The Metropolitan Theater no longer stands. It only exists in photographs. It was demolished in 1960 and was a Sid Grauman Theater located across from Pershing Square, at the corner of 6th and Hill Streets, in downtown Los Angeles. I came across some photos of the theater at work. The architect of the theater is William Lee Woollett but I haven’t been able to find a book on him which is amazing. The architect of the outer building, which housed the theater, was Edwin Bergstrom.
The images that follow are from a 1927 book titled: Concrete in Architecture. This building cost three million dollars to construct according to the LA Times though the LA Examiner claimed it was four million. It had two entrances: one on Hill and one on Sixth. There was 155 feet of frontage on 6th while Hill had 247 feet of frontage. On Sixth St. the entrance was set back ten feet from the rest of the building to create a grander entrance. There were shops along the frontage on both streets and the building itself had Edwin Bergstrom as its architect while Woollett designed the theater. The buildings foundation could support thirteen stories but only six stories were built. The Last Remaining Seats‘ Ben Hall says the theater’s style was “Hispano-Persian” and sat 3,485 people. A reporter for the LA Times who covered the premiere, Edwin Schallert, called it “primitive massiveness” which seems more accurate to me. *Charles Beardsley, in his book Hollywood’s Master Showman, says those two columns next to the stage support “mythical griffon heads.”
The premiere for the theater was held on January 21, 1923. The first film shown was My American Wife starring Gloria Swanson and Antonio Moreno. The host was Theodore Roberts and many of the stars who attended are depicted in the pictures that follow*. LA Times reporter, William Schallert, claimed there were twenty to thirty thousand people on the street who couldn’t get in because the venue was sold out even though tickets cost $5 per person. What he describes below sounds like a scene right out of Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust (1937) but it couldn’t have really been that bad, could it?
- In a section of his article titled CROWD IS UNRULY Schallert states: “The early part of the program was punctuated at intervals by shouts from the crowds outside. At one time due to the way they crowded around the door, signs of a riot appeared. The militia was forced to hold the crowd back with their rifles and several times struggles for the possession of the guns between members of the mob and the soldiers were seen. The police had to be continually on guard to keep the crowd from storming the theater so great was the spectators desire to obtain a glimpse of the stars and of the interior of the house.”
The reporter went on to describe the proceedings onstage and said the most rousing moment was when the orchestra played the Star Spangled Banner and two men, dressed as Uncle Sam, stood up in balconies that flanked the stage to great applause. According to Schallert while there were many female stars present they weren’t part of the onstage festivities. During the proceedings, the stars in the audience, were asked to stand so the audience could see them but despite being movie stars, on this particular night, the stars were for the most part shy and declined to have the spotlight turned on them.
- As for the theater Schallert states this in a section titled THROUGH MAIN ENTRANCE: “Of course, the house is ornate beyond any one’s conception. One gets the most striking effect by coming in through the main entrance on Sixth street. Here all the massiveness of the mezzanine floor’s decorative scheme strikes the vision. One gazes upon an elaborate blending of color on all sides and, above, finds that these assume shape in sculpture and fresco and painting at every turn. Truly the pictorial note is sounded in every part of the theater, yet without distraction to the audience. The building as a whole has a primitive massiveness and sweep. It is not quite free from draughts as yet but this slight detriment can probably be easily obviated and when it is, the theater will be a glorious and perfect example of the palatial and magnificent that harks back the medieval era and yet is filled with the spirit of the present day.”
- Regarding the Gloria Swanson film Schallert wrote under LOCAL OF THE PICTURE: “The romantic local of “My American Wife,” will attract the theatergoer. It offers a horse race in fashionable South America, a deul and some other items of excitement. Gloria plays detective in the picture and routs the faction that is rival to that of her lover. “My American Wife” is therefore entertaining, though not altogether believable and offers a cast of rather exceptional interest. Most of all, though, the public will want to see the theater and it will flock there during the next few weeks. The mob surging around the doors last night gave ample evidence.”
*This list of attendees is from Charles Beardsley’s book on Grauman’s theaters. All of the stars that follow were at the Metropolitan’s premiere.
What’s interesting is that Grauman opened the Metropolitan on January 21, 1923 but by July of 1924 he had sold all his interest in this theater, The Million Dollar and The Rialto. They were bought by the Publix group and by 1929 a Paramount marquee hung outside the theater. The building was demolished in 1960 for a parking lot. The firm hired to demolish the building lost money because they couldn’t get the building down by the deadline.
Beardsley, C. (1983). Hollywood’s master showman: the legendary Sid Grauman. Cranbury, NJ: Cornwall Books.
Concrete in architecture. (1927). Chicago: Portland Cement Association.
Fox, C. & Silver, M. L. (Ed.) (1920). Who’s who on the screen. New York: Ross Publishing, Co.
Hall, B. (1961). The best remaining seats: the story of the golden age of the movie palace. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.
Metropolitan Theater. (1922). 1922 Year book of architecture and allied arts: southern California chapter, American institute of architects, Los Angeles architectural club. Los Angeles: Young & McCallister.
Metropolitan Theater. (1925, March). The Architect, 3(3), 142-144.
Reagan, O. (Ed.). (1927). American architecture of the twentieth century. New York: Architectural Book Publishing Company.
Schallert, E. (1923, January 27). Crowd surges at theater; premiere of Grauman’s metropolitan is in the midst of dazzling splendor. Los Angeles Times, 3.
Woollett, W. E. (1923, April). The architect and the craftsman. California Southland, (40), 11-13.
Woollett, W. E. (1923, May). Concrete and creative architecture. The Architect and Engineer, 73(2), 51-90.