Haunted: The Warner-Pacific Theatre building – 6433 Hollywood Blvd.
On May 30, 1925, the Los Angeles Times announced that Warner Bros. Studios purchased a plot of land at the corner of Hollywood Blvd. and Wilcox Ave. to build its first California movie palace. The projected cost of the new theater building was $1,250,000, and would boast a four story building with a ballroom, roof garden, offices, and retail shops.
Next, Warner Bros. hired architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design their new Hollywood theater. His rendering depicted a large, six story Spanish-Gothic themed building with a tower modeled after the Woolworth Building.
Warner Bros. announced that the groundbreaking ceremony for their new theater would take place on January 15, 1926 with the promise that the new theater would be completed by the end of the year. Its new projected cost was $2,000,000. (SOURCE: New Showhouse for Warners to be Begun Soon, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1925).
However, construction on the new Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre did not start right away. Money was tight, and Warner Bros. was a small studio. In fact, the studio’s main income came from Rin-Tin-Tin movies. So the studio had to raise money.
Sam Warner, the studio’s vice president and sales manager, aggressively looked for new investment opportunities. In 1925, he convinced his brother Harry M. Warner, president of Warner Bros., to purchase radio station KFWB. This led to meetings with General Electric, who then showed Sam their latest sound technology. Sam then came up with the idea of adding synchronized sound disks to silent motion pictures.
Sam pressured Harry to sign a contract with Western Electric to develop a series of experimental films using General Electric’s sound technology. Harry initially balked at the idea. Sound pictures were too costly. Plus there were too many glitches that needed to be corrected in order for it to work.
Sam eventually won the argument and Harry reluctantly signed an agreement with General Electric. Sam then created a subsidiary called Vitaphone to oversee the development of new sound technology.
In 1926, Vitaphone created a number of operatic short films. It also added a synchronized musical score and sound effects to the Warner Bros.’ feature film Don Juan, starring John Barrymore. Warner Bros. then premiered its Vitaphone films in a New York City theater on August 6, 1926. A few months later, Vitaphone premiered on the West Coast at Sid Graumann’s Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Bld.
Because these early experimental films generated considerable buzz, Sam wanted to build on that excitement by making more Vitaphone films. Harry, on the other hand, argued that Vitaphone would bankrupt Warner Bros.
Once again, Sam’s reasoning prevailed, and Harry agreed to gamble the studio’s future on one large budget Vitaphone film. Warner Bros. then took one of its stories, a hit Broadway play called The Jazz Singer, and adapted it into a $500,000 musical that would go into production in May of 1927.
Sam wanted The Jazz Singer to debut in a large movie palace built specifically for Vitaphone films. So in 1926, he convinced Harry to raise an additional $1.5 million to build a showpiece theater on its Hollywood Boulevard property. Warner Bros. then rehired architect G. Albert Lansburgh, hoping that the architect could complete their new theater before January 1, 1928.
Sam Warner, however, would not let Landsburgh have complete control of the design.
According to the Los Angeles Times: “Warner Brothers Theaters is a marked departure in construction. For one thing the ground plan is utterly different from any other playhouse hereabouts. Instead of facing either Hollywood Boulevard or Wilcox, the stage is set at an an angle.
“The purpose of this arrangement, is to permit a long promenade in back of the main auditorium. It was…Sam Warner who conceived the floor plan, and it was carried out by G. Albert Lansburgh, the architect. The arrangement is most attractive in that it will necessitate no crowding of the foyer or lobby, and will secure a maximum of comfort for the patrons of the theater upon entrance to the theater, and during the intermission.” (SOURCE: Edwin Schallert, NEW WARNER BROTHERS’ THEATER READY TO OPEN DOORS TO THE PUBLIC, April 22, 1928.)
Because Sam Warner wanted the new theater to host radio station KFWB, he had Lansburgh modify his design to provide enough roof space for two large radio towers to be added later.
Construction of the new Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre (sometimes called the Warner Bros. Theater in Hollywood) fell behind schedule and went over budget. By June, the theater was little more than a steel skeleton.
When The Jazz Singer was completed in September of 1927, Warner Bros. was in so much debt that it could not keep its promise to investors that it would premiere the film at the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre in January 1928. According to legend, Sam stood in the lobby of his unfinished movie palace and angrily cursed the theater building.
In September 22, Warner Bros. officially announced that The Jazz Singer would premiere in New York City on October 6, 1927. Five days later, on September 27, Warner Bros. announced to investors that it planned to dissolve the Warner Bros. Theatre Corporation.
By late September, Sam was ill from exhaustion. He now suffered severe headaches, frequent nosebleeds, and could no longer walk a straight line. After deciding not to attend the New York City premiere, he went to the doctors, and was diagnosed with a sinus infection. The infection, however, quickly developed into an acute mastoid infection, which turned into pneumonia.
