Raising the Curtain on SoCal’s Theatre Gems

These cinema history survivors are still open for business.

The Broadway Theater District in Downtown Los Angeles is the first and largest historic theater district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With 12 movie palaces located along a six-block stretch, it is the only large concentration of movie palaces left in the United States. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times wrote: “There was a time, long ago, when the streets of downtown Los Angeles were awash in neon—thanks to a confluence of movie theaters the world had never seen before. Dozens of theaters screened Hollywood’s latest fare, played host to star-studded premieres and were filled nightly with thousands of moviegoers. In those days, before World War II, downtown L.A. was the movie capital of the world.”

Southern California is scattered with surviving movie housing of other eras, some grand and some tiny, but all packed with charm and nostalgia. And many are still showing films or live entertainment to this day. The OC Register recently featured some of the most notable. Here are some highlights:

Mission Tiki Theatre

This venue is a four-screen drive-in transformed in 2006 to boast ticket booths that look like tiki huts, a tiki-themed concession stand and a Maui statue garden. While the menu isn’t Polynesian, the venue brags about its pizza and Mexican food. Tickets cover 2 films and are $9 for those age 10 and up and kids 5-9 are $1.

10798 Ramona Ave., Montclair, 909-628-0511

Vintage Cinemas Vista Theatre

This venue, designed by theater architect Lewis A. Smith, began its life as the Lou Bard Playhouse in 1923. Its forecourt is graced with celebrity footprints and it has a Spanish revival style exterior while inside it boasts an ancient Egyptian theme. The single auditorium has a 50-foot screen and JBL sound and the theater brags that it has “the most legroom in Hollywood.” It screens classics in 35mm film and new movies in digital.

4473 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, 323-660-6639

San Gabriel Mission Playhouse

This stunning venue typically presents ballet and theatrical productions, but it also has a Silent Sundays series in August and occasionally other times of the year. A wide selection of silent films are screened, from comedies to science fiction, all accompanied by an American Theatre Organ Society’s “Organist of the Year” winner on the venue’s 1924 Mighty Wurlitzer theater pipe organ.

320 S. Mission Drive, San Gabriel, 626-308-2868

The Frida Cinema

Owned by a non-profit arts organization, this old-school styled theater has volunteers in the ticket booth and concessions. The auditorium’s former seats have been recently replaced by cushy, high-backed ones. The venue touts itself as “Orange County’s year-round film festival” and screens independent, classic, short, anime and avant garde films, along with current movies. And as a bonus, each ticket comes with a discount offer for a local restaurant.

305 E. 4th St. #100, Santa Ana, 714-285-9422

Get the full list here.

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