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The Fonda Theatre: A Storied Venue with a Cutting-Edge Performance Roster

By Genie Davis

September 20, 2017

The Fonda Theatre is a classic Hollywood story of glamor, aging, and a stellar comeback. Today, the beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival building is home to a wide range of mainstream and indie music acts that often sell out its 31,000-square-feet, which holds a fairly intimate capacity of 1350.

Fonda theater founder, Carter DeHaven. (Courtesy photo)

It opened in 1926 as the Music Box Theatre. A vaudeville performer, film actor, and a member of many film production teams, then-owner Carter DeHaven enlisted the support of such Hollywood luminaries of the time as John Barrymore, King Vidor, and Mae Murray as investors. DeHaven was a popular comedian, and had a penchant for live theater. The opening production was a revue, “Fancy.”

Historic photo of the Fonda Theatre, at the time known as the Hollywood Music Box, showing “Chicago.” (Courtesy photo)

In 1927, the venue hosted the west coast premiere “Chicago,” starring film icon Clark Gable. Fanny Bryce and Jean Harlow also graced the stage. Stage plays became the staple of the theater’s performance schedule, despite a period in the mid-30s when the Lux Radio Theater broadcast there.

The Tide Radio Show – sponsored by the fabric detergent – ran every week day evening from 1945 through 1952. From 1948 on the shows were broadcast from the Music Box Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. (Courtesy photo)

But by 1945, it was time for a Hollywood remake. Fox West Coast purchased the building and revamped it with a Streamline Moderne décor, covering the beautiful Spanish Colonial exterior façade with sheet metal. The theater’s offerings turned from stage to screen, and the venue showed films for over 30 years under such monikers as the Guild Theatre, the Fox Theatre, and the Pix Theatre. And then the house went silent, doors closed, in 1977.

Fortunately, preservation rather than demolition was the order of the day, and the Nederlander Organization re-opened it as a stage venue in 1985, re-christening it after actor Henry Fonda. Legitimate theatrical productions returned, with plays including iconic Broadway hits like “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Historic photo of the theater when it was known as The Music Box. (Courtesy photo)

The Fonda Theatre wasn’t done evolving yet, though. In the early 2000s, the theater was restored to its original 1920s style. Gorgeous wall-sized murals that evoked the earlier period became part of the décor, and the name also reverted to the Music Box. That was a short-lived name change, however, and when Goldenvoice took over the space and began booking musical acts, they changed the name back to The Fonda Theatre again.

Historic view of the interior of the Fonda Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

Under any name, The Fonda represents terrific programming today, and as a music venue has hosted acts as diverse as Radiohead, The Kills, The Rolling Stones, Pearl Jam, Katy Perry, and Alabama Shakes. Indie acts are a mainstay, from Haim to the Strombellas, booking remains strong, with many diverse, cutting-edge musical acts.

The interior of the Fonda Theatre as it appears today. (Courtesy photo)

The Fonda is an all-ages general admission venue, standing room on the first floor, but with seating available in the balcony section. It also features two bars, an outdoor patio, and what attendees most rave about: a terrific sound system. Adjoining the theater, the gastropub Blue Palms Brewhouse serves up terrific draft beers – many local, as well as bottled beers and cocktails, and classic pub food from house-made beer nuts to lobster mac n’ cheese. Carter DeHaven would be proud.

Along with musical acts, The Fonda also accommodates other events, from private parties to award ceremonies; and the theater has been the setting for many film and television shoots –  including the Coen Brothers’ recent Hail Caesar  – not really a surprise, since this is Hollywood after all.

The popular Blue Palms Brewhouse is located in the front of the Fonda Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and journalist, and produced screen and television writer. Passionate about everything-Los Angeles, you can see her work in the arts on her own

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