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Separating church and State: Reviving a downtown palace



We know "A Perfect Crime," the only movie 12-year-old Jane Alice Peters made before becoming Carole Lombard, has been lost for decades after its release in 1921. But it would be fascinating to learn more this production from acclaimed director Allen Dwan -- most notably, where did Jane, her mother and two older brothers see the film?

According to the Internet Movie Database, "A Perfect Crime" was released on March 5, 1921...so it's highly unlikely this independent production debuted, or was even shown, at the theater we're profiling. For one thing, this place didn't open until Nov. 12 -- in fact, here's what it looked like while under construction in April, followed by a pic of the building near completion in September:




It's the State Theatre at the southwest corner of 7th and Broadway, which initially opened a blend of films and vaudeville, seating 2,400 -- the largest of the Broadway movie palaces. Formerly known as the Loew's State (although Fox West Coast Theatres took it over in 1924) and part of a 12-story brick building (then the largest in Los Angeles), it has a sumptuous interior:




Note I used the present tense of "has" -- so why haven't moviegoing Angelenos flocked to this place in recent years, as they have with other palaces of yore? Well, that's where the "church" in our subject line comes in:



For the past two decades, the State has been home to Spanish-language congregations. From 1963 to 1997, it alternated between films in English and Spanish, as Latinos took over much of the Broadway district following white flight to the suburbs. (Several other houses played host to audiences of a religious bent, such as the United Artists down the street, home for many years to evangelist Gene Scott.)

However, according to the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, the congregation is expected to vacate the State by the end of January...which means the venue will seek a new tenant. There is hope that "live theater, music or other artistic entities" can use it for performances. (For now, movies aren't in the mix, since a drop-down ceiling over the stage prevents the screen from being lowered.)

As a major downtown palace, it's very likely Carole went there a few times during the 1920s. Built in a Spanish Renaissance style, the State's stage shows contained a chorus line which in the mid-'20s featured two future Lombard friends -- Myrna Loy and Janet Gaynor.

Before radio and television took over such duties, baseball fans followed the World Series via huge boards updating the action. It appears the public is checking out the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1927 Series (the board was sponsored by Hearst's Evening Express), while the State is showing the baseball-themed "Slide, Kelly, Slide":



In 1928, a juvenile act included a 6-year-old named Frances Gumm; a decade later, as Judy Garland, she returned to the State (on screen) for her signature movie:



Outside, here's how it looked in 1938:



The defense effort of World War II caused many downtown theaters to run films 24 hours a day, and the State was one of those venues. But on V-J Day in August 1945, as the theater showed "Spellbound," it appeared that practice would soon come to an end:



And in 1956, as the State showed "A Catered Affair," downtown was beginning to change:



The LAHTF does yeoman work to preserve and revive theaters throughout the Los Angeles area, and you can find out more about what they do at http://www.lahtf.org/home/advocacy/. If you know of an artistic group that would have serious interest in using the State, contact Escott O. Norton at Escott@LAHTF.org. There's a ticket booth just waiting to be used again.

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