Burbank Theatre

548 S. Main Street,
Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Additional Info

Architects: James M. Wood, Robert Brown Young

Styles: Art Deco, Romanesque Revival

Previous Names: Morosco's Burbank Theatre, Burbank Follies

Nearby Theaters

Burbank Theatre exterior during razing

Construction began on the Burbank Theatre in 1887. It was opened by Dr. David Burbank and opened November 27, 1893. It was designed by architect Robert Brown Young. In 1899 it was leased out to Oliver Morosco. In late-1915 it was remodeled and reopened on January 15, 1916 as a movie theatre. Around 1937 the exterior was remodeled in an Art Deco style and became a newsreel theatre for a while. By the 1940’s it was offering movies and a burlesk show. By the 1950’s it was known as the Burbank Follies. It was demolished in 1973 and the site became a parking lot. In 2018 apartments had been built on the site.

Contributed by William Gabel

Recent comments (view all 91 comments)

vokoban on February 6, 2009 at 10:09 am

Yes, I saw it. It was kind of hard to tell, but it did look kind of vacant. There’s another movie on that disc called A Piece Of The Action that I haven’t watched yet. I don’t know if it was filmed in Los Angeles.

kencmcintyre on February 6, 2009 at 10:14 am

The Burbank was long gone when I moved to LA in 1984. I think the Art and Optic were still around, though. I lived downtown the first two weeks I was here, but I never made it over to Main Street, so I don’t recall seeing any of those theaters.

KDG on March 15, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Well, I just did the same thing as someone else in a previous post. Got my whole comment done here, forgot to log in and lost the post.
I’ll re-do it later.

CONELRAD1999 on April 20, 2009 at 9:48 pm

CONELRAD.com just posted this item on that concerns “atom bomb dancers” performing at the Burbank just two days after the Hiroshima bombing: View link

kencmcintyre on May 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Here is a 1908 ad from the LA Times:

kencmcintyre on May 5, 2009 at 5:38 pm

The Burbank is on the right in this circa 1950s photo:

Kelyn on July 6, 2009 at 8:11 pm

Harry Carr Los Angeles City of Dreams (Illustrated by E.H. Suydam), D. Appleton-Century Co.: NY, 1935, 402 pp.
“ …

