The heart of the entertainment industry in America is undoubtedly Los Angeles. At the center of that sits Hollywood and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but it wasn’t always that way. Back before Grauman’s Chinese Theater brought droves of tourists from all over the world to the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater in Downtown’s Historic Theater Row was turning heads towards the newly-burgeoning film industry on the West Coast.
Let’s travel back to 1917. Charlie Chaplin has just burst onto the screen and the entire nation was fascinated by movies and film, but Hollywood Boulevard as we know it consisted of little more than farms and sheds. If you wanted to see a movie, or make it in the film industry, you had to go straight to downtown Los Angeles’ Theater Row. That was the place to be.
Architecture and Design of the Million Dollar Theater
1917 was the year that the Million Dollar Theater was opened and dubbed the first grand cinema palace. Joseph Mora designed the exterior of the theater, abandoning conventional designs that had been exclusive up until that point for a style that spoke of fantasy & intrigue. The Million Dollar Theater stands directly across from the Bradbury Building and is the northernmost theater in Downtown. The eight muses of the arts are pictured within the architecture, as well as symbols of Americana such as bisons and eagles. The building is highly decorated at its entrance, and nearly every facet of the structure is ornate and detailed beautifully.
The auditorium itself was designed by William L. Woollett, who would later work with Grauman to design the Metropolitan Theater, the largest movie theater in Los Angeles.
Opening Night at The Million Dollar Theater in Downtown LA
On November 26, 1917 “The Silent Man” directed by William S. Hart and written by Charles Kenyon was the first movie to premiere on opening night in Downtown. The film starred William S. Hart, Vola Vale, Robert McKim, Dorcas Matthews, J. P. Lockney, George Nicholes, and Gertrude Claire. Paramount Pictures was the production company behind this film, even over 100 years ago they were still behind it all.
The History of the Million Dollar Theater Since Then
Shortly after the grand premiere of the Million Dollar Theater, the Hollywood Walk of Fame had begun to show promise and Sid Grauman began work on his supremely famous Chinese Theater, which was where most of his attention probably went.
In the 1940s the theater was standing in as the second-run house for the famous Orpheum Circuit and took on acts such as Nat King Cole and Joe Liggins and The Honey Drippers. In 1949, Frank Fouce purchased the theater. Frank produced films in Spanish in the US, which led the theater to many experiences it may have not otherwise had. Mexican film star Antonio Aguilar worked with his rodeo horses live on stage for the very first time in the Million Dollar Theater and first dreamed the idea for his large rodeo productions that brought him great fame.
In the 70s, 80s, and 90s The Million Dollar Theater had an uptick in attendance because of a keen eye to the needs of the Hispanic community in Los Angeles. The long lines would wrap around the block, causing the LAPD to close down Broadway to traffic.
Currently, the theater sometimes shows historic movies and hosts special events after being purchased by Langdon Street Capital in 2017. Prior to that, in the early 2000s the theater spent a good amount of time closed, renovated to a residential space, and changed hands a number of times.