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Ann Kathleen Otto

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The Early Hollywood Movie Theaters

July 23, 2015

Guest blog by Yvonne Montoya

Early in my research for Yours in a Hurry, I was referred to Yvonne Montoya, who was working on, Hollywood and Vine, a documentary about the famous intersection and how it started out as part of a temperance community and transformed into the heart of the entertainment industry helping shape American pop culture. I asked her about the College Theater, one of the first movie theaters in 1910 that I'd read about and used in the novel. She provided the following information about a few of the first Hollywood movie theaters.

The Iris

In 1910, a tiny wooden building equipped only with a projector, screen and a few chairs and benches opened on the northeast corner of Hollywood Blvd and Hudson Ave. Pictured at right, the Idle Hour was Hollywood’s first movie theater. The Hollywood community at that time was largely residential with Protestant Christian values. Idleness was not a virtue they looked upon favorably, so with patrons in short supply, the Idle Hour was soon renamed the Iris, after the famous painter Paul de Longpre in whose garden the theater now stood.

The original founders of Hollywood, Harvey and Daeida Wilcox, were steadfast prohibitionists and they built a community of like-minded Christians who wanted nothing to do with movies or the people who made them. This all changed within a few short years as the movie industry firmly planted themselves in the area and became a profitable business.

Hollywood's population in 1910 was around 5,000 by the 1920s, the population boomed to over 100,000 and Hollywood was fast becoming the heart of the film industry. There were more than 20 movie studios in or near Hollywood and movie theaters were gaining in popularity. The beautiful homes that lined Hollywood Blvd were slowly disappearing.  According to Gregory Paul Williams in The Story of Hollywood, “Hollywood Boulevard’s claim to being movieland’s main street remained, in part, because of its many movie theaters. The area uniquely combined first and second run theaters side by side.” In addition to the Iris there was now the famous Egyptian and Grauman’s Chinese Theatres.

The Iris Theater managed to stay in business despite the community opposition and in 1918 moved near Hollywood Blvd and Wilcox Ave. The new theater, which housed about a thousand seats, opened with DW Griffith's Birth of a Nation. In 1965, it was renamed Fox Theater, but eventually closed in the early 1980’s. The theater reopened in 2009 as the Playhouse a popular nightclub still in operation today.

The College Theater

According to Motion Picture World, T.L. Tally ran the theater where characters Pete and Lucy work in the novel, from Dec 14 1910 to at least October, 1912.* It was described as 'a high class picture theater building…on the west side of Hill street, halfway between the Los Angeles-Pacific railway station and Fifth street'.”

The following item appeared in DOINGS AT LOS ANGELES – Powell
"I have located the hardest working, most intelligent picture pianist in Los Angeles. She is employed at the COLLEGE THEATRE (a Tally theater on South Hill) and I go there often not so much to see the pictures as to hear her play them, for she not only employs judgment and originality in making the music fit the scenes, but is an artist besides — has tone and temperament. I am told by the management that her name is Ruby Wallberg…

*Motion Picture World, Vol. 14, No. 7, 16 November, 1912 (page 653)

As mentioned in my April 29 blog, you can find out about the early film industry at the Hollywood Heritage Museum website.

Next time:  The Wright Brothers Revisited

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