Elysian Heights - Theaters always seem to have more history than other places, for some reason. Maybe it’s those rooms full of props - chests and swords and bags of golf clubs, used in so many different ways in so many different plays, and stored backstage afterwards for so many other future possibilities.
The Studio Theatre Playhouse - which has stood along a hard-to-define stretch of Riverside Drive on the border of Elysian Heights and Elysian Valley for nearly 100 years - is for sale, finally ready to leave the Fuller family for the first time since the 1960s. The current asking price is $4.5 million.
“It’s a beautiful space,” said Alejandra Flores, founder of the Los Angeles Theater Academy, a theater program for children, which used this 9,000-square-foot space for four years until the pandemic shut everything down. In room after room, she shows off the parts of a well-used theater - rooms that are still full of costumes, a make-up room that used to swarm with excited young drama students, a panel of ancient, steel light switches.
The 97-seat theater was constructed in 1927 along 1942-1/2-1954 Riverside Drive, according to building records, and started life as a silent-film venue, according to Kenneth Fuller, who is managing the sale.
The theater then switched to talkies. By 1935, it was being called The Elysian or The New Elysian. It was already advertising for theatrical amateurs at that point for cash prizes. But it continued as a movie venue until 1954, Fuller said. Flores recalled a day when two old men dropped by the theater saying they used to lived across the street, and that they remembered going to the Elysian to watch Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon films.
In 1965, according to Kenneth Fuller, his grandparents Mark and Kathryn Fuller bought the building for their Studio Theater company, which had been performing in Eagle Rock.
Kathryn had begun her professional acting career at the Pasadena Playhouse and other local theaters, and would go on to perform in movies and on TV, including 53 episodes as Mabel on “Days of Our Lives.” According to her obituary, her family used to call her "America's Favorite Actress." Though Mark Fuller, doesn’t have an IMDB page or Kathryn’s long list of credits, he performed in some of the early plays with the Studio company as well.
The theater was eventually used by other companies, while the Fullers retained ownership. It was leased out to the Colony Theatre from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s, Kenneth Fuller said - then the Knightsbridge Theater of Pasadena, starting in 2000, according to an L.A. Times account from that time.
By the time L.A. Theatre Academy showed up in May 2016, the space had been unused for four years, Flores said.
“It took us three months to clean,” she said.
Cloth covered fixtures in the lobby. Layers of carpeting in the auditorium area were so thick it was downright bouncy. Stage lights had been rigged with orange extension cords from Home Depot, according to Ted Owens, who has been in charge of tech for the theater company.
When she met Mark Fuller, he was already frail, but seemed happy that a theater company would be using the space.
“He was very emotional when he met me and knew kids were performing there,” Flores said.
Some of the space was rented out to other businesses as well - such as the aerobics studio upstairs or the printing pressroom that would start up the machines right after the shows ended, Flores said.
Then Mark Fuller died in 2019, at the age of 94. Kathryn had died seven years earlier at age 89. After the pandemic hit and the schools closed, Flores said she couldn’t make the rent. And in a year when theaters are shut down anyway, the Fuller family is looking to divest.
In the meantime, they are letting the L.A. Theater Academy store their things there - all those countlessly used costumes, those inexplicable but forever useful props.
Waiting for whatever’s next.