The Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro, California was open for business on January 20, 1931 with the showing of “Goin’ Wild”, starring Joe. E. Brown. It was designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca and artist Anthony Heinsbergen, who are both well known in the Los Angeles area for designing the Hollywood Pantages Theater, which still stands as a theater today. Although it was not the first “movie palace” of it’s kind, the Warner Grand Theatre contains a unique design. It was made with an art-deco style featuring long, curved staircases, marble facades, and unique, hand-crafted patterns on the ceilings and the mezzanines. It was once given the name “The Castle of Your Dreams” by Jack Warner, Jr.
The Warner Grand Theatre was one of three theaters to be built by the Warner brothers in the Los Angeles area during the 1930’s. The other two that were built were the Warner Brothers Beverly Hills and the Warner Brothers Huntington Park, which were also built by the team of Priteca and Heinsbergen. The Huntington Park and San Pedro theaters were built at the same time with a combined budget of about one million dollars, and were seen as “advanced theaters” for the time. They both had refrigeration containers for concessions, as well as air conditioning, seating for about two thousand people, and accommodations for a new type of screen, called the magnascope. Although it was built to accompany vaudeville acts and live music, the Warner Brothers never utilized it in that manner. The Warner Grand Theatre was also the first theater in the south bay of Los Angeles to have the equipment for sound films installed.
The San Pedro project was an attempt to reach out to smaller, middle class suburban areas and family-oriented communities, which they succeeded in. People were excited about theaters and films, as the “talkies” were a pretty new concept in the 1930’s. The community welcomed the new San Pedro theater with open arms, shown by maximum occupancy on weekends. The theater showed all genres of films that were popular at the time, such as horror films and dramas, such as “Elmer the Great”. However, the Warner Grand Theatre showed mostly films released by Warner Brother’s studios, such as the crime drama “Three on a Match” and the comedy “The Jewel Robbery”.
Although the theater was lively and popular during its first few years, it slowly lost its audience to the effects of the depression. The theater was in a state of decline during these years. It had numerous name changes, including “The San Pedro Theatre” in 1937 and “The Stanley Warner Theatre” in 1959. In the 1970’s and 1980’s the Warner Grand Theatre was utilized as a Spanish film theater and went by the name Teatro Juarez, or Juarez Theatre. They showed only Spanish-language films at this time, with a mostly Spanish audience.
In 1996, a plan to turn the theater into a swap meet brought about a strong unity among the local community and their love for the theater. Shortly after the proposal, The Grand Vision foundation was formed by these concerned citizens to preserve the beloved Warner Grand Theatre. The city of Los Angeles also recognized the theater as an important piece of history, so they bought it and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places. The Grand Vision foundation works on restoring the theater to show the community the importance of the arts. They also run events such as plays and other live performances. They are headquartered at a storefront located down the street from the Warner Grand Theatre called the Grand Annex, which has been retrofitted into a concert space where they host a variety of local performances and film screenings. Since 1996, they have raised over five million dollars through fundraising and local donations. This money has been put towards many restoration projects within the Warner Grand Theatre, the most recent being the repairing of the mezzanine ceiling, which was completed in 2010. Many restoration specialists were present to analyze the design in order to restore it to its original, intended look. They had to identify key colors, such as the original gold color, which was used for a beautiful leaf design throughout the ceiling. Today, only the crew that did the restoration can tell where the damaged area was. Past restoration projects include a stage extension, completed in 2008, reupholstering of seats, completed in 2007, and a deep cleaning and re-carpeting of the lobby floor, which was also completed in 2007. The seats were the most needed, as they still wore the red, green, and gold fabrics that resemble the colors of the Mexican flag from the days of the Teatro Juarez. They were made up of multiple types of fabric and were beginning to make the audience uncomfortable. They decided to completely revamp the torn seats, adding all new theater seating which were slightly larger than the previous ones. They kept the art-deco styled ends of the seats, as well as the original upholstery design from the theater’s opening day.
The Warner Grand Theatre is still owned by the City of Los Angeles and is available for use as a venue for live performances, presentations, film screenings, and even film shooting. It is the last of the three Warner Brothers theaters built in the Los Angeles area during the 1930’s, as the Warner Brothers Huntington Park was divided into two separate movie theaters and the Warner Brothers Beverly Hills was demolished and turned into a parking lot in the 1980s. The Warner Grand Theatre continues to connect the community surrounding it with it’s strong history and beautiful architecture.
Brownfield, Paul. “The Palace of San Pedro”. Los Angeles Times online, 1997.
http://articles.latimes.com/1997/dec/07/entertainment/ca-61474 November 26, 2014
“Warner Grand Theatre”. Los Angeles Conservancy online. https://www.laconservancy.org/locations/warner-grand-theatre November 26, 2014.
“Warner Grand Theatre History”. Grand Vision Foundation online. http://www.grandvision.org/warner-grand/history.asp November 26, 2014.
“Past Projects”. Grand Vision Foundation online. http://www.grandvision.org/restoration/past-projects.asp November 26, 2014.
“About Grand Vision”. Grand Vision Foundation online. http://www.grandvision.org/about.asp November 26, 2014.
Littlejohn, Donna. “Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro to relive its heyday”. Daily Breeze online, 2011. http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20110115/warner-grand-theatre-in-san-pedro-to-relive-its-heydey# November 26, 2014
M2A Milofsky & Michali Architects, Wharton & Griswold. “Warner Grand Theater Architectural Preservation Plan” Grand Vision Foundation online, 1988. http://www.grandvision.org/_publications/Architectural-Preservation-Plan.pdf November 26, 2014.
“Los Angles Times Online Archives, 1929-1940” Pollak Library online, California State University, Fullerton. November 26, 2014