The Montalbán Theatre1615 North Vine Street
Hollywood, CA 90028
Capacity: 900 seats, 500 seats for the LIVE FROM THE FESTIVAL event
Built in 1926, the theatre’s architect was Myron Hunt, whose work included the Rose Bowl, CalTech, the Ambassador Hotel, and many other Southern California landmarks. Named The Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theatre in honor of its builders, it was the first legitimate Broadway-style theatre in Hollywood. Its inaugural presentation in 1927 was an acclaimed production of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.
By the early 1930s, Howard Hughes, already famous for his aviation projects, was producing movies and building a movie chain; he acquired the Vine Street Theatre to convert it into the first fully automated cinema, renamed it the Mirror, and added it to his Hughes-Franklin circuit.
Hughes got out of the movie theater business after only a few years and sold the Mirror in 1935 to CBS Radio which needed a home for its local station KNX and its long-running Lux Radio Theatre. Wildly popular, this anthology series featured adaptations of stage plays and film scripts performed by well-known actors in front of a live audience. For many of its years it was produced and hosted by the legendary producer/director Cecil B. DeMille.
Television eclipsed radio in the early1950s and CBS, wanting to consolidate its operations at Columbia Square at Sunset and Gower, sold the theatre to Huntington Hartford, the heir to the A&P grocery store fortune. He spent $750,000 remodeling and restoring it to the first-class legitimate-stage venue it was intended to be. The premiere presentation was What Every Woman Knows, written by James Barrie of Peter Pan fame, and starring Helen Hayes. Soon, the Huntington Hartford Theatre became synonymous with high-profile productions featuring the biggest stars of the era.
One of them, Cary Grant, wanted to buy the theatre in 1964, but James Doolittle, who was already running the Greek Theatre in Griffith Park, beat him to it. Over the next 20 years, Doolittle became the theatre’s most successful owner, and his smart productions with Hollywood and Broadway stars added luster to the 970-seat venue’s already enviable reputation for fine acoustics and sight lines.
When the Doolittle era came to an end, UCLA took over, but after several years, the theatre went dark until Ricardo Montalbán stepped in. He envisioned having a physical presence in Hollywood that would provide inspiration and training for emerging artists in the Hispanic community and thus enable them to mainstream into the performing arts and the broader entertainment industry. The theatre was a perfect home base for implementing that vision, and the Hispanic community, which respected his talent, success, and his inclusive politics, mobilized, with the backing of Nosotros, to support the acquisition of the theatre.
In 1999, generous community support and donations enabled The Ricardo Montalbán Foundation to buy the building, and the Foundation reopened the theatre as The Montalbán in 2004.