The Hollywood Pantages Theatre, completed in 1930, was the last movie palace built in Hollywood and the last built by theater magnate Alexander Pantages. The theater has changed ownership from the Fox Film Corporation (1930s and 1940s) to RKO (1950s and 1960s) to the Nederlander Organization (1970s to today). It has hosted nine Academy Award ceremonies as well as the premieres of such classics as Cleopatra. The Pantages was originally built for exhibition of both movies and live performances but is now solely dedicated to the latter.
Alexander Pantages was a Greek immigrant
who bought his first theater in Seattle. Dealing with prejudices from other
businessmen in the area prompted him to branch out. He soon owned a slew of
theaters in the western United States. His “crown jewel” was the Pantages
Theatre in Los Angeles, California. The movie theater featured elaborate
ceilings, grand staircases, and backstage areas for live performers, all for a
cost of $1.25 million. The art-deco style Pantages opened to a massive crowd of
Hollywood elite in 1930. It was soon realized that vaudeville acts were on
their way out of favor with audiences, and so the Pantages was dedicated solely
to film. In 1932, after financial troubles and personal scandal, Pantages sold
his namesake theatre to the Fox Film Corporation.
In 1949, multi-millionaire Howard Hughes
bought the Pantages Theatre for the studio he headed: RKO. The final contract
forbade the removal of Pantages’s name from the theater, and so it became known
as the RKO-Pantages Theatre. Hughes instituted offices for himself and his
employees in the building’s second story, which are still in use today. The
RKO-Pantages was honored in 1950 by becoming the home for the Academy Awards
Ceremony, an honor it would hold until 1959. It was from this theater that the
Oscars were broadcast on television for the first time. The blockbuster Cleopatra premiered in the Pantages in
1963 with tickets costing $250 per person. Proceeds went toward the
construction of The Music Center, which opened in 1964. RKO let go of the
theater in the winter of 1967, selling it to the Pacific Theatres chain. With
help from the Nederlander Organization, the company began refurbishment and
changed the Pantages from a theater for movies to one for live performances. It
reopened in February 1977 with the musical Bubbling
The Nederlander Organization, which
operates several historic theaters across the U.S., would go on to become the
sole owners of the Pantages Theatre and to continue their renovation efforts.
The building sustained some damage in a 1994 earthquake, leading to months of
repairs on the ceiling artwork. In the late 1990s, over three-hundred artisans
worked on restoring as much as of the theater’s former glory as possible. The
Pantages reopened once again in September 2000. In 2001, The Pantages Theatre
was the recipient of a Preservation Award from the Los Angeles Conservancy.
Recently, the Pantages turned movie-house once again for the premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.