This Week in L.A. History: The Curtains Rise at Los Angeles Theater


January 30, 1931

The premiere of Charles Chaplin’s City Lights marks the grand opening of the Los Angeles Theater in downtown L.A.

Over 25,000 people flocked to the 2,000-seat, baroque style auditorium hoping to spot Hollywood stars as they walked a red carpet outside the theater. Albert Einstein was the evening’s guest of honor.

The Los Angeles Theater was known in its day as “The Theatre Unusual” for its alluring features—its state of the art technology, custom made furnishings, and extravagant décor. The lavish venue, which cost over $1.5 million in construction, was built in less than six months, remarkably in the midst of the Great Depression. Eager to see the audience’s reaction to his new silent film, Chaplin helped pay for the project to ensure construction was completed in time for the screening of City Lights. Despite Hollywood’s shift to sound cinema in 1929, Chaplin’s silent film received a standing ovation from the star-studded audience and received positive reviews from critics soon after the screening. The Los Angeles Theater quickly became the premier Hollywood destination for its glitz and glamour.

The majestic landmark’s heyday ended in the 1960s with Hollywood’s golden era. The theater closed to the public in 1994 and remained vacant for several years. Today it functions primarily as a film location for commercials, television shows, and major motion pictures.

*The image accompanying this post has been updated.

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  • John Bengtson

    In a case of art mimicking history, the same Los Angeles Theater was used as a location in last year’s Best Picture, The Artist, for the premiere of character George Valentine’s self-financed movie.

    You can see how the theater appears in The Artist, and other locations from The Artist, at this blog post.

  • ed baney

    City Lights was not a silent film. It was Chaplin’s first sound film.