On October 5, the day before The Jazz Singer‘s world premiere opening , Sam died in Los Angeles from a cerebral hemorrhage while doctors tried removing infected cells from his brain. He was only 40-years-old. News of Sam’s unexpected death stunned his brothers, who missed the New York premiere.
Meanwhile, The Jazz Singer smashed box-office records by earning an astonishing $3 million. Warner Bros. was saved.
By January 1, 1928, construction of the Warner Brothers Hollywood Theatre was almost complete. However, Harry and his brothers decided not to rush its grand opening. Instead, they decided that the theater would open for the world premiere of Warner Bros. next Vitaphone talkie Glorious Betty in late spring.
On April 4, 1928, workers installed the latest Vitaphone sound equipment inside the theater. The same pipe organ used for The Jazz Singer premiere in New York City was also installed. Warner Bros. then announced its plans to relocate radio station, KFWB, to the new building.
On April 26, 1928, Glorious Betty premiered at the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre with great fanfare. Al Jolson was the event’s master of ceremonies and gave a 15-20 minute concert with a live orchestra. Jolson also conducted a memorial to Sam Warner where an honorary plaque was hung in the lobby in Sam’s memory.
Moviegoers loved the new theater’s Spanish-Renaissance decor and spaciousness. As a result, the theater frequently sold out with long waiting lines two blocks long.
In February of 1929, KFWB’s two radio towers were installed on the roof. These large towers made the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre instantly recognizable to people all over the world.
Outside the Warner Bros. Theatre in 1938. Photographer: Herman J. Schultheis / LAPL 00101228.
From 1954 to 1969, the Warner Bros. Hollywood Theatre became the Warner Cinerama Theatre. Then in 1970, the building was sold and renamed the Hollywood Pacific Theatre. Eight years later, in 1978, Hollywood Pacific Theatre converted the balcony into two small movie auditoriums. The theater’s name then changed to Pacific 1-2-3.
The theater officially closed on August 15, 1994, after safety inspectors determined that damage from the Northridge earthquake and the Hollywood Redline subway construction had weakened the building’s structure.
However, the building didn’t stay vacant for long. From 2004 to 2006, USC’s Entertainment Technological Center used the building for testing state-of-art digital projection systems. After the center left, Ecclesia Hollywood, a modern church, leased the property from approximately 2008 until 2013.
As of this writing, Pacific Theatre still owns the building, but does not know what to do with it. The rumor mill is that they’d love to sell, but no buyers have met their price. So the landmark sits…and sits…and sits…
Many people believe that Sam Warner’s ghost haunts the theater.
In the book Haunted Hollywood (1994), authors Laurie Jacobson and Marc Wanamaker reported that in the 1970s, two late night cleaners quit their jobs after seeing Sam Warner’s ghost cross the lobby, enter the elevator, push a button, and take the elevator up to an office floor.
The authors also claimed that other people saw Sam Warner’s ghost anxiously pacing the lobby and walking the upstairs corridor. Other paranormal claims include the sound of chairs dragging across the floor and scratching sounds coming from empty offices late at night.
In 2004, Paul K. Miller, a technician with USC’s Entertainment Technological Center, told the Los Angeles Times that he, too, had witnessed paranormal activity inside the building. “You’re standing there alone,” he told the Times, “and you know no one is in the building, but you hear your name called out. You put a tool down, and it winds up missing. You lose stuff. Lights flash on and off. Doors open and close.”
Miller also told the Times that cellphones, pagers, and Palm Pilots occasionally disappear when owners look away. (SOURCE: Alex Pham, “Theater’s Front-Row Seat to Digital Future,” Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2004)
Recently, I met a person named David, who used to work maintenance at the theater sometime after 2013. He, too, agreed that the building was haunted. “Anyone who has spent any length of time there has their own story to tell,” he said.
So I asked David about his stories. He told me that the spookiest place was the basement level, where storage units and the lower level lounge is located.
David added that he always heard strange sounds when in the basement, and that these noises always happened in an area directly behind him, never to the side or in front. He told me that on one occasion, he and a co-worker were in the basement, moving boxes around. One of these boxes happened to be a large, heavy one containing empty, metal film reels. After setting the heavy box in the middle of a large, sturdy table, David and a co-worker left the room. However, as the men walked down a hall, they heard a loud crash behind them. Turning around, both men re-entered the storage room to find the large box of reels sitting upright on the floor several feet from the table.
“No one was in the room except us,” David said. “The box was sitting on a sturdy table. There was no way a rat or animal could have knocked it off. I said to the other guy, ‘Don’t bother with it. Let’s just go.’ And we left!”
My brother,David B. Webb, purchased the pipe organ from Warner Bros. Theatre some time in the 1960’s. It was sold after 1969 following his untimely death. Iwould really like to know what became of it. Thank You. Penny Webb Eisele