Vanished Venues: The Forgotten History of West Hollywood’s Old Theatre District

A few of the actors who appeared on the old theatre district stages, clockwise from top left: Kathleen Freeman, Michael Landon, Barbara Bain, Jack Nicholson, Carolyn Jones, Harvey Korman, Ellen Corby and William Schallert.

The price of progress for a thriving small city like West Hollywood is that the past – the city’s history – is constantly being erased. There’s no better example of this than the wiping clean from the city’s collective memory of a once vibrant legitimate theatre scene in central West Hollywood.

Over the years hundreds of actors performed on the old theatre district’s stages. Some were seasoned pros already known for their stage and film work. Others were unknown at the time who went onto have successful movie careers. The majority who found fame later, however, became household names by starring on television in the 1960s.

What follows is an overview of the theatres from the old district, including noteworthy plays produced there along with the names of actors, directors and producers who became familiar names in television and film and the stage.

The first of the theatres was The Coronet (A), which opened on La Cienega Boulevard in 1947. It continued to serve as a playhouse until 2008 and remains active as a performance space today. The next theatre to open was originally called the Century (B). It launched in 1949 with the backing of investors that included some of the biggest names in Hollywood, from Clark Gable to Ronald Reagan. It changed names in the 1950s to the Civic Theatre, later became the Warner Playhouse and eventually an adult movie house. There is a restaurant there today.

But the centerpiece of the old West Hollywood theatre district was the Players Ring (E), on Santa Monica Boulevard. at North Flores Avenue. Also launched in 1949, it was groundbreaking for its day in that it presented plays in the round. The Players Ring was so successful by the 1950s that its producer-owners, Paul Levitt and Ted Thorpe, added two nearby theatres to the organization, the Gallery (H) at Santa Monica and Crescent Heights boulevards – which they renamed the Players Ring Gallery – and the aforementioned Civic Theatre on La Cienega.

The oldest theatre was the Carmel/Fox Theatre (G), on Santa Monica Boulevard between Crescent Heights and Havenhurst, a small but elegant movie palace built in 1924. For a year or so in 1957-58, it was converted into a legitimate theatre called the Carmel.

In 1960 another group of actors opened the Cameo Theatre (D) next door to the Players Ring that presented comedies in the round.

A year later, the county demolished the original Players Ring Gallery to make way for widening the intersection at Crescent Heights. Producers Levitt and Thorpe moved the Gallery to a 1925 storefront they’d converted into a theatre two doors east of the Players Ring. The venue changed names several times over the years, but eventually it came to be called the Coast Playhouse (F). Still standing today, the Coast was purchased by the city of West Hollywood in 2016. It is currently dark for the most part, awaiting renovation.

The Players Ring theatre at North Flores was destroyed by a fire in 1964, and it and the Cameo Theatre next door were razed to make way for a retail development, the shopping center at Santa Monica and North Flores Avenue where Hollyway Cleaners, Earthbar and a restaurant are located today.

The final addition to the theatre district is still standing, like the Coronet and the Coast – and like the Coronet it is still active as a performance space. Established as the Globe Playhouse (H) in 1973, the steel-clad building located off Santa Monica Boulevard on Kings Road was later home to the Macha Theatre for many years. Earlier this year it was acquired by the 11:11 Experience, which will present plays as well as other entertainment events.

Next: Vanished Venues 1: The Coronet Theatre.

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