When we heard the Warner Huntington Park Theatre was sold last year, we knew we had to see it. Whether it was being renovated or demolished, the current interior was a mystery as it’s proved nearly impossible to find any photos after 1930. After a wealth of patience, we finally had a rare opportunity to document the theatre both inside and out.
The theatre opened on November 19, 1930, with the attraction “The Life of the Party.” It was designed by B. Marcus Priteca, the same architect of the Warner Grand San Pedro and our favorite LA movie palace, the Pantages. Priteca’s work never fails to impress with his immense attention to Art Deco details and iconic starburst ceilings.
Warner Bros. divested control to Stanley Warner Corp., who ran the theatre until 1968. It was then operated by Pacific Theatres, but the Warner signage never changed. In its later years, it had a successful run showing Spanish language films. Sometime in the ’80s, the theatre was horizontally twinned (a floor was built at the balcony level, creating two smaller screens). It closed its doors in the early ’90s and has been abandoned ever since.
Our first impression of the lobby was the ’70s concession stand – to which we could only sigh at the thought of it’s likely-gorgeous predecessor. We only let our eyes rest on it for a second before exploring the rest. The frescos, the tile and the light fixtures in the lobby were already enough to convince us it was prettier than its San Pedro brother. The mezzanine offices were gutted, but really the lobby looked the same as the vintage photos.
We made our way back downstairs into the lower half of the auditorium. The seats were decrepit as expected, and there was minimal tagging. The carpet crunched beneath our feet as we made our way to the torn screen on the stage. The white and gold wall details were exciting, but didn’t prepare us for what we saw on the balcony level.
The ceiling and chandeliers were intact, and stunning. There was some visible water damage, but the paint hadn’t begun to peel or stain black from nicotine as bad as we expected. Aside from the awkward sloped “stage” it was beautiful. There was a moment of panic as we looked through the vintage photos and realized the proscenium was gone. Katie slowly climbed up to the stage, fretting that any second she would fall through the wooden slope. Upon a closer look, we found the proscenium hidden behind a mask of textured black spackle-like coating. It’s hard to say if it could be uncovered, but at least it hadn’t been torn out. Down in the barren concrete basement, we stumbled upon a small reserve of emergency drinking water in corroded barrels. A little further past them lay a pile of vintage cast aluminum marquee letters which were incredible.
It’s unclear what the current owners have planned for the building, although it most certainly does not include restoring the theatre. From the looks of the LoopNet listing, any retailer along the lines of Foot Locker, JC Penney, and the ever-squalid Fallas Paredes who can take up 30,000 SF of space can call the Warner Huntington Park its new home. While we would love nothing more than to see the theatre be brought back to life, it ultimately comes down to the neighborhood. Pacific Blvd. has seen a slow revitalization of shopping, but it is hard to say if the residents of Huntington Park and the surrounding neighborhoods can or will support the Warner as a full-time entertainment venue. Even then, the owner would need to restore the theatre and find someone to operate the venue and schedule events that would draw in locals.
Currently there is no word of any potential tenants. After we visited the theatre, we heard reports of break-ins, vandalism and theft so the doors are sealed shut. We hate to think of the Warner HP turning into the real estate renderings (that giant window would face an ugly parking lot and mean losing the stage forever), but we’re grateful to have seen it as a theatre space. Currently there are two Facebook pages working hard to gather support for the theatre’s future. You can find updates by following Friends of the Warner and I Support The Warners Theatre in H.P.
The best source online for the history of SoCal theatres remains Los Angeles Movie Palaces run by Bill Counter. You can find his writeup on the Warner Huntington Park here.
[UPDATE 12/1/14] : The LoopNet listing for the property was removed shortly after this article was shared on Curbed LA. Preservation efforts have stepped up and presented a case to the city council of Huntington Park, however it is still unclear if any action will be taken by the city or how the property owner will proceed.
Vintage images found on Los Angeles Movie Palaces via Bill Housos Collection