In this issue, we take a tour of the dozen neighborhood movie houses that once operated in East LA. There's a tribute to the life of the legendary East LA coach Al Padilla. And we celebrate the Dodgers with the shutdown of, you guessed it, the Boulevard.
The former Boulevard theater on Whittier Boulevard now hosts religious services.
Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
Last month’s fire at the Nuevo Amanecer development on First Street came close to destroying the former Unique Theater, a 1920s movie house that hearkened to an era when neighborhoods like East Los Angeles were true hubs of entertainment.
The Unique’s gorgeous Art Deco sign serves as a reminder of that past. A 2011 post on Cinematreasures.org recalled that its original seats, screen and chandeliers had been preserved but hidden. The Sept. 16 fire severely damaged the sign and the second floor, which had been converted to apartments. The extent of the damage to the first floor is unknown.
“It’s really a loss,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy at the L.A. Conservancy, who noted that the Unique was one of a network of smallish neighborhood theaters that once existed throughout Southern California.
According to Cinema Treasures, as many as 12 movie houses were operating in East LA in the first half of the 20th century, almost half of them demolished for new development. Now, there are no movie theaters operating in East LA.
What was the Garden Theater in the 1940s and 50s in Belvedere Gardens is a freeway underpass on Telegraph Road. The Bonito, or Bonita Theater from the 1920s is now a print shop on Ford Avenue near César Chávez.
Another venue that's now gone is the City Terrace Cinema, which opened in 1942 on City Terrace Drive near Hazard. Blogger George A. Verdin wrote about going to “the show” there every Saturday from 1961 to 1964. By 1967, it was gone and replaced by St. Lucy’s Church.
The largest concentration of East LA’s movie houses was on Whittier Boulevard, dating to a time when it was called Stephenson Street. One of the best known is the large Golden Gate, a 1927 movie palace at the corner of Whittier and Atlantic. It was built in the Spanish Churrigueresque style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After decades of abandonment, the Golden Gate reopened in 2012 as a CVS drug store. Restorers preserved and stored some of its original features, like a clamshell ticket booth and tiled fountains. A complex of storefronts that formed a courtyard in front of the theater is now a parking lot.
The Art Deco exterior of the former Alameda theater.
Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
When the CVS opened, East LA resident C.J. Salgado wrote for The Eastsider that he could tell younger generations: “The building is something else now, but the recuerdos remain.”
The Golden Gate was in a cluster of three cinemas. The former Alameda Theater still stands about two blocks to the west. Its distinct Art Deco facade is visible above the signage of a discount outlet.
Not as lucky was the Royale, a 1940s movie house almost across the street. It was destroyed to make way for a laundromat.
A few blocks west, the almost indistinguishable Center Theater operated as a movie house in the 1920s and turned to strip shows and porn in the 60s and 70s. It’s now also a discount outlet.
Like many of Southern California's expired movie houses, the Boulevard Theater near Whittier and McBride is now a place of worship -- in this case, the Brazilian Iglesia Universal. Much of the structure has been preserved, including the tiled entryway and original ticket booth, covered with proselytizing material.
Visible above the marquee is the “Huggy Boy” sign familiar to East LA boomers. That was for DJ Dick Hugg, who popularized the sound of East LA on local radio and whose weekly “Huggy Boy Dance Show” aired on KWHY in the 1970s.
Like several other area movie houses, the Boulevard went through a period of Spanish-language fare in the 1980s, operated by the Metropolitan Theaters chain. It was also featured in the 1979 film “Boulevard Nights.”
The former Unique Theater was damaged by the fire that started next door at the Nuevo Amanecer housing development on First Street.
Photo by Antonio Mejías-Rentas
One of the most surprising finds on a tour of East LA’s lost jewels is the Strand, hidden behind a flower shop across the street from Calvary Cemetery. The large cement structure, with a tall stage protruding from the back, operated as a vaudeville house in the 1910s but showed movies from the 1930s to the 1950s.
Towards the end of the movie house strip on Whittier were the Ivy and the Jewel near Indiana. Both structures are long gone.
While the future of the Unique Theater is uncertain, the Conservancy’s Fine says any effort towards preserving it would be worthy.
“Younger generations don't have an understanding of how prolific and important [the movie houses] were,” he said. “That was your mode of entertainment, where you got together with your friends. It was part of the dynamic of a vibrant neighborhood commercial street.”
“When and if we can retain any of these, I think it’s really important,” he added. “It’s part of the identity of East Los Angeles.”
Health authorities warned on Tuesday that large and small gatherings are a continued major source of COVID-19 transmission and pointed to younger residents as driving forces behind increasing coronavirus case numbers. They said that with the upcoming holidays and cooler weather, indoor get-togethers present even higher risk of transmission.
In East Los Angeles, the daily average of new cases last week was 25, a slight increase from 21 the week before.
Here are the latest East LA numbers:
Five new cases were reported on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, a total of 6,797 cases have been reported in the community.
In the last seven days, 1 new death was reported. Total number of deaths is now 111.
Coach Al Padilla dies at 90
A Los Angeles Times obituary memorialized Al Padilla as more than just an East L.A. coaching legend. “Over the course of four decades, Padilla became an institution in East L.A., teaching the game to generations of young men at Roosevelt High and then rival Garfield High before moving to East L.A. College, where he led the Huskies to their first state championship.”
According to the East Los Angeles Campus News, Padilla died Oct. 4 of natural causes. He coached at the Monterey Park campus from 1970 until his retirement in 1995. He is survived by his wife Dora, daughter Lisa and son Steve.
Twitter storm over an East LA restaurant
A simple Tweet asking for RTs in support of a fledgling East Los Angeles restaurant appears to have set the owners of Cocina Express, at 4214 Floral Drive, on the path to business success, reports CBS2.
It all started with this message from user @mlizza_: “I’ve seen Twitter really change peoples life, so I’m gonna give it a try. My husband opened up this restaurant called Cocina Express right when COVID started. It’s been rough. A simple RT would mean the world.” As of Tuesday, the Oct. 17 Tweet had more than 69,000 likes and 42,000 retweets, along with dozens of mostly positive responses, offers for help and even donations.
Not on the Boulevard – again
Where do they get the fireworks, one has to wonder. On Sunday, when the L.A. Dodgers clinched a berth in the World Series for the third time in four years, the noisy display was as expected. And in East LA, fans rushed to cruise the Boulevard.
The Sheriff’s Department was ready. “Whittier Blvd is closed!!,” posted Twitter account @EASTLA_NEWS at 9:30 pm, along with screenshots of the NBC 4 NewsChopper over the shuttered street lined with deputy patrol cars.
Second homicide in October
A man who was found with gunshot wounds inside a vehicle near the Maravilla Housing Community early Saturday later died in a hospital, reports The Eastsider. He was found at the corner of Mednick and Colonia de los Pinos by Sheriff’s deputies, who got the call at 12:10 am. The name of the victim was not disclosed and the unknown shooter was on the loose.
On Oct. 8, a man found lying on the street near 6th and Bonnie Beach Place suffering from blunt force trauma died from his injuries.