Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Hooray for Hollywood: Pt. 1, Carthay Circle

This series of posts pays homage to a trilogy of books written by Martin Turnbull that I recently stumbled upon. Set among some iconic (and sadly many no longer existent) buildings, shops, and restaurants that were part of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Turnbull's novels feature fictional characters woven into the fabric of real-life Hollywood, taking the reader through a nostalgic journey. The three titles include, "The Garden on Sunset," "The Trouble with Scarlett," and his most recent, "Citizen Hollywood." HIGHLY recommended!

Built in 1926, The Carthay Circle Theatre at 6316 San Vicente Boulevard was designed by Carleton Winslow and A. Dwight Gibbs in the Spanish Baroque/Spanish Colonial Revival style. With its iconic octagonal high bell tower and neon sign, it made a famous name of the newly developed Carthay residential district in the Mid-City West district of Los Angeles, California.

Its auditorium of 1500 seats was shaped in the form of a perfect circle, extended vertically into a cylinder, set inside a square that fleshed out the remainder of the building. Initially developed by the Fox studio, it was called the Fox Carthay Circle Theater and built as a silent movie theater, boasting an impressive Wurlitzer Theater Organ. The first movie played at Carthay was Cecile B. DeMille’s "Volga Boatman" (1926).

A rare interior shot of the theater's lobby:

Much of the theatre's art collection focused on the explorers of the wild west who settled California. A drop curtain featured an homage to the pioneer Donner Party, which perished crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains, called “An Emigrant Train at Donner Lake” by Frank Tenney Johnson. There were busts and plaques celebrating scouts, a man who carried mail over the Sierras, and Dan the Miner, which sat in the theater’s vast forecourt as part of a fountain (seen in the photo below). Murals of historic scenes 40' tall, painted by Pasadena artist Alson S. Clark, impressed guests as they traveled through the theater.

Often the street medians of McCarthy Vista, from Wilshire Boulevard south to San Vicente Boulevard, were decked out with sets from the movies for their gala premieres, such as Disney's "Snow White" (Dec. 21, 1937):

and the Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power drama "Marie Antoinette" (1938), for which the gardens around the theater were enhanced to resemble the landscaping of the Palace of Versailles. Only Grauman's Chinese Theatre could rival the elaborate premieres held at Carthay.

For Disney's "Fantasia" (1940), the most elaborate audio system in use at the time, Fantasound, a pioneering stereophonic process, was installed at the Carthay.

Mike Todd showcased his 1956 blockbuster movie “Around the World in 80 Days," which caused some of the interior of the auditorium to be destroyed to accommodate the huge new Todd A-O screen. At the time, only two other theaters had the ability to show Todd A-O movies: The Egyptian and the downtown United Artists.

This photo can be dated to 1947, thanks to the marquee featuring the Paulette Goddard movie, "Unconquered."

The last movie shown at Carthay was "The Shoes of the Fisherman" (1968), starring Anthony Quinn and Laurence Olivier. The theater was demolished in 1969 and replaced by two low-rise office buildings and a city park.

Fortunately, this theater will live on as one of the vintage settings for Turnbull's upcoming fourth novel. Stay tuned for future announcements!

See more vintage & current Hollywood photos from my collection on my main website.

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Snow White Archive said...

Would have loved to have the opportunity to see a film at the Carthay in its heyday.

K. Martinez said...

I echo what Snow White Archive said. Wish I had been there. The Carthay Circle replica in DCA is now my favorite structure in that park. Nice background information you provided in this post. Looking forward to the other three parts. Thanks, Dave!

beachgal said...

There were some amazing movie houses to go to in the 40s - 60s. Carthay was nice still in the 50s. The Egyptian, Grauman's, Fox Westwood Village were great to see a movie at. The Warner & the Paramount were nice too - Warner's used to show the Cinerama movies before the big dome opened in early 60s in Hollywood. I liked some of the real 30s Moderne design ones around too. There was one in Inglewood called The Academy that was built to host the Academy Awards (then never did) that was ultra cool. It was the site for a lot of openings for movies as well in the 50s that my folks went to. Dad took me there to the LA premier of Breakfast at Tiffanys. George Peppard, Patricia Neal and Mickey Rooney were there but Audrey wasn't. Seemed at least Once a month,the big old arch spotlights were beaming the announcement skyward of a movie premier somewhere around Hollywood and the West side of LA. It was always a plus in my book when they had some of the costumes on display from the movie we were going to see at any theater - just made the dream a lot more dreamy to see 'real' costumes used in the movie right there. They printed off 'one-sheets' (or lobby cards as some call them). They were a series of stills from the movie with a little print info such as title and stars names on them. I used to collect them as a kid. They were free. We didn't see movies release 'city wide' or 'nation wide' on the bigger named films until later in the 60s. These 'first run' showing theaters often had costumes and props in the lobby displays. Sometimes the studios also put other older, still famous movie costumes on display in the bigger theater lobbies. A lot of the big named movies of the day, sold a lengthy souvenir program with lots of info and still photos of the movie and stars. The first couple weeks the movie was showing, they had an important looking person selling them from a table in the lobby. After the initial frenzy was a bit calmed down, one of the theater ushers sold those souvenir books. I had mine for The Windjammer, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Mogambo, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Oklahoma & So. Pacific for years. My all time favorite movie 'palace' to go to however was the RKO Pantages -- they don't come any more amazing looking than that one inside. It's been restored now and is one of the most spectacular theaters in Hollywood. Howard Hughes had his office upstairs in the Pantages in the 50s. It had that Hughes mystic hovering over it every time you walked in and wondered what door he might be behind!

K. Martinez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
K. Martinez said...

@Beachgal - I love reading your recollections of times past. You really bring it to life.

Wasn't the Fox in Westwood Village around for awhile? I seem to remember seeing a couple of movies in there during the early 1970s.

beachgal said...

K - The Fox Westwood is still there today - it's now Regency Village Theater. It's a declared landmark thus, thank goodness, would be very hard to tear it down. The old Fox Westwood is still a very common place for films to have premiers today.

Mar gar et said...

Wonderful post!

Martin simply rocks..I agree!