Hollywood Pantages Theatre
The Pantages Theatre today. Photo by Adrian Scott Fine for the LA Conservancy.
The interior of the Pantages lobby.
The Pantages Theatre in the 1950s. Photos from the Pantages website.
Backstory and Context
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 Brown Sugar.
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.
Building History. Hollywood Pantages. . Accessed March 14, 2018. https://www.hollywoodpantages.com/about/building-history. Information and photo source.
Pantages Theatre. Los Angeles Conservancy. . Accessed March 14, 2018. https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/pantages-theatre. Information and photo source.
Pantages Theatre. Cinema Treasures. . Accessed March 14, 2018. http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/292.
Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Discover Los Angeles. . Accessed March 14, 2018. https://www.discoverlosangeles.com/what-to-do/culture/hollywood-pantages-theatre-1. Photo source.
The First Televised Oscars Opening in 1953. YouTube. April 02, 2013. Accessed March 14, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOtp4dli7-4.