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Million Dollar Theatre
Million Dollar Theater Building-1.jpg
The Spanish Baroque Revival exterior
Address 307 S. Broadway
Location Los Angeles, California
Coordinates 34°3′2.98″N 118°14′53.29″W / 34.0508278°N 118.2481361°W / 34.0508278; -118.2481361Coordinates: 34°3′2.98″N 118°14′53.29″W / 34.0508278°N 118.2481361°W / 34.0508278; -118.2481361
Public transit Civic Center/Grand Park station
Owner Langdon Street Capital
Type Movie palace
Capacity 2,345
Construction
Built 1917
Million Dollar Theater
U.S. Historic district
Contributing property
Architect Albert C. Martin Sr.
Architectural style Early Commercial, Spanish Colonial Revival
NRHP reference No. 78000687
Added to NRHP July 20, 1978

The Million Dollar Theatre at 307 S. Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles is one of the first movie palaces built in the United States. It opened in 1917 with the premiere of William S. Hart's The Silent Man. It's the northernmost of the collection of historical movie palaces in the Broadway Theater District and stands directly across from the landmark Bradbury Building. The theater is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

History

The Million Dollar was the first movie house built by entrepreneur Sid Grauman in 1918 as the first grand cinema palace in L.A. Grauman was later responsible for Grauman's Egyptian Theatre and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, both on Hollywood Boulevard, and was partly responsible for the entertainment district shifting from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood in the mid-1920s.

Sculptor Joseph Mora did the elaborate and surprising exterior Spanish Colonial Revival ornament, including bursts of lavish Churrigueresque decoration, statues, longhorn skulls, and other odd features. The auditorium architect was William L. Woollett, and the designer of the 12-story tower was Los Angeles architect Albert C. Martin Sr.

For many years, the office building housed the headquarters of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Facade of million dollar theater
The facade at the top of the building

1940s

In the '40s, the theater was the second-run house of the famous Orpheum Circuit. Acts such as the Nat King Cole Trio, and Joe Liggins and The Honey Drippers performed on its stage. In 1949, the Million Dollar was taken over by Frank Fouce, a local Spanish-language theater owner and film distributor. The Million Dollar Theater became the mecca of Spanish-language entertainment in the United States. Dolores del Río, Cantinflas, María Félix, Agustín Lara, José Alfredo Jiménez, José Feliciano, Juan Gabriel, Vicente Fernández, and Celia Cruz are but a few of the artists that worked for Empresa Fouce. It was also the first venue where the late Mexican film star Antonio Aguilar worked with his rodeo horses on stage. This is where it is said he conceived the idea for his large arena rodeo productions.

1950s-1960s

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Fouce went on to found Spanish International Communications Corp., named after his Spanish International Theater Company (which included the Million Dollar and the Mayan Theater, also located in Downtown Los Angeles). This company comprised the first group of Spanish-language and UHF television stations in the U.S.; KMEX Channel 34 in Los Angeles (and, indirectly, the Univision television network) can trace its roots to the Million Dollar Theatre. The Million Dollar and the Fouce family were pioneers in the then-unheard-of Spanish entertainment industry.

For their efforts, Fouce was awarded El Aguila Azteca (Order of the Aztec Eagle), Mexico's highest civilian award, by President Miguel Alemán Valdés. The theater and Fouce were also honored by the Mexican actors' union ANDA for their contributions to the Mexican film, recording, and entertainment industries. In addition to its successful stage productions, the theater was also the most prominent Spanish-language cinema in the United States. Every major Mexican motion picture premiered at the Million Dollar.

The Million Dollar featured mariachi music at its best: Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Chapala de Leopoldo Sosa y Esteban Hernandez, Mariachi Los Gallos de Crescencio Hernandez, Mariachi Los Galleros de Pedro Rey (Hernandez), Mariachi los Camperos (led by Nati Cano), Mariachi Mexico de Pepe Villa.

1970s-1990s

Gonzalo L. Checa, president of the Spanish division of the Metropolitan Theater Corporation, was responsible for the upsurge of attendance at the Million Dollar in the '70s and '80s due to his great expertise and keen insight of the entertainment needs of the Hispanic community. During this golden heyday, the long lines of people waiting to attend the Million Dollar would wrap around the block and cause the Los Angeles Police Department to close down Broadway to traffic.

Milliondollartheater
The theater's marquee in 2006

Checa became a low-profile power broker and behind-the-scenes player, who helped launch the U.S. invasion of stars like Vicente Fernández, José José, Nelson Ned, Juan Gabriel, Julio Alemán, Evita Muñoz ("Chachita"), María Elena Velasco ("La India Maria"), Enrique Cuenca Marquez and Eduardo Manzano ("Los Polivoces"), Raúl Ramírez, Jorge Rivero, Rodolfo de Anda, Eulalio Gonzalez ("El Piporo"), Joan Sebastian, Antonio Aguilar and his wife Flor Silvestre, Gaspar Henaine ("Capulina"), and the famous silver masked wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta ("El Santo").

Ira Yellin (then the owner of Grand Central Market) acquired the building in 1989.

21st century

After serving as the home of a Spanish-language church for some years, as of 2006, the Million Dollar Theatre was empty, although the office building had been recently renovated and converted to residential space. In February 2008, the theater reopened, once again showing live Spanish theatre. It closed again in 2012. In 2017, the building was sold to Langdon Street Capital, and the theater and retail space were leased to fashion startup CoBird.

The theatre is home to special movie screenings that feature historic theatres in the Broadway district of DTLA. The series features classic films in a historical setting.

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