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Tally’s Electric Theatre was the first theater built in the United States for the sole purpose of exhibiting movies. It was completed in 1902, a time when most motion pictures were shown in storefronts or vaudeville theaters. The theater turned into a vaudeville theater itself for a time before returning to movies in 1910 as Glockner’s Automatic Theatre. The building was demolished in 1998.

  • This photo is commonly misattributed to Tally’s Electric Theater. In fact, it is another of Tally’s theaters: Tally’s Broadway Theatre (built 1910). It was located at 833 S. Broadway and demolished in 1929.

Thomas Lincoln Tally, proprietor of arcades and phonograph parlors, opened his Electric Theatre in Los Angeles during the spring of 1902. The actual date of the theater’s opening varies among sources, the most often cited being April 2nd, 6th, and 16th. Before Tally’s Electric Theatre, motion pictures were often exhibited in existing storefronts or vaudeville theaters. Tally’s was the first building constructed for the sole purpose of showing movies. The theater was open from 7:30 pm to 10:30 pm in the beginning, but Tally added matinee showtimes to accommodate his many customers. Screenings were often sold out, no matter the time or day. Tally’s initial success spurred on the wave of construction of more movie theaters, about 3,000 in the U.S. by 1907 and 10,000 by 1910. It is also worth noting that Tally’s Electric Theatre was not a nickelodeon. Though the term is sometimes used loosely today, by definition it only applies to movie theaters that charged five cents (a nickel) for admission. Tally’s charged ten cents as mentioned in an early advertisement:

“A NEW PLACE OF AMUSEMENT: Up to date high class moving picture entertainment, especially for ladies and children. See the Capture of the Biddle Bros., New York in a Blizzard, and many other interesting and exciting scenes. An Hour’s amusement and genuine fun for 10 cents admission.”

Tally gave up some of his side businesses to focus on his theaters, but he went on to the production side of films in the 1920s with his First National company. First National had such stars under contract as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. The company would later merge with Warner Bros. Tally’s Electric Theatre was not so fortunate, however. It closed in the July of 1903, becoming the Lyric vaudeville theater instead. In 1910, the Lyric turned back to movies as Glockner’s Automatic Theater. It closed in 1930. The Council of Motion Picture Organizations celebrated Tally’s Electric Theatre’s fiftieth birthday from 1951 to 1952. Over the course of the year, movie stars toured the country, ads were taken out in newspapers, and one “typical American” family won a trip to Hollywood. The building that had been home to Tally’s Electric Theatre was demolished in 1998.

Lais, C.J.. 'First' movie theater opened 111 years ago today. Times Union. April 02, 2013. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Tally's Electric Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. Cinema Treasures. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Glockner's Automatic Theatre. Cinema Treasures. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Rayside, Jessica. Tally's Electric Theatre in Los Angeles is the first motion picture theater that started out charging ten cents a ticket per customer. Famous Daily. Accessed February 28, 2018.

Valentine, Maggie. The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre. New Haven, Connecticut. Yale Universtiy Press, 1994. Via Google Books.

"Movies Plan 50th Birthday Celebration." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette(Pittsburgh), September 03, 1951. Via ProQuest.

Wagenknecht, Edward. American Profile, 1900-1909. Amherst, Massachusetts. University of Massachusetts Press, 1982. Via EBSCOhost

Tally's Broadway Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. Cinema Treasures. Accessed February 28, 2018. Photo source.