March 08, 2017

Photo Essay: The Last of Pantages' Vaudeville Palaces

I have some vague memory of my parents taking me to a circus when I was a little kid. I remember the smell of popcorn, and the discomfort of sitting on bleachers.

But then again, I'm not 100% sure that actually happened. I might've dreamt it. Or I might've seen it in a movie or on TV and accepted it as a document of my past.

In my adult years, I've refused to go to the circus because it doesn't seem like a good place for animals to be working. (Though, I'll admit that witnessing the "Elephant Walk" in Manhattan's Murray Hill neighborhood was terribly exciting, back in the day.)

But then I found out about Circus 1903, which uses life-sized puppet elephants. If nothing else, it was a great excuse to go back to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood.

I'd been to the Pantages once before—nearly three years ago, to indulge myself in a production of Ghost: The Musical. It sort of satisfied my yen for Patrick Swayze, which is maybe why I didn't bother to take any photos back then.

Or maybe I'd just been spoiled by all the behind-the-scenes tours I'd been taking of historic theaters around LA; and maybe I'd just thought that if I couldn't get into any off-limits spaces, it wouldn't be worth writing up.

I've since come to my senses.

After all, the Hollywood Pantages is an explosion of Art Deco...

...from the forecourt to the outer lobby, and from the metal-leafed statues in the Grand Lobby... all of the ornate ceilings upstairs in the mezzanine lobby...

...and the etched glass of the lounges.

It's almost too many ziggurats and stardusts and chevrons in the public area, making it practically a caricature of an Art Deco movie palace.

But it's only almost too much. Because I can't imagine what ornamentation could ever be sacrificed.

Certainly not the Malibu Tile fountains at either end of the inner lobby.

And definitely not the ceiling murals, nor the (replica) Art Deco lighting fixtures.

The auditorium is grandiose, too, with an intricate ceiling that's backlit in blue and organ grilles that never even housed an organ.

In fact, it's almost disappointing when the house lights are brought down and you can no longer crane your neck to look up at the kaleidoscope above.

This Pantages, which opened in 1930—the last of several built, though probably the grandest of them all—is now used primarily as a "legit" theatre of stage productions (Broadway touring company shows and the like) and doesn't show any movies anymore.

But it's interesting to compare it to the other works of its architect, B. Marcus Priteca, and relish in the fact that it's still intact, in all its glory.

You don't even have to wait for a periodic tour of it because tickets are available for its shows all of the time!

But get there early to take full advantage of all the staircases and hallways for wandering and ghosts for hunting—even if you don't get backstage.

Related Posts:
Riding the Red Line to Haunted Hollywood
Photo Essay: Warner Grand, San Pedro, Open to the Public
Photo Essay: The Last Movie Theatre of Beverly Hills 
Elephant Walk

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