The Edwards Atlantic: Demolition Day

The Edwards Atlantic Theater is razed | photos by Nathan Solis1The Edwards Atlantic Theater is razed | photos by Nathan Solis
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*UPDATED 7.14.11

The bulldozers roar above the traffic on Atlantic Boulevard and Main Street as the Edwards Atlantic Palace is demolished. The theater closed its doors last month. Soon, in its place will be the new headquarters for the Los Angeles County Housing Authority.

We offered a retrospective of the theater earlier this year (see below), which began when James Edwards III purchased a single-screen cinema in 1939 for $400. At the time the silent film era was transitioning into the Golden Age of cinema. Edwards also purchased the property next door and converted that into a second auditorium — one of the first multiplexes in the area.

The Edwards Cinemas long run ended this year when the building was sold to the County. In February, the staff at the theater were reduced to a skeleton crew and the price of admission was dropped to $3. On Wednesday, the gold columns and bright red marquee of the Atlantic Palace were all that remained, as the remnants of the building rattled and shook with each hit from a bulldozer.

*UPDATED 6.23.11: The Edwards Atlantic: Alhambra's oldest movie theater now history

photos by Nathan SolisThe Edwards Atlantic Palace has officially closed its doors, with demolition slated for sometime in mid July. The marquee reads "Thank You Alhambra" after 72 years at its place on Atlantic and Main. What was the last movie you saw here? Please share your memories by posting a comment below.

2.28.11

Soon the parking structure will be the only remnant of Alhambra’s oldest movie theater. The Edwards Palace on Atlantic is scheduled to be demolished July 1 to make way for a new Los Angeles County building. With it will go one of Los Angeles’ most historic movie theater sites which arrived in the city at a time when an organist accompanied silent movies, and later reinvented itself as one of the first multiplexes.

James Edwards III, at the tender age of 23, bought the theater on Atlantic Boulevard in 1939 for just $400, according to a 1991 San Gabriel Valley Tribune article. Despite his young age, he already owned several other theaters in the Monterey Park area that he operated with his wife Bernice. The Great Depression did not stop the theaters from thriving: It was Hollywood’s Golden Age, when movies with sound were first becoming popular. Edwards eventually purchased the property next door to the Alhambra theater and converted it to a second auditorium — one of the first multiplexes in the area.

photos by Nathan Solis"Everyone since who says they invented (the multiplex) is wrong," Edwards told the Los Angeles Times in a 1988 article.

The second screen was initially referred to as the annex — with an unassuming entrance opposite the concession stand — until in the 1960s the annex was renamed the Gold Cinema. In the 1970s the two theaters were combined and known as The Alhambra Twin Cinemas, until the Whittier Narrows earthquake damaged the building beyond repair on October 1, 1987.

The Alhambra Theater, circa 1939.Three years later at the same place where the Twin first stood, Edwards built the Atlantic Palace, making it the flagship of his more than 425 screens in Southern California at the time. Neon lights, gold columns and large red curtains in the cinemas were the hallmarks of the movie watching experience at Edwards.

But when Edwards died in 1997 at the age of 90, the success of his theaters went with him. Three years later Edwards Cinemas filed for bankruptcy, after his sons rapidly expanded the chain, according to a 2000 Daily News article. The Regal Entertainment Group headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, acquired Edwards Cinemas, including the Atlantic Palace. While most changed their names, Edwards’ old flagship theater on Atlantic was allowed to retain its name.

Instead of a movie theater, there will be a new Los Angeles office building, serving as headquarters for the Housing Authority. County representatives said they will be encouraging public transportation for their roughly 600 employees, though the parking structure that is in place will remain. Edwards movie theater, and reduced $3 tickets, should be running until June.

For 72 years Alhambra has had one form of a theater with the Edwards name which resulted in countless memories. I will never forget waiting in line to watch Batman Returns. There's 6-year old me, standing next to my father, both of us covered in Batman stickers that an usher gave us when we got our tickets.

About the author: Nathan Solis

There's a veritable curiosity in Nathan, a well of questions that never seems to go down. He also takes photos, prefers literature to politics and can identify most vegetarian dishes.

