Hollywood Pacific Theatre
A point of interest on the Lost Souls of Hollywood Boulevard GPS-guided audio walking tour.
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Warner Brothers Pictures was in financial trouble when Sam Warner convinced his brothers that the future was talking pictures. He was convinced that the Pacific Theatre on Hollywood Blvd was going to be their flagship theatre, premiering their latest feature-length film and the first-ever talking picture, The Jazz Singer.
The Warner Brothers—Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack—were four out of the 11 Warner children, who started their careers in show biz in Youngstown, Ohio. After working as a projectionist, Sam convinced the family to help him purchase a Kinetoscope projector, which he and Albert took on the carnival and fair circuit to show the 1903 short, silent film, The Greatest Train Robbery.
One season of ticket sales convinced Robert that the future was in film, and the three brothers opened their first theatre, the Cascade Movie Palace, in Newcastle, Pennsylvania, 17-miles from their hometown, which still stands today. By 1907, the brothers were into film distribution, relocating to Pittsburgh, then expanding again to Norfolk, Virginia, which is where Jack joined his three brothers.
In 1912, after helping to finance other’s features, the brothers decided to go it on their own and created Warner Features. Harry and Albert stayed in New York City to manage east coast operations, Jack moved to San Francisco, and Sam headed to Hollywood.
The first film released by Warners Features was the 1918 film based on an anti-war novel and was called My Four Years in Germany. In 1925, Sam used technology developed by Western Electric's Bell Laboratories to synchronize sound to their films—and while his brothers initially rejected the idea, they eventually agreed to trial it by producing eight short films with music and sound effects (but no voice) to show in front of the silent feature Don Juan. Unfortunately, Don Juan was a failure and the studio almost went bankrupt.
Sam was not deterred. He was determined to produce The Jazz Singer as a talkie. Though the original plan was to create a silent film with musical sequences where the audience would hear the actors sing. However, to release the film, Sam needed to get their Los Angeles theatre ready.
He hired G. Albert Lansburgh who had built both the Orpheum Theatre and Wiltern Theatre, to build a 2,756-seat auditorium inside a four-storey office tower. But the theatre build didn’t go smoothly. They faced constant construction and equipment delays, and Sam was there around the clock, skipping meals and sleep, and going hard on the crews. The closer opening day came, the more it appeared that the theatre would not be ready.
Much to Sam’s dismay, the premier of The Jazz Singer was moved to Warner Theatre in Manhattan. But right before the premier, Sam’s health became a serious issue. He started getting nosebleeds, incapacitating headaches and dizzying Vertigo. He was suffering from a severe sinus infection, and in a time before antibiotics, it had quickly developed into an acute mastoid infection.
The first ever talking picture The Jazz Singer opened as scheduled on October 6, 1927, at Warner Theatre in Manhattan, but Sam never got the chance to see his masterpiece. He died one day earlier on October 5, at the age of 40 years old.
The Warner Brothers Theatre that Sam had worked so hard to build (now known as the Hollywood Pacific Theatre) opened six months later on April 26, 1928, showing a minor film, Glorious Betsy. And for years it was the go-to Hollywood Theatre, showing classics like How the West WAs Won and 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was sold to Pacific Theatres in 1978, and broken into three smaller venues, with the largest having 1,250 seats.
Ever since the opening of the theatre, patrons have reported seeing a “frustrated ghost pacing back and forth in the lobby” who supposedly cursed the theatre. In the 1970s, two members of the night cleaning crew saw a phantom walk the “entire length of the foyer” before stopping to push the elevator call button and get on when the doors opened. And, before the elevator was put out of operation in 1994, due to the earthquake, it was described as having a mind of its own due to its changing floors without being called. Sam’s ghost is also said to be hanging out in his old office where staff report hearing footsteps, chairs moving and doors slamming.
On August 15, 1994, the theatre was closed for good due to both the 1994 earthquake and the fact that the Los Angeles subway system was now running underneath and caused a sound that could often be heard by theatre patrons.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have some breaking news. We're going to keep walking east! We'll cross north Cahuenga Boulevard and head towards Ivar avenue.
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