Hollywood Pantages Theatre: The Story of an L.A. Icon
The Hollywood Pantages Theatre, located on the famed corner of Hollywood and Vine, is one of the most prestigious and highest grossing live theatres in Los Angeles. Its playbill of historic movies, events, and theatrical performances have captivated audiences for decades and as its tenure has evolved, its stature as a cherished Hollywood landmark continues to flourish.
In 1930, theater mogul Alexander Pantages drew the curtain at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre for the first time with the debut of The Floradora Girl starring Marion Davies. Built as a movie palace along Hollywood Boulevard - then a bustling theatre district also housing El Capitan, the Egyptian Theatre, and Grauman's (now TCL) Chinese Theatre - the Pantages screened an array of “talkies” made lively with vaudeville performances between showings.
Like its neighboring kin, the Pantages’ décor was regal and elaborate with glistening chandeliers, byzantine statues, and elaborate gilded gold and silver kaleidoscope designs that adorned the vaulted ceilings. The lustrous theatre lured Hollywood elite with its premieres and Angelenos who sought an escape from the rigors of life heightened by The Great Depression.
Famed business mogul, pilot, and producer Howard Hughes acquired the building in 1949 through his RKO company, a radio and film production circuit that also co-owned El Capitan. They changed the name to RKO Pantages, and Hughes transformed the second floor into offices. It is rumored that his ghost still taunts the building when audiences have dispersed and the theatre is vacant.
Also in 1949, the Academy Awards brought its spectacle to the site, further legitimizing the venue as a go-to for Hollywood’s Golden Age. With an 11-year run that included the first-ever televised Oscars broadcast in 1953, the awards show welcomed the likes of hosts Fred Astaire and Bob Hope, and nominees and winners including Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando, Kirk Douglas, Cecille B. DeMille, Joan Crawford, and Bette Davis. Best Motion Picture accolades were awarded for The Greatest Showman on Earth, On the Waterfront, and in its last year at the Pantages, Gigi. Grace Kelly snagged Best Actress for The Country Girl in 1955, just a year before she traded that title for “Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco.”
In 1967, Pacific Theatres bought the building and embarked on a refurbishment that revived sections of the theatre closed during the Hughes era. During the redesign, the ceilings were dropped and covered with stucco, while the walls were also concealed. A decade later, they partnered with The Nederlander Organization to repurpose the Pantages and usher it into a new era as a stage exclusively for live performances. They enhanced its theatrical capabilities and reopened in February 1977 with Bubbling Brown Sugar.
At the turn of the century, Disney’s celebrated The Lion King was set to head West. The Pantages, ready for a costume change suited to welcome a production of this scale, embarked on a $10-million restoration, according to the Los Angeles Times. With nearly 300 people commissioned in the undertaking, no inch went unnoticed as a painstaking restoration revived the outer lobby, replaced missing chandeliers, and livened its walls. This task unveiled the Art Deco details of its luxurious origins and presented a majestic arena adorned in deep red fabrics and carpeting, and the glamour that nodded to its past.
When The Lion King premiered, the Pantages revealed an entirely new and upgraded theater paying homage to its history and embarking on a bright future. Since then, the Hollywood Pantages Theatre has welcomed an array of world-renowned shows and premieres, illuminating the city’s desire to partake in the magic of live theatre.
Los Angeles is renowned as the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” and the Pantages remains at its epicenter. Most recently, the internationally-known Broadway hit Hamilton engaged the city in a ticket frenzy, as the Pantages attracted a blitz of sold out shows. Premieres such as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story transformed the venue and Hollywood Boulevard in December 2016, and in years to come the stage will continue prospering with the changing of the seasons, and a masquerade of historic and new playbills.
6233 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles 90028