August 04, 2013

Photo Essay: Warner Grand, San Pedro, Open to the Public (Updated for 2024—Temporarily Closed for Renovation)

[Last updated 1/2/24 1:05 PM PT—On January 1, 2024, the Warner Grand closed for renovations. Construction is estimated to complete in late 2025.]

Despite being sick in bed, today I managed to rally enough to get myself down to San Pedro for its 125th Birthday celebration, with the promise of being able to tour the historic Warner Grand theater on 6th St, in its historic downtown waterfront.

Starting in 1906, San Pedro's downtown used to be full of theaters. The rest of them are gone. Built during the era of the Picture Palace, in 1930 under the guidance of architect B. Marcus Priteca (also known for LA's City Hall and the Pantages Theater), the Warner Grand was the first theater in the South Bay equipped with sound, and it's the only one built by the Warner Brothers (others in Beverly Hills and Huntington Park) that remains intact. 

Unlike its neighbors, the Warners had no interest in putting on stage shows, and during their ownership, focused only on the exhibition of motion pictures.

Of course, like many of LA's historic theaters, its ownership has changed hands several times, operating in the 1970s and 80s as a Spanish language cinema (during which time some ceiling art was probably added). The City of Los Angeles purchased the theater in 1996 and now it's run by the Grand Vision Foundation, the "friends" organization responsible for its historic preservation and restoration projects, including lighting up the neon marquee...

...and focusing on the huge crack running along the checkerboard pattern terrazzo paving under the marquee in front of the ticket booth, one of the damaged areas that needs the most attention.

The rest of the exterior ticket lobby looks good: the marble and nickel octagon-shaped ticket booth has been properly cleared of a pigeon infestation...

...and a well-painted, light-studded ceiling, with its octagon- and square-shaped coffers containing rosettes, welcomes you into what Jack Warner used to call "The Castle of Your Dreams."

I walked in not knowing how much I would be able to see of the cultural/historic landmark...

...but to my great delight, I pretty much had free rein over the place, from the interior lobby... inside the house.

Lighting fixtures under the balcony are missing some parts...

...and everything in there looks pretty brown, the decades of nicotine from cigarette-smoking audiences covering up the original Neo-Byzantine color palette, as yet to be cleaned.

Upstairs past the Manager's Office, you get a better view of the house from the balcony...

...where you can see that some of the ceiling has been restored, including one singular lighting fixture.

From 2004-7, the "Save Your Seat" campaign managed to raise enough money to restore 1500 seats, whose torn and duct-taped 1970s vinyl (in a variety of colors) has been replaced with fabric that reproduces the original upholstery pattern. Broken springs and flattened foam stuffing were also replaced, and handicap accessibility added, layers of paint removed.

Other improvements include a new stage curtain, a stage extension, upgraded stage rigging and sound system, and new carpeting and aisle lighting. For added audience comfort, air conditioning was added to the building for the first time five years ago, which unfortunately may have contributed to the accelerated delamination of the ceiling paint, thanks to changes in humidity.

Although originally designed exclusively as a movie palace, The Warner Grand now has a regular schedule of events that go beyond movies to concerts, musical theater, ballet, etc. Anyone with a ticket can see all of these areas and more.

Fortunately, I didn't need a ticket today to go beyond the lobby, house and balcony to see behind closed doors. Stay tuned for photos from backstage, the basement, the projection booth, and many other secret corners of the Warner Grand.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: San Pedro's Sunken City

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