Chapter XV Underneath the Surface
p. 173 When I got a job as a reporter on a newpaper it was like moving into a new city … a Los Angeles I had never dreamed of; like going from a drawing-room through a trapdoor into an exciting and mysterious sub-basement … a world of crooks, policemen, actors, politicians.
I was still little more than a schoolboy when I began to write for an evening paper. Before I was old enough to dry behind the ears I was appointed dramatic critic.
The movies had not yet happened. There were two stock companies, a vaudeville house, and an occasional road show at the De Lux Theeater.
Lillian Goldsmith was then a vaudevill headliner with her exquisite little playlets: George Fuller Golden was the star monologist; McIntyre and Heath … Papinta, a raw-boned Mexican girl who danced with rainbow flaring (p. 174) skirts over plate-glass flushed from below with colored lights.
The Burbank Theater on Main Street was under the management of Oliver Morosco, who had been a professional acrobat. His piece de resistance was Tim Frawley’s traveling stock company. To our unsophisticated little pueblo it was rather a tony affair and the elect bought tickets for the season.
At another house down Main Street was a ten-twenty-thirty house that was considered to be somewhat beneath our notice. It thrilled the galleries with heroines who were tied by villains to railroad tracks, to be rescued by the magnificient young hero just as a teetery prop train came roaring out of the wings. The death-defying hero was William Desmond, afterward of movie fame, and the innocent heroine was Laurette Taylor. Afterward Miss Taylor married a charming young Irishman named Hartley Manners. He wore the first monocle ever to over-awe our pueblo. Under his influence, Laurette stopped dodging buzz-saws and railroad trains and moved over to the more aristocratic Burbank.
Mail service was slow in those days. One time a mauscript failed to arrive for the next week’s show and I well remember the panic at the stock compandy. I happened to be standing in the lobby of the theater wtih Hartley Manners when Morosco came out and told of the disaster. He asked Manners if he could scratch together some kind of play to tide them over for just one night. Manners consented and the little make-shift play that he scrambled together was “Peg o’ My Heart”-one of the greatest bix-office gold mines in the history of American theatricals. It has been produced three times in the movies and hundreds of stock companies have played it all over the world. To his dying day, Hartley Manners was bitterly ashamed of it.
Morosco finally moved to a new theater over on Broad (p. 175)way where he never quite repeated his triumps, Still …
One day they got into another panic for lack of a play, and an actress named Ann Nichols filled the gap with a piece she had written. It did not make much impression upon our pueblo. It lasted a week. It was “Abie’s Irish Rose,” which holds all world’s records for continuous runs.
Another company that came periodically to the Burbank in those days was the Frank Bacon Stock Company. Frank was from somewhere up the state. He was periodically on the edge of going broke and I recall how we used to consult as to what kind o story I could write for the paper that would get enough money into the house to pay off the actors on Saturday night. He was never more than one jump ahead of the sheriff. His favorite play was “General Grant’s Picture” … which he had written himself. In the Bacon family was an old farm which he sold for a song to help out the weekly play-roll. He told me that anyhow the farm wasn’t any good-couldn’t be worked -one corner was all gummed with sticky stuff. When the purchaser made a huge fortune by drilling for oil in the sticky, worthless soil, Frank only rubbed his nose and laughed.
Years after, I spent an afternoon with him in New York. He was then playing in “Lightnin,’” which was finishing its third year at standing room only. We went aroung behind the scenes and he told me in a hoarse whisper the secret. “Just the same character I’ve been playing all my life,” he said … “Just Old Bill who was in those plays I used to write in California. They wouldn’t have him then; now he is packing them in. Sell-out for three years every night.” He looked around cautiously to be sure we were alone; then he said slyly, “Carr, let me tell you. This play “Lightnin’” isn’t any good. Shucks, it ain’t worth a damn. Never expected it to get over at all. Now “General Grant’s Picture” there was a play.”
p. 176 Two blocks down the street from the Burbank was another stock house called the Belasco. It was under the management of a cynical, charming young fellow named John Blackwood. He had brains and sophistication. Leading ladies came and went but the pueblo would never consent to the changing of the leading man;. he was Lewis Stone, who as a movie star has held a continuous place in the affections of the public for a longer period of time than any other actor. One of his leading ladies was Bessie Barriscale. Came a young playwright from the University of California. His name was Richar Walton Tully and he had play that concerned a goddess of a volcano in Hawaii; “Bird of Paradise” also became one of the great money-winners of theatrical history.
On east First Street was a little burlesque house-admission ten cents and you could bring your own garlic on your breath. The squalid girl show produced Blossom Seeley and other stars.
One of the girls in this show was crossed in love and, embittered, forsook the stage world. She went out to Antelope Valley; took up a government claim and, at the plow, yelling at her mules, wore out her theatrical costumes-ballet skirts and all.
There was another girl show in town. This was run by Pop Fisher on Spring Street. The leading lady was a blonde of some heft and a compelling charm, although she talked so loudly you could hear her on a clear day for a mile. She came nearly every night after the show to sit with the dramatic staff in the Times office. She was continually anxious for our opinions as to whether she was too fat to wear tights. At no other period of my life have I discussed legs so earnestly or with such critical analysis. The lady was Texas Guinan. Behin the scenes was an assistant stage director who was something of a genius at make-up. His job was to see that (p. 177)the scenery was ready, that the girls were ready and that they had their tights on straight. This was Lon Chaney, afterward the movie star. To his last day he never changed. His best friends as a movie star were the ham actors who had been with him in Pop Fisher’s stock house. When any of them came to his parties in evening dress, he tore off their shirts and gave them bath-robes in which to dine.
Even in the days of his glory, Chaney had qualities that few suspected. He had studied the human face so long and so carefully that he could see souls behind. One day we were sitting at the table in a studio cafe. “That girl over there,” he said, indicating a very beautiful girl at the next table,. “Well, I only know her to speak to; but I can tell you something about her. Do you notice how she has the air of cocking her head as though she were listening to some one behind her-like a nervous horse trying to watch the driver’s whip . Well, she goes home at night and somebody tells her that the director is all wrong. It is probably her mother. She will see her greatest days when she marries.” And that was exactly the truth and his prophecy was fulfilled. She is now one of the greatest stars in pictures.” p. 177

lroeder on May 31, 2010 at 12:46 pm

The Burbank Theatre was also known as “Morosco’s Burbank Theatre.” I have the brochure for the “Fiftieth Anniversary Testimonial to Harry S. Duffield,” held at Morosco’s Burbank Theatre, Tuesday Afternoon, September 10, 1912. My grandmother’s company played there. She (Sophia Caldwell (also known as Virginia Richmond) ) was a West Virginia silent film acress and vaudeville actress studying with the Egan School of Music and Drama, then celebrating its fourth year. I’ll be happy to scan a copy of the flyer for anyone who is interested. Larry Winter Roeder, Jr. www.artbyroeder.com

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 21, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Although I’ve never found any photos of the interior of the Burbank from its later years, and I was never inside the theater myself, friends who did go there in the early 1960s told me that the interior was still very old fashioned. I don’t think that the 1930s remodeling, or any later remodeling, made any significant stylistic change to the interior of the theater. Essentially all that was done was to slap a streamline modern facade onto the old building and clean up the lobby a bit.

A bit of the original interior style is revealed in the two photos I have found, both from 1898 (the proscenium and the men’s lounge) and though it’s possible that these were altered by one of the early 20th century remodelings, I’m quite sure that there was nothing particularly Art Deco about the place. Main Street was already in decline by the time the Art Deco style emerged in the 1920s, and nobody would have been spending money to update an old theater there with anything as costly as Art Deco. One advantage of Streamline Modern, emerging during the depression of the 1930s, was that it was simple and could be done on the cheap.

The original exterior was of course Romanesque Revival, but the early interior looks to have been that awkward Victorian pastiche of styles that, in America at least, often went by the misleading name Queen Anne, or sometimes the somewhat more appropriate name Eastlake, after the English architect and writer Charles Locke Eastlake, who promoted a somewhat similar style in Victorian Britain.

DavidZornig on October 31, 2019 at 7:43 pm

Undated image added courtesy Ron Evry.
Advertised as Burbank Burlesque Theatre.

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