Inside the Pantages Theatre: Hollywood’s Art Deco Fever Dream Movie Palace

Over the weekend Patrick and I finally had the pleasure of seeing Hamilton, which also meant we got to go to the iconic Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.

Myself, wearing a red maxi length dress with a small print of tiny leaves, standing in front of the Pantages

The massive neon blade style sign reading "Pantages" in blue neon.

A star like opening hangs above the doors to the theatre and is filled with hundreds of small bulbs filling the area with light.

"RKO Pantages" reads above lighted frames that hold Hamilton posters. Everything is framed in wild Art Deco motifs.

A massive pointed star like shape sits above the exterior doors and features many bulbs to flood the outside.

In gold above a doorway reads "Hollywood Pantages Building" in a crisp Art Deco font.

The Pantages Theatre welcomed Los Angeles citizens on June 4, 1930, becoming the last movie palace built in Hollywood. Designed by B. Marcus Priteca and owned by Alexander Pantages, it served dual purposes, as it was also set up for live vaudeville performances in addition motion pictures. The exterior features a massive blade style neon sign above its marquee and up until March of last year it was the original sign. When the sign came down rumors swirled that it was going to be replaced by garish LED, however the theatre saw the light (pun fully intended) and replaced it with fresh neon. Sleek Art Deco details are scattered on the outside, but once you step inside, the Art Deco design overwhelms you. There are layers upon layers of angular shapes and swirling curly-Qs nearly everywhere you look. Chandeliers hang from an arched lobby, life size gold statues flank staircases that pay homage to the film and aviation industries, and reliefs on the walls depict various industries known in California, from entertainment to agriculture to oil, as well as USC.

Just two years later Pantages sold this gem to the infamous Howard Hughes, who owned RKO Pictures. Hughes set up his private offices as well as a screening room on the upper floors and rumors say his ghost still walks the floors. During Hughes’ reign, the Pantages hosted the Academy Awards ceremony from 1950 to 1960. Then in 1965 (or 1967 according to another source) Pacific Theatres purchased the Pantages. By 1970 the Pantages became strictly a live performance venue, and in 1977 Pacific partnered with Nederlander Organization, a theatre company originally out Detroit and now based in New York. The Pantages received an extensive rehab in 2000, restoring the Art Deco palace to its former glory and becoming the home for Broadway in Hollywood, with musical tours coming and going.

Overall view of the lobby, which features an arched ceiling with colorful decorative elements. In the middle hang three chandeliers of gold metal and white glass.

Black and white photo of an Art Deco stylized maiden statue holding a shielf.

A massive round chandler hangs from a highly detailed and textured ceiling of Art Deco designs featuring swirls and sharp angles.

Black and white photo of an Art Deco style image on tile that is flanked by relief work done in a swirling Art Deco motief.

Life size gold Art Deco statue of two people, one holds an airplane model

Black and white photo of the exit sign above the doorway, which is framed in an intricate Art Deco design.

Myself, wearing a red maxi length dress with a small print of tiny leaves, standing in front of an Art Deco tiled mural, with a design of blue, gold, green and red.

Black and white photo of one of the tiered Art Deco chandeliers.

Looking up at a statue of a golden maiden with two horns in her hands. Behind her another silver maiden holds a mask, behind her gold figures appear to be filming a western film.

Black and white photo of a tiered Art Deco sculpture feating shell like designs, and laurel leaf like elements along with curls and waves.

Three gold and white Art Deco chandeliers hang from an arched ceiling of the lobby. Various Art Deco shapes of triangles, diamonds and more make up a complex artistic ceiling.

An Art Deco relief showing a silver woman holding a disc that has a shutter like image on it, behind her gold figures show athletes, and workers. Other Art Deco decorative elements surround her in shades of red, green and tan.

Various Art Deco details of an arched gold design, a gate like silver design, with red backing.

Black and white image of life size Art Deco statues, one has their hands on a film camera, the other stands behind with their hands on the shoulders of the cameraman.

A painting of winged Icarus holding a glass light fixture on the ceiling.

A small lighted sign reads "Cocktails" above the staircase to the cocktail lounge.

