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The Montalbán Theatre: An Iconic Playhouse for the Hollywood Community

By Genie Davis

August 30, 2017

A beautiful and graceful Hollywood landmark, The Montalbán Theatre was built in 1926 by architect Myron Hunt, the force behind other Southern California landmarks including the Rose Bowl, CalTech, and the Ambassador Hotel. The venue has a storied past and an evolving history, and is a vital part of the cultural scene in the neighborhood today.

Historic photos of the Montalbán Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

Originally named The Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theatre – the Wilkes were the builders – it was purchased by Howard Hughes in the 1930s. Hughes converted it into a film theater, renaming it the Mirror. Since then, this structural jewel, one of the last remaining mid-size proscenium-style theaters in Los Angeles, has gone through many incarnations, including playing host to CBS Radio’s KNX studios and Lux Radio Theatre. It returned to its original theatrical roots as a stage venue known as the Huntington Hartford. James Doolittle, who also ran the Greek Theatre, later took over the house with successful performances of top-talent shows. His tenure was followed by a stint under the auspices of UCLA. The low point for this landmark: the theater went dark after UCLA’s stewardship.

The Montalbán Theatre is located just south of Hollywood and Vine. (Courtesy photo)

But fortunately, it’s now thriving, thanks to the vision of actor Ricardo Montalbán. When he purchased it in 1999 and made it his namesake, it was with a vision to provide a way to inspire and train emerging Hispanic artists and assist them in entering the mainstream entertainment industry. The theater was planned to serve as a professional working space where they could practice their skills.

Today, the Montalbán Theatre is more than just a lovely and historic structure. The 970-seat theater has partnered with community performing arts groups, offering stage space on a complimentary basis, and continues to support students and artists.

According to the theater’s executive producer, Gilbert Smith, “Our work here to renovate and to develop programming for our community is ongoing and expanding. We have a new programming partner with The Second City. We are starting a series of sketch comedy nights with them September 28th.”

A live performance at the Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood. (Courtesy photo)

The Montalbán is currently undergoing further restoration, and is also expanding below-stage and upstairs areas. The theater’s ongoing extensive renovation has been supported by Nike USA which installed a rooftop sports court as a part of its support of the theater, LA84, KV2 Audio, and Canon USA. The theater has been enhanced with state-of-the-art projection mapping, LED lighting, and a powerful sound system, too.

Programming is eclectic. When the Montalbán began, most productions featured Latino themes, but more recently productions have included everything from John Leguizamo’s Ghetto Klown to a performance of The Who’s classic rock opera, Tommy, and a world-premiere production of Swan Lake: The Musical. It also played host to Nick Kroll’s Oh Hello comedy special. The stage is renowned for its excellent acoustics and sight-lines, as well as for its beautiful art-deco heritage.

Along with theatrical performances on stage, The Montalbán rooftop is home to the Rooftop Cinema Club, a premiere outdoor moving-screening program that provides wireless headsets and comfortable lounge chairs for viewers to enjoy stunning Hollywood skyline views along with a wide range of films. Food and drinks are also available for purchase.

The Rooftop Cinema Club operates on the rooftop of the Montalbán Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

Smith asserts “The Rooftop Cinema Club is a great addition to our programming efforts. We are partners with this endeavor with the season currently running five days a week Tuesday through Saturday from April to November, with additional private and special screenings on Sunday or Monday nights.”

With Halloween coming, Smith notes that “Starting Friday October 13th, we will be featuring horror, immersive and sci-fi experiences with Rooftop Cinema Club and with our main theater.”

Along with the performing arts, The Montalbán hosts art exhibitions as well, such as the current Rainbow Shift 3.0 curated by Baha H. Danesh and Tiger Munson with We Choose Art and Tigrefino Projects. Rainbow Shift is designed to offer a fusion of art and social justice within the LGBTQ community, and features paintings, sculptures, photography, and thread-based craft art. The show runs through October 2nd.

The Montalbán is home to art exhibits such as the annual Rainbow Shift show. (Courtesy Photo)

“Having our art shows lends to the ongoing efforts between our theater and with the local artists. We are fully committed to art and commerce,” Smith says.

And the Hollywood community is all the better for that.

Ricardo Montalbán Theatre
1615 Vine Street
(323) 871-2420


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 www.diversionsLA.com.

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