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