Myself, wearing a red maxi length dress with a small print of tiny leaves, standing in front of an Art Deco tiled mural, with a design of blue, gold, green and red.

An intricate silver Art Deco style relief sits above a doorway with a red backing and gold details below.

A gold and silver woman holds the California seal, with gold people behind her displaying the various agriculture elements of California.

Black and white image of a light fixture that has a flame like glass shade popping out of an Art Deco stylized leaf like base.

To the right of the stage are two arched openings, one features a red velvet curtain and other has a large grate on it. Art Deco motifs surround the openings.

Intricate design of the ceiling inside the theatre itself.

The stage is set for Hamilton, a brick background with a U-shaped wooden platform.

Playbill for Hamilton, which features a black star, but instead of a point at the top, stands the silhouette of a man with his hand in the air.

Myself, wearing a red maxi length dress with a small print of tiny leaves, standing in front of the Pantages

An icon of Hollywood, the Pantages has been used time and time again in films. Most often it “plays itself” but every now and again it is a stand in for another location, such as the interior of Ritz Gotham in Batman Forever for Edward Nygma’s (Jim Carrey) grand party. While very dimly lit, some of Art Deco details are noticeable, and the gold life size statues by the staircases are visible, although oddly draped in gold fabric.

The lobby as it appears in Batman Forever, with a massive fountain in the center, dimly lit, but with colored lights scattered, a large crowd on the floor.

The staircase as it appears in Batman Forever, with the staircase statues oddly swaddled in gold fabric.

Batman crashes from the ceiling into the fountain below. While dimly lit, the deco details on the wall are just visible.

Some of my personal faves have filmed both inside and outside, including Ed Wood, in which the exterior used for the premiere of Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Screencap from Ed Wood, a straight on shot of the fronnt of the Pantages. The marquee reads "Plan 9 From Outer Space."

In LA Confidential the lower half of the blade neon and part of the marquee are visible, just as Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) emerges from the next door Frolic Room.

Screencap from LA Confidential. The lower part of the blade neon sign and marquee sits off to the right, while the colorful neon of the Frolic Room is off to the left.

The Pantages was fittingly used in the Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator, for yet another film premiere.

Exterior entrance of the Pantages as it appears in The Aviator, a flood of people crowd as stars arrive for a movie premiere.

The lobby as it appears in The Aviator, with the life size gold statues flanking the staircase.

The small sign reading "Cocktails" just barely visible in The Aviator.

And the Pantages briefly appears in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood as Rick (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff (Brad Pitt) drive by.

The Pantages as it appears in Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood, with the marquee lit up for 3 in the Attic.

To check out other movies that the Pantages, and other LA cinemas, have been in, I highly recommend the blog Historic L.A. Movie Theatres in Movies.

As for the musical itself, I quite enjoyed it! Something you may not know about me, and Patrick for that matter, is that once upon a time we were theater kids. We spent much of our high school years involved in our school’s theater program, and during summers a semi-professional theater company moved into our school’s auditorium, and we worked within it as well. So I have a soft spot for seeing plays and musicals and have been known to bust out the show tunes from time to time. However, when it comes to show tunes, I refuse to listen to the soundtracks from musicals unless I’ve seen the show, so while everyone was rockin’ out to “My Shot” a few years back, I just smiled and nodded. We missed the first two tours of Hamilton when it came to LA, and we snatched up tickets for the third tour over a year in advance. Then COVID hit, and the show was delayed. We pushed our tickets back hoping that by November 2021 things would be more under control. And seriously if it wasn’t for the anti-vaxxers we probably would be more in the clear by now. I was still on the fence about going, but when Broadway announced they would be requiring proof of vaccination and masks I felt a little more at ease. However I’ll admit it was longer sitting in one place than I want to do again in the very near future.

Visit the Pantages at 6233 Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. Check out what shows are coming and purchase tickets through Broadway in Hollywood.

Sources
About the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Broadway in Hollywood. Accessed 10 November 2021.
Pantages Theatre. Los Angeles Conservancy. Accessed 10 November 2021.
Pantages Theatre Gets New Sign For First Time Since 1930.” CBS Los Angeles, 4 March 2020. Accessed 10 November 2021.

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