A Look Inside the Fanciest CVS You’ve Ever Seen

Imagine you’re driving down the street and you see this…

A massive, foreboding, yet elegant building features curling Spanish Churrigueresque architectural details at the top and above the door. Large red letters spell "CVS" both in the middle of the building, and above the three arches at the doorway.

As the bold red letters spell out, this is indeed a CVS. There are thousands of them, or similar drug stores, across the country. But this one seems a little over-the-top…why is that? Well, once upon a time, this drug store was a glamorous movie palace.

Designed by William and Clifford Blach, who also designed other movie palaces such as the El Rey and Fox in Pamona, the Spanish Churrigueresque style movie palace opened as The Golden Gate in 1927. Originally this building as part of a larger complex, and was accessed by passing under grand marquees off of either Whittier or Atlantic, and into a courtyard. Ironically one of the outer-facing buildings was a drug store. The elegant movie palace once featured an astonishing clamshell concession stand to feed the 1,345 movie goers the theatre could seat.

In 1983 the theatre became the first location in East Los Angeles to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Just a few years later, in 1986 the theater shuttered, and the following year the Whittier Earthquake struck, damaging the outer buildings, which were later demolished in 1992.

Step inside today, and while it’s a far cry from the grandeur it once was, but if you look up, past the shelves of make-up, snacks, and drugs, and past the the florescent lights that are creatively attached to the store shelves (done so as to not harm the original interior), elements of the gilded movie palace still peek through. When CVS moved in in 2012, they originally planned to have a totally normal (read: boring) interior. Thanks to history lovers, many interior elements were saved and restored. Sadly the clamshell concession stand was not incorporated, but was said to be boxed up and currently sits in storage for possible future use.

Despite the regal Old World look of the building, a mid-century Googie style sign from the former Jim’s Burgers that once sat next door, offers a unique sign along the curb for the pharmacy.

The entrance to the CVS visible through tree branches. A small window sits in a faux balcony above the doorway. Three small arches also rest between the balcony and the doors. Large red letters spell "CVS" above the doors.

A massive, foreboding, yet elegant building features curling Spanish Churrigueresque architectural details at the top and above the door. Large red letters spell "CVS" both in the middle of the building, and above the three arches at the doorway.

Close-up of the window and balcony above the door. Arched details create a balcony frame, with small railing outside. Red letters reading "CVS" sit on three arches above the door.

A small faux balcony sits in the middle of the top, amid swirling leaf like designs, shells, and faces.

Details near the main entrance, which feature curls, shields and shells.

The upper portion of the exterior of the CVS. Architectural details are along the top, with red letters reading "CVS Pharmacy" in the middle.

Close-up of architectural details outside, which include a bearded face and shell.

Close-up of the window and balcony above the door. Arched details create a balcony frame, with small railing outside. Red letters reading "CVS" sit on three arches above the door.

A portion of the preserved ceiling, which features an open grate with a gold cross in the middle.

Gold details are visible above florescent lights that sit above shelves of make-up.

A circular deco style light fixture with some fancier gold elements.

Curved portions come out from a corner, featuring a detailed gold grill which would have hidden the pipes for the organ.

A gold shield and laurel wreath detail that is attached to the front of the former balcony.

A square light fixture with gold details.

Curved portions come out from a corner, featuring a detailed gold grill which would have hidden the pipes for the organ, sit high above the shelves.

Ceiling details, including a round, almost deco like fixture that features gold details.

The top of a square pillar features swags and shields in gold.

Gold details in the ceiling.

A gilded ceiling peeks through past the lights.

Curved portions come out from a corner, featuring a detailed gold grill which would have hidden the pipes for the organ, sit high above the shelves.

Gold details are visible above florescent lights that sit above shelves of snacks.

A mid-century modern sign featuring abstract shapes reads "CVS Drive Thru Pharmacy CVS/Pharmacy"

Movie palaces faced a difficult battle when multi-plexes started to take over the movie going industry, many were demolished, and some that were large enough converted to multi-plexes themselves, such as the Hollywood Theatre in Portland that we used to frequent. Many in Los Angeles have transformed into something other than a cinema, with this CVS just being one of the examples. For some, a conversion such as this can be heartbreaking, because the building is a ghost of what it once was. For me…well, I’m a sucker for aesthetics and history, but I have a practical side. While I would much rather visit a grand, functioning movie palace, if it can no longer function as such I am all for creative repurposing, and love an aesthetically pleasing CVS that has preserved some historical elements.

Curious to know what The Golden Gate looked like in its heyday, as well as after the last movie flickered on its screen but before CVS arrived? I recommend checking out this post from Los Angeles Theatres.

Step inside the grand CVS movie palace at 5176 Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles.

I learned of this CVS’s existence from the documentary Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace, by director April Wright, which I highly recommend. You can find out where to watch Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace via JustWatch. I also recommend Wright’s other work, including Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story and Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie. Wright is currently working on a sequel to her drive-in documentary, which you can help make a reality! You can also follow Wright on Twitter and Instagram.

Sources
A sign of charbroiled architecture recycled for new East L.A. Store.” The Eastsider, 27 April 2012. Accessed 24 March 2022
CVS/Golden Gate Theatre. Los Angeles Conservancy. Accessed 24 March 2022.
Salgado, C.J. “From Films to Pharmacy: Former East L.A. movie palace debuts in new roll as drug store.” The Eastsider, 20 August 2012. Accessed 24 March 2022.

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