History of the Palace Theatre
The Palace Theatre opened on June 26, 1911 as the Orpheum Theatre—the third home of Orpheum vaudeville in Los Angeles, but the first new theater built specifically for the popular vaudeville chain. The theater building was financed by local businessmen and included four floors of offices as well as stores on Broadway.
The luxurious new theater had almost 2,000 seats on three levels, with no seat farther than eighty feet from the stage. The décor was elegant and subdued, with shades of gold, pink and blue predominating. Marble walls and mosaic tiles were used throughout the lobbies, and the basement featured a paneled men’s smoking lounge with a fireplace. The ladies lounge upstairs had windows overlooking the outer lobby and included a marble fountain.
The new Orpheum featured the very best in vaudeville including such luminaries as Sarah Bernhart, Al Jolson, Harry Houdini, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny and W. C. Fields. Shows were given twice daily and all evening seats were reserved. Shows were often sold out days in advance, and Orpheum vaudeville was considered the very highest quality in Los Angeles. The theater was successful from the day it opened until it was replaced fifteen years later by yet another Orpheum a few blocks away.
The theater was renamed the Broadway Palace in 1926 and featured musical comedy and variety shows. In 1929 the theater was leased by Fox West Coast Theaters and was renovated into a movie house. During this renovation the elegant side boxes were removed and replaced with large oil paintings depicting classical scenes. The projection booth was enlarged and the theater was wired for sound. It reopened with the world premiere of MGM’s Hallelujah!
For years the Palace operated as a second-run film house, usually getting a film a week or two after it had opened in one of the larger deluxe theaters nearby. This changed in 1939 when the theater was renamed the News Palace, and began to show only newsreels and documentaries. This policy continued throughout World War II, ending in 1947 when the theater again became the Palace and reopened with the premiere engagement of The Best Years of Our Lives. Although this run was successful, the theater gradually fell back to double features and second-run engagements throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Later it became a home for Spanish-language films from Mexico and occasionally featured stage shows along with the films.
The Palace had something of a revival in the 1990s when it was rediscovered by preservationists and Hollywood studios. There were special film screenings and the theater became a site for filming movies and television shows. Unfortunately the theater could not sustain itself as a film house when the output of Mexican films dried up. The theater closed in the year 2000 and was sold to developer Tom Gilmore. He tried to revive the theater for four years, finally selling the building to the Delijani family in 2004.
In 2011, the Palace Theatre celebrated its 100th birthday, following a $1-million renovation that is destined to help restore the theatre’s status as a popular Los Angeles venue for concerts, live performances, special events, film screenings and more.