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
The 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.
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.
"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.
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.