The poor Roxie Theatre has been standing on its last leg for a while now. For the last few years we’ve fawned (and cried) over the now-derelict Art Deco facade. We have seen vintage photos, and the interior was, admittedly, nothing spectacular. The seats and the ticket booth had been torn out years ago, and last we heard the auditorium was full of merchandise boxes and rubble from the shops that occupied the lobby. Never ones to turn down an opportunity to shoot the interior of a movie palace, we waited for our chance to get in. A few months ago, we received a tip that the retail space was being worked on (aka swapmeet expansion) so we ran over to check it out. After pleading with the construction crew, we ran up the stairs in the back of the lobby to see the auditorium.
Built in 1931, it was designed by John M. Cooper, the same architect for the adorably deco NuWilshire Theatre in Santa Monica. Not only was Roxie the last theatre built on Broadway, it was also the only theatre in downtown built in Art Deco style. It replaced the fantastic 1914 Quinn’s Superba theatre, which was demolished the same year that construction for the Roxie began. With a speculated 1600 seats, the theatre was built primarily to show films although it was equipped with a small stage and rigging capabilities for live performances. Sometime during the late 40s or early 50s, the marquee was replaced with the current (and terribly more unattractive) plastic marquee. In its later years, it was operated by Metropolitan Theatres primarily as a Spanish Language movie house. It shuttered its doors in 1989 and was purchased a few years later by Joseph Hellen, along with its two sister theatres, the Arcade and the Cameo.
We carefully hopped over cardboard boxes and trash that littered the stairs and the house left balcony lobby. There was a partition splitting the lobby into two spaces – one for each of the retailers occupying the lobby. We imagine the house right side of the lobby was equally a fire hazard. Ignoring the offices full of junk, we skipped straight into the auditorium balcony. There was only a single work light on the main floor, but it was enough to make out the deco trim, the plaster proscenium and organ grilles, and the large wall sconces, which seemed to have replaced the originals. Much to our surprise, there wasn’t any clutter in the theatre with the exception of the ticket booth tucked away in the corner. We peered down at the stage, which was left in a strange configuration from filming.
As we turned back to explore the booth, we were surprised by a mural of a blue, cloudy sky and an anxious construction worker who ushered us out. We waved goodbye to the Roxie, thankful for the first, and likely the last show it put on for us.
For more photos and history, check out the Historic Los Angeles Theatres page on the Roxie here.
Vintage image via USC Archive