Demolition Day at the Edwards Atlantic

The Alhambra Source is entering its fifth year producing stories. To celebrate, we’re publishing a retrospective of the stories that reflect our spirit and mission. 

In the summer of 2011, Nathan Solis covered the final days of the Edwards Atlantic theater. The theater had been a staple of his childhood — as was the case for many Alhambra residents.  The site of the theater— Main Street and Atlantic Boulevard—is now home to the Community Development Commission Housing Authority (CDC) with a staff of more than 500.

2.28.11 – 7.14.11
 
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 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 — turning the theater into one of the first multiplexes in the area.
 
"Everyone since who says they invented (the multiplex) is wrong," Edwards told the Los Angeles Times in a 1988 article.
 
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! — Edward Porillo's commented on 3.6.2011
 
The second screen was initially referred to as the annex — with an unassuming entrance opposite the concession stand — until the 1960s when it was renamed the Gold Cinema. In the 1970s the two theaters were combined to become The Alhambra Twin Cinemas. Tragedy struck when the Whittier Narrows earthquake damaged the building beyond repair on October 1, 1987.
 
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.
 
1954/55 I 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. — Chuey Elizondo commented on 3.11.2011
 
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 AND the Atlantic Palace. While most Edwards Theaters changed their names, the flagship theater on Atlantic was allowed to retain its name. 
 
Photo by Nathan Solis
 
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. By July 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.
 
The Alhambra Theater, circa 1939.For 72 years Alhambra was hope to a theater with the Edwards name which resulted in countless memories. I will never forget waiting in line to watch Batman Returns. There is 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.
 
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. — Bill commented on 8/7/2011
 

3 thoughts on “Demolition Day at the Edwards Atlantic”

  1. Wow, did not realized it was there since 1939. Used to go there in late 90s, when there were a boba store and a baseball-card shop next to it.

    There was another smaller and lesser known Edward Theater near Alhambra High School also, but I forgot exactly where (maybe behind the “Mervyn” lot).

  2. Great article! There was a time when it was pretty cheap to go to the movies, only the food was expensive. Now, I refuse to pay those obscene prices. Anyway, thanks again.

    1. Check out the Laemmle Theatre group. Buy the Premiere card (minimum $100), which allows you to see movies M-Th before 6:00 p.m. for $6 (and seniors pay $5 on Wednesdays before 6:00); food and drinks are discounted, too; there are student discounts on the weekends; free popcorn on Thursdays. Premiere cardholders are invited to frequent free previews at its various locations and has other perks. Laemmle also has a Frequent Movie-Goer card available for $150, which gives you entry to 25 movies (that’s $6 each).

      Regal Entertainment Group, which operates the Alhambra Renaissance theater on Garfield and Main, charges $6 on Tuesdays and Sundays. Regal also has a free movie-goers’ card that offers discounts. I saw “Birdman” for $6 a couple of nights ago at a Regal theater in West Covina.

      The Regent Academy on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena charges $2 every day before 6:00 p.m.

      If you’re diligent, you definitely CAN go to the movies for about half the posted prices.

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