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What wonderful memories I have of both theaters . My father took me to see E.T. in the early 1980's before the quake in the old girl . I also remember the grand opening excitement of the neon laced new theater. There was also another theater across the street that was also torn down after the 1987 quake. That's where I sneaked in to see Beverly Hills Cop LOL .

Looking at the photo in the story headline. I am just sorry the city council did not decide to keep the already built, and in place arch with the "Edwards Cinema" words on the top. For next to nothing they could of had yet another "Archway to the San Gabriel Valley". Best of all, it would not cost $300,000. Silly city council....

Hmm.. you're right. It does sort of look like the arch on Valley/Fremont and more grand. However, I wonder how much it would have cost to move that thing. It definitely can't stay there with the new LA Community Development HQ in place.

Man I remember watching The original Matrix at that theater. I also saw a bunch of others with my big sister at that theater. I miss that place already.

I saw a movie (HOP) there just a couple of months before demolition - it was about 4 PM and my son and I were the only two in the showing, that was so neat! Sad to see it go, I was looking forward to more movie dates with my little one.

The date of circa 1939 for the vintage photo of James Edwards standing in front of the Alhambra Theatre is off by several years. Edwards acquired the lease on the Alhambra not long after taking over operation of the Mission (later renamed Monterey) Theatre in Monterey Park in 1930. The 1991 Tribune article was wrong. By 1939, Edwards was already operating a circuit of more than a dozen neighborhood theaters, and the Alhambra had been his flagship house for several years. As the photo is supposed to have been taken at the time Edwards took over the theater, it must date from the early 1930s.

The 1939 opening of the annex given in the L.A. Times article (and by most sources on the Internet) also appears to be wrong. Construction trade journal Southwest Builder & Contractor announced in its issue of May 17, 1940, that the contract to convert an existing space into a second auditorium for the Alhambra Theatre had been awarded to contractor Edward Goral. The Annex opened later that year. The opening was announced in the October 19, 1940, issue of theater trade journal The Motion Picture Herald, and Boxoffice Magazine ran an illustrated article by Helen Kent about the Alhambra and Annex, beginning on page 36 of its issue of October 12, 1940 (this can be seen online at boxoffice.com, in The Vault section of the web site.)

I remember going to the old Alhambra Theatre in the early 1950s. At that time it still looked much as it did in the photos accompanying Helen Kent's 1940 Boxoffice article. The Annex had fallen into disuse by the mid-1950s, and wasn't renovated and reopened as the Gold Cinema until several years later. I left Los Angeles in 1986, so I never got to see the ruins after the earthquake in person, but I recall a shot of the collapsed stage house being featured on several television reports about the earthquake.

I haven't been back to the area since leaving, so I never saw the Atlantic Palace, but it, too, was the subject of an article in Boxoffice, in the issue August, 1991, and was featured on the cover (this article can also be seen in The Vault at boxoffice.com.) The article, which begins on page 20, said that the cost of the Atlantic Palace was about double the prevailing average for new theaters at the time, so Edwards must have retained some nostalgic attachment for his old Flagship house. This is also indicated by the design of the new theater, the arched entrance of which clearly echoed the entrance of the original Alhambra Theatre as seen in the vintage photo above.

Incidentally, Jimmy Edwards was mistaken in his belief that he invented the twin-screen concept. A twin theater called the Duplex was opened in Detroit in 1915, and in 1935 the two-screen Bexley Theatre opened at Bexley, Ohio. Both of these were new construction, operating with two screens from the day they opened. Edwards can probably be forgiven for his ignorance, though, as the Duplex in Detroit operated as a movie house for only a decade or so before being converted into a nightclub, and unless he was a regular reader of the trade journals he would probably not have heard about the Bexley Theatre. It was mentioned a few times in Boxoffice, but certainly didn't take the movie exhibition industry by storm.

The Bexley Theatre operated into the early 1990s, spending its last few years as an X-rated porn house. Both the Duplex and the Bexley have since been demolished, so unless there are other early twins lurking out there that I don't know about, all of the twin-screen movie theaters that were opened in the United States during the first half of the 20th century are gone.

Nathan Solis

Hi Joe - thanks for the insight into the Edwards Theater. I know I haven't gotten enough info on the subject.

From my research on the matter, the Edwards dynasty began in 1930 in Moterey Park where James Edwards III purchased his first theater at the age of 23.  You can read the chronology of the Edwards theaters here. But that's from the L.A. Times and if they're an unreliable source, there's also this bio from the Edwards Theatres Circuit, Inc. Though all information is up for debate and I'm just glad that there are readers like yourself who have their own facts.

Again, I'm always open to a discussion on the Edwards Theater chain.

I was shocked. It seemed like I was down there yesterday sitting in the chair watching one of the many popular movies on the big screen. Today, I decided to go see the Planet of the Apes so I looked up the showtimes on my computer. I was surprised that Edward 10 did not have a listing. I clicked on the title and did get a listing. Hey, Planet of the Apes was showing at 10:30 am. I was going to see the first showing in the morning and then go work out at the new LA Fitness back down on Atlantic. Well I jumped in the car and got to the corner of Atlantic and Main. I saw this big pile of rocks almost four stories tall. There was all kind of bulldozers and jackhammers going on. I thought I was lost and missed my turn. So I circled the block and came back. What the heck!!! The entire movie house was gone. I started to freak out. So I dashed down the street to see if Edwards 14 was open. It was closed too. Nobody in there. I started to hear the Twilight Zone music. Had I been asleep like Rip Van Winkle or hit some worm hole and I warped into the future. It was a strange feeling. I drove back to the Edward 10 site and just stood on the sidewalk. So many memories there, so much joy, so much adventure, and so much popcorn and candy. I loved that place. It was a part of me. It was a living legion, a place were your mind and body was at peace, were you felt safe as your mind, eyes, and soul venture out into the big beautiful screen. What memories, and wow, now it is gone. It is gone. They should place a star or plaque in the sidewalk. Some momento for us old movie buffs. How ironic, a movie house is being replaced by a housing authority. I love you Edwards 10. There will never be anything like you ever again.

My friend Roger and I worked as ushers in the theater while in high school 1955-56 the searchers was the big movie then,,the managers name was Brad..

My wife and I watched a movie there on June 14 2004.
I'll forever remember that day because we received a call that our home loan funded right before we went inside.
I cant remember the movie, though.

I watched the silly James Bond movie with Pierce Brosnan, Halle Berry and Charlie Sheen's exwife Denise Richards playing Dr. Christmas Jones. A complete waste of money.

I'm curious if one of the other theatres he owned early one was the Edwards on Atlantic, where NBC seafood is.

Its kind of interesting that Edwards appears to have started in the MP and AH areas.

Great more traffic jams on Altantic and Main...

One could have said the same thing when this theater was first built...

Goodbye Edwards Atlantic. Spent many great evenings (and occassional afternoons) in you theaters with a variety of friends through the years. Our family business was just down the block so I watched you as you were being built after the earthquake damaged your predecessor as well as Manny's Barbersbop and Admiral Glass which ajoined the property. Met Mr. Edwards at your grand opening. Time stops for nobody.

So basically Edward's died, and his sons ran the business under. Sad, but makes sense.

I was at the grand opening party for this theatre. Very sad. I guess they got a chunk of money for the property though.

Lots of fond memories. RIP Atlantic Palace!

This morning I was driving by the theatre, saw it being demolished, looked like it had been bombed, too bad because I saw many movies in that theatre, another Alhambra landmark gone

Wow, I was there on Sunday June 12th!! I saw Hannah with my husband!! I grew up in Alhambra and I remember seeing movies here as a kid... Im sad to see it go! I had NO IDEA it would close SOO soon afterwards!! R.I.P Edwards!!

Nathan Solis

I remember seeing lots of bad and good movies here, so I too will miss the place.

Im so sad to see this gone :( The last movie I saw was "Hannah"... This was on June 12th on Sunday!! I had NO CLUE they would close sooo sonn afterwards! So I got to experience it one last time at least!! R.I.P Edwards!!

why are they doing this? to build more houses in a community where it is TOO crowded? YES, i said it. I'm glad I got to go one last time a week or two ago, this is really really sad. An affordable movie theater..gone.

Dan Bednarski

The Los Angeles County Housing Authority administers programs like Section 8 that mostly help the poor and disabled, as well as operating large public housing projects. It is not involved in building homes. If anything, you should ask whether an Alhambra location is centrally located with regard to its clients.

The "clients" you mention are not just Section 8 tenants but property owners/landlords all throughout Los Angeles who use the program. In regards to its central location, it is still within L.A. county and not just a field office. I myself have managed properties using Section 8 tenants and there are several field offices located throughout the county that I have been to. This will be, from what I have read and heard, administrative headquarters for many programs. Alhambra is well-suited to provide such a location.

You also say it is not involved in building homes. For the most part, not directly. But they have a powerful influence when it comes to public housing development. If homes are not up to Section 8 codes, owners will not qualify for federal subsidized rental income. This usually entices owners to fix up their properties if they are to receive checks from HUD. Developers, when building or renovating homes for Section 8, must also be in full compliance with inspection standards so to say they (Housing Authority) are not involved in building homes is not really painting the whole picture.

I think it's important to have the headquarters here in Alhambra. It will be another employer that will provide more living wages in this city, and not just minimum wage. And the more we have of it (living wages), the more opportunities for residents to work closer to home.

Kind of off-topic but will the Housing Authority be installing electric car charging stations at the garage since they are a user of electric BYD cars?

http://www.plugincars.com/la-housing-inspector-logs-first-300-miles-byd-...

As an electric car driver I think it will be a great addition and option for their employees to be encouraged to go green!

This is the theatre where I saw 'The Matrix' for the first time, to a packed theatre, and where I saw the first trailer for 'Fellowship of the Ring'. I will always remember that and now I will always remember the last film I saw there, 'Let Me In'. I am sad to see this place go but with the Renaissance open just a few blocks down I figure it was hard to stay open with an old format theatre (e.g. not stadium seating).

Just like the AMC and UA in Old Town Pasadena, so goes the Atlantic Palace, and just like those two, I will miss this one.

1954/55 1 saw the original Frankenstien, got so scared ran up the aisle out to the lobby...looking to see if he was catching up with me. Ran into a woman and her kids and popcorn and soda went all over. My cousin Tony Garcia worked there, I used to get passes, he would do the Marquee among other things.

It is always sad to see something that has taken its roots in a community disappear. I myself have seen several movies here and the condominium complex I live in (only about a block south of the current Edwards Rennaissance Theater) stands on land that also once had an Edwards Theater...

So is the closure of this place necessarily a bad thing? Yes, in the sense of nostalgia. However, we are living in modern times and I believe this place (with due respect to James Edwards) has reached its functional obsolescence.

I think the city of Alhambra made a wise decision to place a large employer in this location. It will create diversity in a place that I feel is in a dead-zone at the crossroads of auto row and the Main St. restaurant/entertainment area. The growth of housing units (City Ventures/Casita de Zen) nearby will also substantiate the need for employees to live close by. Keeping the parking structure was also smart.

Traffic will definitely increase, I will not deny that. However, if future developments are done correctly, it can be mitigated. The 710 connector needs to be built. If new housing units entice enough employees nearby to live closer, people may drive less to go to work. Not a guarantee, but it does give people with living wages more options. Other nearby cities must also take the lead and develop more housing, if necessary, in certain locations. Remember, it is vehicles, not people, who cause traffic on our streets. More housing (for more people) does not directly correlate to higher vehicular use if there is enough diversity in a community.

Again, its sad to see a long-time establishment go away, especially one with an interesting history that Mr. Solis has pointed out. Nevertheless, life will go on and history will continue at this location whether we like it or not...

I am sorry to see the theater close. Being from well outide the Alhambra area, I didn't even know that it was scheduled for closure until I showed up there last night and found it closed. Unknown to me at the time, I saw one of the last screenings there last Sunday, June 12th. I am very impressed with how well the place was maintained until the very end. There was no hint last Sunday that the place would be closing so soon. Farewell...Gary

My grandparents bought their house on Atlantic, just S. of Valley in 1921.
Atlantic was called Wilson then. I was raised with stories of the street getting widened, taking 1/2 the front yard, & the street name changed.

My grandparents bought their house on Atlantic, just S. of Valley in 1921.
Atlantic was called Wilson then. I was raised with stories of the street getting widened, taking 1/2 the front yard, & the street name changed.

One of the fondest memories of the Atlantic Palace theater was ditching school to see Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country with my Brother and Father. Since my brother was an avid trekkie it was only fitting that both of us got out of school to see the latest Trek!

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