to the north (originally Clune’s Broadway) would open days later to be followed over the next decade by the Morosco, the 1911 Orpheum (now the Palace) and others. If the decision to build on Broadway instead of Main Street was bold, Pantages minimized his risk by building his theatre immediately north of Mercantile Place (now the site of the Arcade Building ): then, as now, a place overflowing with busy foot traffic. None of this was by accident, as Eugene Clinton Elliott wrote in 1944: “(Pantages) selected his location on the basis of the movement of the crowds, who generally follow the path of least resistance . . . as people came to know that his shows were always good, he soon would be getting more than his full share of patronage.”  Los Angeles was considered by showmen to be one of the most promising cities of its day and other, bigger, operators were already established. When Pantages opened his theatre on Broadway, he ruffled the feathers of many small time presenters and planted himself firmly in the territory of the mighty Orpheum Circuit, which, try as it might, could not shake the newcomer from his foothold.


The Orpheum was always considered the best Vaudeville circuit represented in Los Angeles, however, Pantages’ staying power and success were prodigious and he was ultimately considered one of the two most important independent Vaudeville presenters in the United States, the other being Marcus Loew. (When Pantages opened his theatre on Broadway, Orpheum was still operating its big time circuit in a rented theatre on Spring Street. Within a year of the Pantages opening, Orpheum relocated on Broadway in its own new Orpheum Theatre (now the Palace). In his 1936 obituary “Variety” said, “Pantages played big time acts at big salaries, but never went big time as to policy … although he always regarded the picture as a necessary element, he considered the Vaudeville most important and was never anything but a distinctly vaudeville showman.” He may have considered moving pictures a “necessary element” under ordinary circumstances, but on opening night, September 25, 1910, the bill at the Pantages was strictly Vaude, and “big time” Vaude at that. Barnold’s Dog & Monkey Pantomime, featuring Dan, the drunken canine in “A Hot Time in Dogville,” headlined opening night. This act was so popular that an article in “Everybody’s” magazine from October, 1907, reported that “(t)his act was engaged for the [Hammerstein’s] Victoria roof garden in New York at $300 a week. It made such a success that it was booked for two years at $1,000 a week.” Among the other performers on opening night – billed after the dog act – was Sophie Tucker, who in 19l0was just starting to make a name for herself. This booking on the Pantages Circuit was her first West Coast tour. She was paid $250 per week, plus railroad fare. On the other side of the footlights that night were Pantages and his wife, Morgan and Walls and their wives and William Garland. Souvenir programs were printed on silk. According to newspaper accounts of the opening, the paint was barely dry and the stage manager was lauded for bringing the show off without a hitch. The ensuing years filled the Pantages with some of Vaudeville’s most popular acts; many of which are unknown today because of their inability to adapt into movies and radio. By 1919, when Stan Laurel played the Pantages with his common law wife Mae, (Oliver Hardy still loomed in the future), new excitement was building around Alexander Pantages. Patronage was still strong and the reviews were still glowing at his Broadway theatre, but now the stories were beginning to end with an anticipatory note for the opening of the new Pantages Theatre on Hill at 7th, now a Jewelry Mart.


In 1925, the theatre (and probably the entire building) became the property of the Dalton brothers. Newcomers to Los Angeles , the three Daltons , F.O., R.A., and T.V., also owned and operated the Follies, a burlesque theatre on South Main . In 1924 the busy Mercantile Place had been transformed into the Arcade Building and in 1928 the Daltons changed the name of their theatre to ” Arcade ,” hoping that some of the new building’s luster would rub off. The Arcade was wired for sound in 1930 and has been a motion picture house ever since. Also worthy of note is the combination use of the Pantages building as commercial and retail space. In addition to theatre offices, the upper floors were occupied by a variety of doctors and dentists. These floors and the basement, which housed a restaurant, were served by an elevator, as well as stairs. Alterations to the building have masked the original entrances. It is clearly evident that the Arcade Theatre, often cited as “one of the unimportant ones on Broadway,” is anything but that. Not only does it hold a key position in a National Register District, the Arcade is an important element in the development of the theatre scene on Broadway and demonstrates the chutzpah and tenacity of immigrants to this country. It was immigrants like Alexander Pantages, William Garland and Octavius Morgan who made business and cultural contributions to Los Angeles which helped to shape not only our city as we know it, but our societal vision of what life was like in an earlier era. It is important to realize, also, that the contribution made by these men need not be limited to the memory of a sepia-toned past but can be developed into a cultural resource for the city of tomorrow. Pantages’ instinct on the movement of crowds still holds true today, eighty years later. A block from the Los Angeles Theatre Center and a stone’s throw from the Central Library, Cultural Affairs Department and CRA, few other blighted sections of Broadway can boast such a strong foundation to spearhead reclamation as can the 500 block. Developing a theatrical reuse of the building could make it a leader in the redevelopment of Broadway, just as it was 100 years ago.

Courtesy of the L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation  Join us on FaceBook, too.

Note that it is a very sad fact that the Arcade was one of the first theaters to stop showing movies in Downtown LA (1986) and it is turning 100 years old as a electronics store.  If you are downtown on Saturday, September 25 stop by and wish it a happy birthday!