History of the State Theatre

Historic Photo of the State Theatre Auditorium
Interior in 1940; Source: Los Angeles Public Library

The State Theatre opened its doors on November 12, 1921, with Loew's vaudeville and A Trip to Paradise starring Bert Lytell. Loew's State Theatre was one of three operated by the circuit in California, and one of dozens across the country to bear the name Loew's State. Its location at Seventh and Broadway proved to be the most profitable theatre location in Southern California entertainment history. It is still the most profitable of several downtown theatre operations today. Occupying half a block on the west side of Broadway, Loew's State was situated at the apex of the city's two busiest retail streets, and the major intersection of the Los Angeles Railway System, a 1,000 mile street railway network which provided low cost public transportation from virtually every corner of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, including many of its suburbs.

The 2,350 seat auditorium was designed by the San Francisco firm of Weeks & Day, who would later design Fox Theatres in San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose, and Oakland. The San Diego Fox has already been renovated as a symphony hall, and restoration of the San Jose Fox is now complete. Weeks & Day designed an eclectic auditorium which has been described as Spanish Renaissance in style. It is surrounded on two sides by a 12 story height limit retail/office frontage, faced with Southern California's largest brick veneer facade. Both the theatre and office building are of Class I-A steel reinforced concrete construction. The facade combines brick and rusticated terra cotta trim, and has been extensively illuminated with neon and floodlighting at various times in its history. Loew's State also held the distinction of having had more marquees than any other theatre in California. Originally, the theatre had two entrances; one on Broadway (which still exists) and another on Seventh Street which connected with the west end of the lobby. Both were equipped with single-line bronze canopies, which were later replaced by two-line marquees, accompanied by three vertical signs, and a neon display extending from the cornice line all the way to the ends of the building. The original tin and glass lettering systems were first enhanced by light bulbs, then replaced by neon and plastic. The surviving marquee dates from 1949.

Both silent films and Loew's vaudeville were successfully accompanied by an un-amplified pit orchestra until 1925. At that time Loew's acquired MGM Studios, installed a 3 manual, 13 rank Wurlitzer pipe organ and turned the vaudeville operation over to Fanchon & Marco. From 1925 until 1935, Fanchon & Marco parlayed their operation here into a touring road show operation which placed "prologues" in theatres as far east as the Roxy in New York, and which ultimately earned them their own chain of theatres here in Los Angeles. Their story was immortalized in the 1933 Warner Brothers film classic, "Footlight Parade." Among the famous troupers to appear at Loew's State during these years were a perennial favorite called the Meglen Kiddies, many of whom became stars for Hal Roach's "Our Gang" comedies. A 1929 attraction from Bakersfield, called the Gumm Sisters, featured a lead singer who earned the nick name of "leather lungs" because of her ability to be heard distinctly all the way to the back of the 125 foot long auditorium. With the discontinuance of vaudeville at the State in 1935, the Gumm Sisters and the Fanchonettes traveled to Culver City to appear in an experimental Technicolor musical called Fiesta in Santa Barbara, "Leather Lungs" changed her name to Judy Garland, and put her six years experience at Loew's State to a new use.

Continuing as the downtown home of first run MGM Pictures from 1935 to 1955, Loew's State continued to attract crowds into the 1960's, when Loew's decided to re-enter California and attempted unsuccessfully to reacquire the lease it had abandoned a few years earlier. On August 7, 1963, the theatre began its first Spanish language engagement with an opening night premiere of Cielo Rojo which brought out thousands of fans for a crowd scene not seen on Broadway since 1931. Although the history of the State Theater has been inextricably linked with MGM and film for the past 53 years, its 28 foot stage and acoustics successfully accommodated live performers for 14 years, most of it without any electronic amplification. Despite the stage's inactivity during the past half century, much of its rigging remains, including a sensational Armstrong-Powers fire curtain, depicting a fantasy city from a 1921 perspective. The theater's current tenant is the Cathedral of Faith. (Courtesy of L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation)